Love, John

And meet me there, under the flowers
We wait through the hours of cold
Winter shall howl at the walls
Tearing down doors of time
Shelter as we go

Ben Howard, Promise

They weigh you. That's the first thing they do when you're admitted to a hospital for eating disorder treatment.

I know this. I've been through this before. Still, it's always unpleasant. There is nothing about my weight that I want to think about, and nothing about my weight that I want anyone else to know.

I wish I could tell them to skip the weighing part. I wish I could tell them that the process is too stressful. But telling them won't make any difference. They already know how stressful it is. I'm not the only person with an eating disorder who doesn't like being weighed by someone else. I join legions.

The staff try to address the discomfort by taking 'blind weights.' Meaning, the patients have to step onto the scale backwards, so that we can't see our weight. I don't know if that ends up making me more anxious, or less, but it is what it is. 

In treatment, weights are taken again three times a week, and we are never given the results.

On weight days, staff wake the patients up at 7 a.m.. We're expected to pee, and then we have to change from pajamas into hospital gowns. No shirt. No socks. Nothing else. Just the gown. 

To get from our hospital bedrooms to the weigh-in room, we become blurry eyed ducklings of shame as we waddle past the nursing station, clutching at the back of our gowns in order to keep them secure.

On the afternoon I am admitted to the hospital though, I'm not blurry eyed. I'm fully awake when I undress. In order to get through the anxiety of being weighed, I hold my breath and focus on the wall behind the nurse who's taking my weight.

But pushing away thoughts about my weight only allows other thoughts to filter in. How much pain did I cause him? How come I couldn't ease his suffering? How could I have ever hurt him? How can a person ever be forgiven if they are blamed for a suicide?

Perhaps the scale will skip giving the nurse an actual number. Maybe it will just get right to the point. Perhaps, instead of numbers flashing across the digital register, there will be words that tally up the truth of who I am:

She killed her boyfriend.
Getting through the first week after John died took staggering effort. My internal resources were beyond lacking. Every outlet I had to process pain was closing down in protest of the magnitude of the job.

Writing was my only way to express anything remotely coherent. I tried so hard to honor John, while at the same time honoring my grief and the grief of others. I wanted the world to know how much I loved him.  I wrote. I wanted the world to know how compassionate and forgiving he was. I wrote.

And desperately, I wanted to be forgiven. I assumed the world agreed with Jeanne, or if they didn't, that they soon would.

I wrote, and wrote, and wrote.

But I couldn't write away the pain, and I couldn't 'write' someone else into being kind to me or respectful toward others.

What would those first days and weeks have been like if there weren't this added layer of someone being so cruel?  Would I have been able to keep more of my own shame at bay? Would a more singular misery, one that contained only the loss of John, have been more tolerable?  I don't know. Perhaps being able to focus solely on John's death would have made the pain more intense.

Perhaps, but I doubt it.
My heart was so destroyed the morning I found out he was gone. The anger and blame that was being levied toward me was like acid being poured on top of the wound. At times, I likened it to a severe burn being debrided.

There were many times during that week and during the weeks to come, when I would feel as if I suddenly understood John's dilemma. I wasn't sure how I'd live through the pain and the self loathing. And most of the time, I didn't want to.

Word of what happened to John started spreading the day he died. It was on Facebook within a matter of hours. People were writing 'RIP' on John's Facebook page. I'd spoken to John the night before, and now people we hardly knew were writing 'RIP John" on his page. I knew that the posts were out of respect, but reading them was agonizing for me anyway. Even John's cousin got on Facebook to plead for a day of Facebook privacy, so that all of his extended family could be told in person or at least over the phone, before seeing it on Facebook.

I couldn't look at Facebook at all. Not the first few days. It was too much. Eventually, I would post a few things on behalf of his family. Information about John's services. That kind of thing.

John had given me access to his Facebook account, so his sister and I worked together to create a header and a profile picture for him. One that would honor who he was, now that he was gone.

Other than that, I stayed off Facebook.

It wasn't just the people who were saying goodbye to John on his page, I couldn't look at the messages that people were leaving for me, either.

Too many people saying they were sorry. Those messages gave me comfort when I went back and read them later, in the weeks following his death. That first week though, I didn't want anyone to be sorry.

I wanted John back. wanted to be the one given a chance to say sorry, I didn't want people saying it to me.

I just wanted to be forgiven.
I want to be clear about something. I've never questioned whether John forgives me. For every fight, for every harsh word, for every misunderstanding, I know that John forgives me. I know this because John would have forgiven me when he was still alive, and I know this because that is where my spirituality lands - in a place of forgiveness.

And this part is important too:

I never questioned whether John loved me. Never. I still don't.

And I never questioned whether he was loyal. 


I still don't.

John was effusive and had very little filter. He isolated when he was depressed, but when he was in a better place, his positive feelings poured out of him. If he was excited about an upcoming movie, you knew. If he was excited about a sports team or game, you knew. When John fell in love with me, the world knew. 

And for John, loyalty was a part of the nature of who he was. He didn't just extend it to me. He extended it to everyone he loved. It wasn't something I had to ask for or worry about. It was who he was. It was also the foundation of his forgiving nature. 

If you were a part of John's heart, you were there to stay. He wasn't big on resentments, even if his feelings had been hurt. He felt that being resentful got in the way of his giving the people he loved his very best. 

When John was healthy, he always gave us his best.

And one of the best things he ever gave me, was his love. He loved me.

I knew. 

I never questioned that, and I still don't.
On the third day after John died, Jeanne posted a picture on his Facebook page. I didn't see it, but his family did. His mother pointed it out to me.

