THURSDAY, APRIL 13, 2017
Love you forever and forever
Love you with all my heart
Love you whenever we're together
Love you when we're apart
-The Beatles, I will
I keep thinking about the mistakes I made in the weeks before his death. The look of hurt on his face, the harsh words exchanged and the tears we both shed. I do not yet know how to gently set those mistakes down and forgive myself. Maybe I never will. The only solace I can take now is in the fact that John and I both knew we loved one another, up until the very end. We both knew.
I do also think of the bigger memories. The more important ones. I think of all the times that we knew - we just knew - that this was a love like no other. That this was a love worth believing in. I think of all the make up kisses, the holding of each other's hands, and the many times we spoke of marriage.
It's true, we always loved each other. Always. At the end, when he was struggling so much and I was so frustrated and unable to support him, he and I thought about leaving one another. When we talked about it, we always said the same thing - that if we couldn't make it work, it wasn't for lack of love. It wasn't for lack of love. I guess that's why, despite the discussions, neither of us ever really left.
I could do without the memories of John hurting. I could do without those. Every time I think of his sadness or how I contributed to it, I feel like another piece of my heart falls to the ground.
But I never want to forget my John. The beautiful memories far outweigh the painful ones. They always did. Maybe that's how I'll put my heart back together. In the remembering. I hope so, because I can't think of any other way.
Before we dated, we talked back and forth - on Facebook of all things. John had been 'liking' every single thing that I posted, and I thought this meant I was special. Later I would find out that he liked almost everyone's posts. I wonder how many other people thought that they were special to John for the same reason? The thing is, we all should have felt that way, because for John, it was true. He cared about us all.
After a few months of messaging back and forth, I think both of us were ready to ask the other one out. I was shy, he was shy, but we agreed to see a movie. One of the movies out at that time was 'Joy'. Not particularly romantic or special, but I did like the name. When we discussed whether we should see it, or maybe another movie, I made a comment.
"I think we should risk Joy," I said.
"That sounds like an affirmation you'd put on your mirror or something," John replied, laughing.
That night I made him a little piece of artwork, I decided to give it to him as a gift when we were on our first date.
"It's to put on your mirror," I said, when I handed it to him.
He told me he loved it and he put the card on his mirror that very night. It was there until the day he died.
I think now about the risk we were really taking. I wonder, if I'd known about the pain I am feeling now, what would I have chosen to do?
It's not really a difficult question. I think of all the rewards I ended up reaping by being with John, and I know that I would take that risk again, in a second. Because indeed, our relationship was full of so much joy.
On our second date, I made him dinner and afterward we talked for hours. When he left, I gave him a quick kiss goodnight. I watched as he walked to his car. Halfway there he turned and looked at me. In that moment, he was so handsome, I caught my breath. I called him back to the door. "I need another kiss," I told him. Looking back, I can't count the number of times that happened during our relationship - John kissing me, and my wanting just one more.
He was not the tallest man in the world, but at 6'1" he was tall enough, especially compared to my relatively shorter 5'3". Once, when kissing him I lost my balance and leaned into him quickly in order to sturdy myself. He noticed and pulled back, looking at me quizzically.
"I have to tiptoe, to kiss you," I explained.
"Oh, I'm sorry!" he replied.
"Sorry?" I said. "John, it's the greatest thing ever."
And it was the greatest thing. When I would gush to my friends about how nice he was and how handsome he was, I'd also say "I have to tiptoe to kiss him!" It was wonderful and I always saw it as one of the things that made our kisses more sweet and romantic. I can't help but think about that now. About all the billions of things that made kissing him the greatest thing ever.
We were never perfect. We were both human and flawed. Things were difficult much of the time, but I also have the memory of all those kisses to hold onto.
Those kisses were real, and they will always be one of the sweetest things about John that l'll remember.
Yes, even in the beginning we had our misunderstandings. We'd been dating for about a month, and one night I asked him a question. I don't know why - somehow it seemed relevant at the time. I asked him how he would feel if we stopped dating. John always told the truth at times like this. So he answered, "Hmmm...I don't know."
His lack of certainty hurt me and made me angry, both at the same time.
"You don't know!? What kind of an answer is that? If you don't know, then maybe we shouldn't be dating at all." I snapped.
I remember I grumbled and left. I cried a little in the car.
He didn't know? Harrumph.
