For me, 7am marks the beginning of the horror but I could not have known then that you had left this world hours before, at some point during the night, and your mother was just waiting until a reasonable hour to call. I did not find that out until much later.
In this moment seven years ago, I was still fast asleep and dreaming of you, still totally oblivious to what was waiting for me when I opened my eyes. I was dreaming vividly about our wedding day, no doubt because of the plans we had been making the day before, and I physically felt you slide the wedding ring onto my hand. When the phone rang and vibrated across my bedside table at such an early hour, I just assumed it was you and I answered it with a wry high smile on my face, still floating down from the blissful dream but eager to give you a hard time for pulling me out of it. "Hey baby".... I heard myself say, "I was just having the most amazing dream and I felt you place"... but then a woman's voice cut me off.
A few days later I wondered if maybe, just maybe, in those strange hours between darkness and dawn, not long after your soul had left your body, you did actually slip that ring on my finger. I wish I could remember that feeling and hold onto that dream but all I have is the end of the dream and the beginning of the nightmare, the moment of intersection, the collision between two completely opposing worlds: before and after.
For a long time it all felt like a bad dream and I struggled to find my place in the brave new world. I had to learn how to be human again, to feign normality again, to do everything people expected of me; to smile and laugh, to talk and relate, to be present with friends and family. But I barely recognised myself in the mirror and it took a long time to get used to this new person parading as me. My only real comfort came from the darkness as it gave me a sense of respite from the exhausting daily ritual of trying to appear "normal", to pretend that I was "improving", and to assure others that I was going to be "ok".
In truth, I did not know if I would ever be ok. I was not coping and I broke down and wept every time I was alone; in the privacy of my car, in public toilets, behind sunglasses, in car parks and in alleys. It felt like there was literally no escape from the relentless reminder that you were never coming back. This was real and I couldn't find anywhere big enough to hide or anywhere far away enough to outrun it. Trying to make people feel better about my grief became an additional struggle, a thankless task that soon became exhausting. I started to hide away from the world and decline invitations to dinners, parties and coffee to the point where people just stopped asking. I was grateful for that because it meant I no longer had to lie or make up excuses.
I started to sleep for long periods and as often as I could, whenever I had the chance. Sleep was the only place I could go for relief. But I could never truly forget...My dreams were always haunted by the the image of his face, his eyes, his hands, in various distortions. I started having a recurring dream that lasted for five years where I would catch a glimpse of him on a train or around a corner and I would chase him for miles but never catch up to him as he was always one step ahead. I started to tell myself that he was still alive, that he just didn't want to be with me anymore and somehow that scenario seemed more palpable. Then the dream changed its shape and it was always the same phone call in which he would casually tell me that he was alive and he had just forgotten to call me for the last few years. The unconscious mind trying to carry out wish fulfilment I suppose.
Some people say that seven years is a long time to mourn somebody and I suppose that may be true, except Chance Hall was not just somebody to me. He was the love of my life, the soul for my soul, and the only person with whom I have ever felt truly myself. Being with him felt like going home, like finding the missing pieces of yourself so that you finally feel whole, at peace and utterly complete. I was so deeply in love with him in a way that I have never loved anyone else and he was equally and as deeply in love with me. To suddenly wake up and learn that I would never see him, never smell him or touch him again - nothing can prepare a person for that. I am not the same person that I was before he died and when I look back at old photographs of me I can barely recognise that girl with the smug little smirk and the stars in her eyes. A person cannot live through this kind of loss and come through intact. The shock alone changes a persons DNA.
My maternal grandmother was widowed at age 36 (just three years older than me) and she wore black for the next 20 years. As a kid I never understood why she didn't remarry but now I understand completely and I can respect that. The man she loved was gone and there was no other soul for her soul. Just like my grandmother, my other half was taken from me and it's taken me seven years to fully accept that. But even though I accept it now, that doesn't mean I want to be with somebody, anybody just for the sake of being with somebody, anybody. I just wish people would accept that about me. I am perfectly content with my decision.
People say time heals all wounds and I used to think those people were assholes but I don't really think that anymore. What I do think is that time just takes you further and further away from the raw and brutal moment of truth so that you gradually become more immune to the pain. Human beings can get used to anything and so I guess that is what has happened with me. That is what I think they mean by acceptance - in time you learn to accept the pain as another part of your narrative, it becomes part of your DNA.
Losing Chance has clearly become part of my narrative, but it does not define who I am. Loving him and being loved by him is equally a part of my story and I am comforted by the time we spent together. For a long time I was willing to trade off the relationship if it meant I could erase the marks that his death had left upon me. Now I wouldn't dream of giving up a single moment of time with that precious man. Our love story may have been fleeting and I was cheated out of my happy ending, but I was lucky enough to know love in all of its glory; in its unbridled joy and its equally magnanimous heartache. At the end of the day, when all the dust has settled, I found my one true love and I am no longer searching for anyone. Nothing is ever truly lost, especially not love and that is what I choose to remember most on this day. RIP Chance Hall. I will love you forever.