Saturday, July 17 marked the 6 month anniversary of Brian's passing. I made plans for the day so I would not sit home alone and cry all day, but that might have been just what I needed to do, as that's what I'm finding myself doing now.
I spent the 17th with my childhood friend Erin (not recent Des Moines to Austin transferee Erin, a different Erin), who has lived in Dallas for the past 5 years, and Brian's cousin Jessi, who lives in San Antonio. All day long I felt Brian's presence, both because we talked about him and shared stories, and because of the music that surrounded us all day. We went to New Braunfels (between Austin & San Antonio) and went tubing down the Comal River. On the way there, Erin & I listened to The Avett Brothers, a band Brian discovered perhaps 6 months before he died and that he really loved (he had created two separate Pandora stations centered around the group). While floating down the river, we decided to stop for a while (there are good areas for stopping in the water to stand, relax, have a drink, etc.). There was a group near us with a cooler radio and so much of the music made me think of him. Songs by Stoney LaRue, Cross Canadian Ragweed, and other artists he introduced me to. It seemed like every few songs brought up a new memory. Hearing "Vidalia" by Sammy Kershaw made me think of being back in high school, playing Kershaw CDs while riding in Brian's 1969 Oldsmobile Cutlass with the windows rolled down. I loved that car. Big, red car for a big, red guy. :) I could hear the rumble of that engine from 2 blocks away, which was great when he'd pick me up in the morning and not so great when I was trying to slide into the house a few minutes past curfew when my parents were in bed. A funny story about that car -- I remember when I was taking biology and we did blood type testing in class, I had a Pocahontas Band-Aid on my finger where it had gotten pricked. When Brian was driving me home from school that day, I took the Band-Aid off and stuck it on the front of the flip-open ashtray. I told Brian, "Don't take that off." Years later, that Band-Aid was still there when he sold the car.
On Saturday night, Erin, Jessi, and I went to see Bob Schneider at Gruene Hall, the oldest dance hall in Texas and a legendary place to perform; the place where legends like George Strait, Robert Earl Keen, Lyle Lovett, and Steve Earle cut their performing teeth. Brian is the one who introduced me to Bob Schneider and to old-school country like Sammy Kershaw and the names I just mentioned. How I wish he could see some of the country music venues I've been to here, with all the legends' autographed pictures on the walls. He, more than anyone, would have loved and appreciated the history of the places I've been down here, like Gruene Hall. The three of us looked around inside and then went outside to sit down at a picnic table while the opening act performed. Between songs, we could hear live music from another venue with an outdoor stage. One of the songs we heard just reaffirmed that Brian was with me..."Fire and Rain," by James Taylor. This song is the one that most makes me think of him. It is the first song I remember him introducing me to. I remember he was driving me home from high school in that big old red beast and he told me he wanted me to hear this song that his dad used to sing to him. He told me his mom would play guitar and his dad would sing it to him before bed. He also told me the meaning behind the song, about how James Taylor's friends arranged to have his girlfriend surprise him by flying out to meet him on the road, but the plane crashed and she was killed. I was so touched by the song, and that was also the first time I remember realizing how much music meant to Brian and how deeply he enjoyed it and connected to it. It is no surprise, then, that this song was one that his family and I selected for his service and the DVD photo slideshow we made celebrating his life. I know Brian was with me yesterday when that song played, and he will be with me forever.
I've been reflecting on what the 6 month mark means and I have mixed thoughts. In some ways, six months is a long time. In 6 months' time, I've had friends start dating, fall in love, and get engaged. In 6 months, one can go from not pregnant to very visibly pregnant. One can study for, take, and pass the bar exam. It's a semester of college, and then some. In six months, a newborn will be sitting up, cutting teeth, and possibly crawling. Half a year -- two seasons -- pass by in a 6 month window. I once went from being a non-runner to running a full marathon in 6 months.
