Yesterday marked 32 weeks since “that” day and tonight I broke down in my kitchen while trying to scan in old photos from albums Russ’ siblings loaned to me.
I was okay, at first. I was searching for the best combo of lighting and angle and scanning app to use for achieving the best results with minimal adjustments needed.
But then I started slowly paging through the albums. There were Christmases and birthdays and confirmations and vacations.
I laughed at one picture I thought looked like it was taken in front of the Corn Palace in South Dakota (it was) and smiled at pictures of my young Russ in front of Old Faithful, decades before he was ever Mine.
It was the album containing the earliest pictures that finished me, though.
One photo in particular.
Of an infant in a crib.
At some point someone, perhaps his mom, had gone through and put dates on all the photos, and in the case of the Corn Palace one where they were taken.
There was an extra notation on this one: First Day Home.
And I stared at that tiny baby in his crib and the familiar, raw pain ripped through me as my mind flashed to finding him on the couch that night. That baby’s peaceful face and My Viking’s peaceful face.
Those sweet, cherubic cheeks, versus the “magnificent beard” I spent countless hours playing with.
Alpha to Omega, right? Isn’t that what “they” love to say?
Cycle of life.
We cannot escape it. Not forever. We can hasten it and chase it and pretend that finality doesn’t come for us but it comes for us all.
Frequently too soon for those who deserve more time, and not soon enough for others.
Especially some others.
I still cry nearly every day, mostly alone, sometimes in the arms of friends and family. I cried when I drove over the state line from Missouri into Iowa two Saturdays ago when literally just as I did Russ sent me one of the Zac Brown Band songs he frequently sends me.
I cried with his sister when I arrived at her house and she welcomed me as family.
I cried two Sundays ago at his niece’s graduation, as I sat there filming it.
I cried when talking to his other sister as she told me, in depth, all the things he’d told her about me, that he’d been talking to her about me long before he’d even told me they knew about me. About how happy he told her he was, because of me.
How she’d never remembered seeing him happier than he was while we were together.
About how he told her how much he loved me. And we started putting things together and realized that the “Christmas surprise” he’d been planning was likely bringing me out to Iowa to introduce me to them.
I sobbed the night when his brother gave me some old things he’d had of Russ’. Things from before he was My Russ.
I cried this past Sunday as I crossed from Iowa back into Missouri on my way home to Florida.
And tonight I sit here crying and hearing him in my ear and gently scolding me, lovingly, asking me why I need these things. Because he was a minimalist and he rightly tries to remind me that my memories are what are important, the pictures of US, of when I was H/his and H/he was Mine.
That’s when he was MY Russ.
But I want more. I was cheated out of decades with him in the future, so the past is all I have left. And these things and pictures are my last tangible link connecting those wyrd threads together, the infant to the infinite heart and love and strong arms I can still feel wrapped around me.
A link to the past. To my Russ’ past.
He was only nine when his father literally died in front of him. I see the change in those photos, the grief embedded in the boy’s eyes, the difference in the before and after documented.
I stood in front of his parents’ grave with Russ’ siblings on Memorial Day when we put flowers on their grave and realized their wedding anniversary was the same day as my grandfather’s birthday. There are other date coincidences that, once again, are too many to be “only” coincidence.
And yet again my agnostic engineer Viking has reminded me of how vastly large and unknown the Universe is. He set sail just before Samhain and still walks on my right.
Reminding me he’s here. Wrapping me in his love.
His niece was in the car with me as we ran errands, two different times, right on cue, Russ sent me songs and I started laugh-crying while she said yep, that was Uncle Russ for sure.
And I think about how he talked that final weekend about how his life lasted longer than his father’s by five years.
And I think about how it’ll be another four and then I’ll outlive my Russ.
He’d just turned 55 the previous month.
What could he have done if he’d only had more time? What could any of us?
My second night in Iowa, I accidentally fell down the stairs and smacked the back of my head, hard, against a window. And while I felt my Russ there reminding me to twist so I didn’t go head first through the window, to go limp when I landed so not to hurt myself, to fall the way he’d taught me, I’m not going to lie and say there wasn’t something else.
That when his sister (who’s a nurse) checked me out and I headed downstairs to bed with my head legit hurting far worse than I let on, and worse than I’ve ever had before… there was more than a little part of me hoping for and at peace with the thought that maybe I wouldn’t wake up.
Of course it wasn’t that easy, dear reader. (Obviously.) And today, nearly two weeks later, is the first day I can’t feel the spot on the back of my head where I hit the window.
The Universe has given me more time. Maybe that’s a blessing, but in the darkest times it feels like a curse. Because I am still not “okay.” When I start to think maybe I’m adjusting to the “new normal” my feet are once again swept out from under me, this time by the picture of a baby in a crib, and I realize how not okay I am.
It feels like existing in a horrific multiverse, where life goes on and I meet new people in one; where my life with Russ always will exist in another; where I see Russ before he was mine through the third-person lens of his siblings and friends; and where part of me feels like it will always sit next to that couch, crying and stroking his hair before they took him away.
And my therapist says all this is “normal.”
(Insert dry laugh here.)
It’s quite the world where I can sit at 7am on a Monday morning in a Buc-ee’s parking lot north of Atlanta and have a scheduled Zoom therapy session, amirite?
No, we don’t normally hold them at that ungodly hour, but I knew I’d be driving back from Iowa—yes, I made the drives out and back in one shot each without stopping except for gas and bathroom breaks—and said yeah, I’ll take that time slot because I’ll need it.
Yeah, I did. I do. I will for…a long time, I think. But, ironically, she’s been through this not just as a mental health professional, but as a widow. I have friends who’ve lost spouses and partners and they also promise that one day I will be able to turn around and look back and it’ll still hurt but living with that grief will have finally become a kind of second nature, a habit.
32 weeks. Yes, still marking time the way you do a baby’s age, one week at a time.
Unfortunately, unlike my Russ, it’ll only get older.