The next day I didn't see him, and I didn't call. The day after that he called me and asked if I would come over. I told him I would stop by. As soon as he opened the door, before I even stepped inside, he spoke.
"I know how I would feel if we stopped seeing each other." He said.
"How?" I asked.
"I'd feel sad." He said. "If I didn't see you anymore, I'd feel sad."
Some of the most beautiful gifts that John gave me came from the fact that he'd never been in love. John had never told a girl that he was in love with her, before me. So I will always have that, knowing that those words will forever belong to only me.
The first time John and I said I love you - it was Valentines Day, 2016. We'd been dating for two and a half months. We'd seen a movie and eaten a late meal. I looked at the time.
"You've got 14 minutes to do this," I told him.
I was counting the minutes before midnight, when it would be February 15 and Valentine's Day would have officially passed.
We both knew exactly what I was talking about, but he looked nervous. He looked like he might start wringing his hands at any moment. It occurred to me that he might be worried that he wasn't going to say the right thing. So I decided to be the one who said it first. I turned to him and I told him the truth.
"I'm so in love with you, John Macaluso. I am so in love."
I can still remember the butterflies I felt when he returned those words to me.
One year later, just two months ago, on Valentines Day, I snuck him a little note.
I just wanted him to know.
There were times during our relationship when he would thank me for loving him. He would thank me. I always replied the same way.
"You're easy to love, John," I'd say. Because, he was.
The thing is, when I fell into John's arms and his eyes and his heart, there was never any other way for me to get back up, without being deeply in love.
We had so much common. We loved dogs and movies and nachos too. We went bowling and dancing and played pool. We went white water rafting and also loved to toss a ball back and forth. I still have our mitts and some softballs in the back of my car. They were there so that he and I would be ready if we stopped at a park, and wanted to play.
We both loved comic book heroes. He would tell me I was his Wonder Woman, and without a doubt he was my superman. My favorite shirt of his was one where Clark Kent was pulling off his clothes and underneath Superman was peeking through. I loved that shirt.
Because no matter how much John was struggling, even at the worst of his pain, I knew that inside - he was Superman, too.
John could sing. I mean, really sing. He would sing me love songs all the time. He would belt them out at the top of his lungs, and he would whisper them in my ear. One night we were talking on the phone and it was getting late.
"Sing me a love song," I said.
"What do you want to hear?"
"I don't know. You pick. But sing it to me after we get off the phone. Just, sing me a love song, after I get off the phone and before you go to sleep. When you're in bed all by yourself. You never even have to tell me what it was." I said.
The next day he asked me if I wanted to know what song he'd sung to himself, in the dark, while he was thinking of me. I said yes, so he sang it again, although this time I was listening. I will never forget the song. I will never forget his voice. And I will never forget the words he sang to me, that night.
Who knows how long I've loved you?
You know I love you still
Will I wait a lonely lifetime?
If you want me to, I will...
Love you forever and forever
Love you with all my heart
Love you whenever we're together
Love you when we're apart
"But I am the only John Macaluso you know," he pointed out. So, I clarified.
"If there were a million John Macalusos, you would still be my very favorite one."
John was so good at making me feel loved. He was so good at it. He often told me that I was the love of his life, and that I always would be. He told me that he would never love another. John's last words to me were "I will always love you." I think about all those words now and realize that he was telling the truth. In the end, all of the things he told me about never ending love were heartbreakingly true.
During one of the worst periods of John's struggling, one of his friends told me that I should consider leaving him. She thought John would be better off if he and I were apart.
Looking back at it now and second guessing whether she might have been right - I always come back to the same thing. Being in love with John and having him love me back, was too much to give up. The suggestion that I do so wasn't fair. It was too much to ask of me. Too much to ask of him. We didn't just love each other, we were deeply in love with each other. Any time I considered leaving, it was always for the same reason that I didn't walk away. Very simply, I wanted to stay.
John and I always knew that the other person was trying. Trying to grow. Trying to withstand. Trying to hold onto one another. And he put up with so much when it came to being with me. I was possessive and insecure a lot of the time. I had my own mental health issues to deal with. Dating me meant that he had to deal with them too. More than once he had to coax me out of corner when I had a PTSD induced panic attack. He learned to be cool and calm when I'd start crying, even when it seemed there would be no end.
Through it all - he was gracious and loving, strong and kind. He would remind me over and over again that all he wanted was for me to be happy, for me to heal, and for me to continue to want him by my side. Once he gave me a card that said 'Thank You' on the front. I asked him what he was thanking me for. "Turn the card over," he told me. And this is what he'd written on its back.