Yet, to me, 6 months is nothing. Obviously, my life has changed drastically and more change is ahead. But when I think about my life's path, 6 months' time is nothing, especially considering that I have known Brian for 21 years and spent the last 14 with him as my partner. Think about that -- I am now 29 years old, and have never been in a relationship with anyone but Brian. I don't know how to be, how to live, how to get through each day or the rest of my life without him. I've never been on a date with anyone else, never went to prom with anyone but him (and we did that four times!), never shared "I love you"s with anyone else (in that special way, anyway), never had a lover's spat with anyone else, never talked about building a future with anyone else, never been to a Bears game without him, never watched football and actually cared without him, etc. I went from college dorm living to sharing an apartment with him. Now, I'm alone and I'm just not used to it, frankly. I'm lonely and being lonely just plain sucks. I hate having a sucky life. I hate having a heavy heart and a giant pile of used tissues on the nightstand. I've tried to be so positive, but let's be honest -- this sucks! I miss Brian terribly, I feel like his family and I (and so many others) got cheated when he died. It's not fair. I know, I know...life isn't fair. I know that, but it doesn't make things any easier. Why can't it be unfair in some other way? Please, God -- just give me back my husband and I'll take my lumps some other way -- make me ugly, burn my house down, put me in a wheelchair, strap me down and make me listen to Rush Limbaugh every day, anything else but taking Brian.
I think the loss is so unbearable not only because Brian was my husband -- my partner in every sense of life -- and not only because he was such an incredible person, but because he's been a part of my life since I was a child. I became best friends with Kristin Hart when I was 8 years old. Brian and Mike Hart had already been best friends for four years by that time. We both spent a lot time at the Hart house growing up. I remember those "mean older boys" picking on us -- one time when we were both having sleepovers at the Hart house, the boys set their alarm clock to wake up at 6:00 a.m., sneaked out to the kitchen, got a hot dog out of the fridge, cut it up, and threw it on the hide-a-bed Kristin and I were sharing so the Harts' dog, Bandit, would jump up onto the bed and wake us up! They were always playing pranks on us and teasing us. Our revenge -- which wasn't even intended to annoy them -- was simply being our hyper, giggly selves whenever we were together. Funny how things change when a boy gets a car, a girl gets boobs, and teenage hormones come into the picture...
In short, Brian is the story of my life. Virtually all of high school, college, law school, and my twenties involved (and pretty much revolved around) him. We got together when I was still a child. We liked each other when we were 14 and 16 and he first kissed me at my 15th birthday party. I don't know how to be an adult on my own, and specifically not without him. He has been in my life for 21 of my 29 years, and we were a couple for literally half my life, which is amazing when you consider my age. I think that is why the denial stage of grieving is taking so long for me -- I've never stopped to imagine a life without Brian. I've never known that, and I still don't believe that is where I am. The words to "Fire and Rain" ring true to my disbelief, even 6 months later:
"I've seen fire and I've seen rain,
I've seen sunny days that I thought would never end.
I've seen lonely times when I could not find a friend,
But I always thought that I'd see you again."
Thinking about this, I realize that very few people can identify with this long-term denial and struggle for acceptance of loss. Really, only when one loses an immediate family member, a childhood friend, or a high school/childhood sweetheart is there this profound sense of being adrift and utterly lost that comes from never not having this person in your life. I've never not had Brian in my life, to speak of. I literally only have a few years of memories that pre-date him. It is such a strange feeling to stumble on, knowing I will make memories that don't include him.
At this point, I have made it six months without Brian being physically present in my life, but my memories all still include him. Everything I've done, every decision I've made, everyone I've met, etc. in the last six months is because of him. He might not be physically present, but when I'm listening to live music, on a boat, spending time with family and friends (whether old friends or new ones), it's because losing him brought me here. I'm living out a magnified version of the butterfly effect every day. I know his impact will shape the rest of my life, both in what I do and in who I am.