The picture was of two words, and they were in John's own handwriting. It was just those two words, nothing else. They read, 'Love, John'.

Jeanne went on to describe a permanent memorial she was using them for. It was the third day after he died, and the memorial she was describing was celebrating John's love for her. 

Jeanne had actually taken John's signature from a card that he'd given her over a year earlier. It was a greeting card that I'd made.

John gave her the card to tell her how much he appreciated their friendship. I remember being flattered that John thought Jeanne would like one of my cards.

Now though, when John's mother told me what Jeanne had posted, I was at a loss as to what to say.

I was blindsided by this very public statement of John's love for her. And I was confused, too.

How could Jeanne be telling people that I was at fault for his death, and then using words he'd written on a card that I'd made, to declare that John had loved her?

It didn't take a master of compassion to understand the impact it was going to have on me.

"It's just too soon." John's mother said, referring to Jeanne's insensitivity.
People who knew Jeanne would tell me they were mystified as well. One suggested that she did it because she was angry at me. Others thought that she hadn't considered his family's reaction and certainly not mine, at all.

Of course John's family and I knew that Jeanne had every right to create whatever memorial she wanted to, and to share it with her friends. No one owned John's 'love.' If Jeanne wanted to commemorate his love for her, that should have been none of our business.

It was the act of posting it on John's page, publicly, that was insensitive. And even there, only because it called into question the nature of their relationship. When Jeanne posted it on his page, dozens of our mutual friends saw it. And hundreds of John's friends from grade school, and high school, and college too. John's entire family could see it, none of whom Jeanne had ever met - even those who lived out of state.

The truth is, many people were posting kind words or photos of themselves with John. John's family and I were grateful and often comforted by those. But, in those first few days after he died, none of us had any kind of buffer for insensitivity, at all.

Ultimately, the reason why she chose to post it on not just her own page, but on his too, is irrelevant. If anyone was confused, John wasn't alive to explain anything. He wasn't there to reply or clarify or to defend me or himself or anyone else. The grief and confusion about why John was gone was already agonizing for many of us who loved him. The timing of Jeanne having added a very public and confusing statement about her relationship with him, was horrible.

It was three days after he'd died.

John wasn't around to field questions that arose about Jeanne's post. So the questions came to me.
I was already inundated with the emotional wreckage of guilt. I was already tormented by my memories.

I'd said an unkind thing to John a few weeks earlier.

Was that why he died? 

Or perhaps it was a larger fight we'd had the week prior to his death.

Did he die because he felt guilty for hurting me? 

I'd gotten upset with him a few days earlier and I told him that I didn't want to see him that day.

Is that why he didn't want to live any longer?

Every argument we'd recently had, every hurtful word I'd said to him, every time I let him know that he'd hurt me.

Is that why he died?

Did John die because we'd broken up three weeks earlier? Did he die because we'd gotten back together a few days later? Did John die because I didn't argue with him when he started talking about breaking up again?

I agonized over whether John had died because our relationship had been so rocky during the weeks prior to his death.

Rational thought, those first few days, was not possible for me. I was being held up and carried around by other people. I was following direction, and at that, just barely. I couldn't yet work out or process any of the guilt. That would come later. The first week, I just had to carry it around with everything else.
l'm sure Jeanne was also struggling with her grief, just like the rest of us were. Perhaps, while many of us were pulling together and surviving because of the love and compassion we had for each other - Jeanne functioned better by blocking out the feelings of others, completely.

I don't know for sure. Likely, I never will.

What I do know is that one after another, people started asking me what the status was of Jeanne's relationship with John, and what the status was of his relationship with me.

A close friend advised me that I should start responding to people by telling them that it was none of their business. But, I felt like that would make things sound even worse than they were.

As the days went by, people also wanted to offer up their own stories of new ways they felt that Jeanne was making it appear that she had been John's girlfriend.

"Weren't you and John still together?" They'd ask.

Over and over again, I'd stumble over the answer. Over the words. Because to answer the questions being asked, I'd have to say out loud the words that were tormenting me. I'd have to say the words that I couldn't process. I'd say the words that I feared were the reason that John was gone. Over and over and over again.

"John and I were going back and forth. We were struggling at the end."

Having to answer that question and say those words so often was one of the most humiliating things I've ever experienced. I was already walking through a mine field of guilt and pain.

I might as well have had to say:

We were struggling and that is why he died.
Everyone who brought it up said that they felt Jeanne's behavior was inappropriate. Yet, even hearing their apologies was agonizing for me.

I'm so sorry she is saying these things.
I am so sorry she is acting this way.
I can't believe how disrespectful she is being.

"It's ok," I'd say.

But, it wasn't ok, and in telling people that it was - I had become a liar over night.

I hated myself for that.

Was it Jeanne's fault that I hated myself? Of course not. It spoke to a deeper pain and pathology.

Jeanne put an insensitive photo on Facebook that commemorated John's love for her, that's all.

She commemorated his love for her, and in turn, I hated everything about me.
That third night, when I got home, I went into the bathroom and laid down on the linoleum. I pressed my cheek to the cold floor. I wanted to make sure that I was still connected to the earth.

Voices were floating through my head. The voice of the police officer, Jeanne's voice, the voices of people I hardly knew.

Chelise killed him. She killed him. She killed him...

What were you doing when he died?

It's not your fault. It's not your fault. It's not your fault.

Was he still in love with you? Were you in love with him?

We're sorry for your loss...

My son was in the other room, so when I started crying, I tried to do it silently. I bit at my lip, hard.

Everything I could taste was salty. Tears. Snot. Blood.

All of it tasted the same and none of it tasted right.

I was certain I'd never want to taste anything, again.