I think about that now. I think about how sweet he was when I was the one in pain and struggling. I think about what he always wanted for me - and it is a huge part of why I am able to put one foot in front of the other today. At times, I think it is the only reason I can breathe right now. Because John loved me for so many reasons, and chief among them was the fact that he knew I wasn't going to give up.
At the end, it seemed like we could no longer figure out how to be together. But we couldn't manage to be apart, either. At one point, I encouraged him to focus on himself. I wanted him to learn how to manage his struggles better. I told him that if we stopped dating in order for him to do that, that it would be ok. I told him that no matter how long it took - I would wait.
But he didn't like that. He told me that it put too much pressure on him. He wanted all or nothing - not to be waiting for my love. We went back and forth then. We should end it. We wouldn't end it. We didn't know what to do, but one thing always stayed the same. The fact that we loved each other, so very much.
He was so distraught the week before he died. I can't stop replaying his words and my replies in my head. I can't stop wishing that I had said and done everything differently.
He kept telling me that he felt I was moving on without him. He told me that his heart was broken. I don't think he heard me when I said that I wasn't going anywhere, and that my heart was broken too.
There were several times during that last week when I wanted to tell him again that it would be ok. I wanted to tell him that no matter what - I would wait. But he'd already asked me not to say those words - so I didn't.
Now I wish I had told him again anyway. I'd have told him that no matter how long it would take for him to manage his struggles - that I would wait.
I would wait.
I would wait.
Instead, the words I did say spoke to my frustration. I reminded him that he knew what he needed to do. He needed to get help. That is exactly what I told him - that I loved him but I couldn't fix him and I needed him to get help.
I think about the look of pain in his eyes, when, at the end, we fought. Now I can't retreat from the hurtful words. I want so desperately to take them all way. I think about all of the clues he gave. All of the pain he felt. I think about all of it, and the grief and guilt I feel is beyond comprehension.
A friend of his has told others that she thinks I am responsible for his death. I wonder if she knows that I debate the same thing, every single day. I wonder if she knows that when it comes to losing my beloved John, there are moments when I don't know how I myself will live through this, because the loss of him is so painful and so profound.
If I could go back, I would do everything differently. I would change every single word I said at the end. But blaming me for what I did and did not do is so unfair. After all, I did not know it was the end.
I think of the artist and poet Kahil Gibran who once said:
Love knows not its own depth, until the hour of separation.
In an effort to help me understand - and also to help alleviate my guilt - his family has provided some answers. The truth is, John struggled for over a decade. He fell into suicidal despair before he ever met me, and also when we were together. There were times when he was suffering internally, even when he and I were doing really well. He was not just bereft when things between us were hard. Still, I want to blame myself, it's easy to do. Even though I know that John blamed no one, except needlessly, himself.
His family and his friends have pointed out my role in his life, over and over again. Those that have known him for years, some since the day he was born - they all say the same thing.
"We've never seen John so happy, as he was during this last year with you."
I don't know if that is true or not. What I do know is that in the year before he died, John got to experience all the facets of falling in love. He experienced the falling, the beauty, the promise of a future coming alive. He also experienced the fear and the turbulence and the sometimes justified anger on both our parts.
It's true, there were times when John broke my heart, and I know that I also broke his. So with me, he experienced it all. He learned what it was like to fight with someone, to fight for someone, and to be fought for, too.
During John's last year he learned what it felt like to have someone who was in love with him, from start to finish. And as flawed as our love was, there was always something about that same love that was perfect too, in the way that only love can be. John got that. He got the flaws, the messiness, and at the same time, the wonderfulness of perfect love.
Looking back, I have so many regrets about those last days. But I will never regret falling in love with John. I will never regret being in his arms or sharing a kiss. I will say it a million times over - I will never regret having fallen in love with him.
I do know that I have to learn how to set aside my guilt and untangle this unbearable grief. After all, I was given a profound gift in being the one who fell in love with John - and more than anything, I was blessed to be the person who was loved by him in return.
He was my very favorite John Macaluso. He always will be.
...Take this sinking boat and point it home
We've still got time
Raise your hopeful voice you have a choice
You'll make it now
And I can't go back
Moods that take me and erase me
And I'm painted black
You have suffered enough
And warred with yourself
It's time that you won