My life partner, in the literal sense of the phrase, left today on the newest iteration of her adventure. I drove her and her family to the airport and left them on the curb to carry their 6 suitcases of worldly possessions inside.
We hugged twice. No one gives a better hug then my Jenn. Not nobody. She hugs you because she means it. She puts her arms around me and holds me tight. She always has. I am safe with her. One of those few places in this world where I know everything’s going to be okay is in her arms. Because she’s got me. If nothing else, Jenn’s got me.
We grew up in the same town, but she moved to Germany for much of elementary school. We went to rival high schools, but she moved to Colorado before we graduated. We almost lived in Portland together but she moved to Boston and I to San Francsico. We missed each other by a year or so.
We have gone years sometimes without talking but we’re the kind of friends in which time and space and distance are irrelevant. Even catching up on major life events feels like we spoke yesterday.
Once, when me heart was breaking, she got on her bike and rode from her small town to my small town to put her arms around me.
One summer, we spent everyday eating pizza, drinking coke and playing cards in my tv room.
Several times, she put up with my shitty relationship choices and nursed my heart back to whole each time it broke.
She has always been taller than me. More formidable. More ready for this life.
She looked up to me as a kid and I have looked up to her my whole adult life. Admiring her joy and zest. Her free spirit and honesty. Most recently, her incredible parenting.
She’s my advisor and confidant. I can tell her anything, disapprove of her decisions, and be my true self without any fear of loss. She is a warm quilt I wrap myself around when I’m freezing. She’s the cool ocean breeze on my tear stained face. She’s the tonic to my gin. Shit, she’s my tonic.
Our family life brought us together in Portland, 3000 miles away from where we grew up, and living just three blocks away. The playground we took out kids to a million times the only distance between us. The honor and privilege and unprecedented serendipity that let us raise our young girls together as we were raised together seems like a dream and nothing short of a miracle.
She arrived in Portland with her three month old the day my son was conceived. We spent my pregnancy in the last hours of our innocence, before we knew that we could be touched so acutely by babies who die and infertility, in both of our cases. We canned tomatoes, took our kids swimming, made dinners for each other, celebrated our birthdays and our daughters birthdays, rode ponies at the pumpkin farm, and drank endless cups of coffee while the girls played. We spent nearly every day together. We prepared for the baby: she handed me down toys and clothes, planned my shower, tried to figure out how we’d cart three kids around in cars that only fit two.
She kept my daughter on the days and night I labored for my son. She kept my daughter on the days and nights he was dying and dead. She came to the NICU and touched his soft head and sang to him. She rooted for him to survive longer than there was hope. She told me that they walked through the park on the day he was born chanting “you can do it, baby brother!”. At the time, her unbridled enthusiasm, that optimism I can always count on, pissed me off. I had to come to terms with the bare fact that my son was going to die and she was giving his sister false hope and herself the same. I remember feeling like I had to smack her over the head with the reality and she burst into tears when she realized there was no fight left to be fought. That the worst was true. Now, I think back on the image of her and our daughters parading through the park, cheering Harvey on, and I smile and my heart warms. There she was, being Jenn, spreading her hope and love and positivity to our girls, to my son across town dying in my arms, and to her own auntie self. Now, I wish I could have mustered some of that myself. But she did it for me, as she’s done so many times before and since and, I’m positive, she always will. Hope against hope. That’s my Jenn. Making lemonade, and adding a jigger of gin, to the shitty lemons life hands us.
In the aftermath of our loss, she watched me all but die. The friend she knew and loved ultimately changed before her eyes. She let me be the shell I had become. She was my friend and support, for years, when I could be neither back to her. She tolerated my grief brain that made me anxious and demanding and too quiet and very forgetful. She watched her passionate friend sink into meaninglessness. So very many things fundamentally changed about me and, at least to me, she was unphased. Further to her credit, if she was phased, she talked to her other friends about it and just let be where I was, placing no demand or expectations upon me to be anything but a shell. Simultaneously following my lead and guiding me through the devastating grief, the debilitating surgeries, the brutal details of the end of my marriage. She listened to me repeat the same stories, the same questions, the same bewilderment of how to proceed over and over and over again. She told me it was okay that I had started smoking because she knew I would quit again. She thought I should go on meds and then when I went off, she thought I should go back on. She was right on all counts.
She held me as I cried on countless occasions. Somehow, she knew what to say. She knew what to do. She arranged my son’s funeral with my brother-in-law. She took over being my daughter’s mother when all I could do was yell, crumple into tears, or sit catatonicly.
She took care of my kid while I had surgery. She yelled at my husband and posed questions I was unable to and took the anger I couldn’t yet feel on for both of us. She supported me when I decided to stay and work it out with him. She watched our kid every time we went to therapy and wasted our breath. After he moved out, she walked into my house and told me it felt lighter, better, easier. That it wasn’t Harvey weighing us down but the secrets and lies and betrayals that were very much alive inside my marriage. She didn’t let me kill myself. She believed what happened with the shamans. She marveled as I got better after that. She recognized my return. She got me there. She saved my life and filled my daughter’s life with joy when her mother had none to give. She baked both of my kid’s birthday cakes for two years. She came to the six month and first birthday ceremonies I created for my son. She revisited her own grief time and time again. She held her own grief in until she walked the three blocks home to her husband, so that I could have mine purely. She shared her grief with me, too. She told me time and again that she thinks of him every day, just like I do. She tells me when she sees ladybugs and hawks. She talks to him when she needs some guidance. She sees his hand in our lives and she feels his absence almost as acutely as I do. She knows that we are all missing out, especially our girls, because he is gone.
My darling son called her in. Brought her here on the day he came in. She stayed until I was back on my feet. When it was time to leave, when she saw I could make it without her, she let herself go. Back on her own path, back to her own dreams and intentions, back to her own life, knowing that nothing but proximity will change.
In the months leading up to her departure, I was consumed. Single parenting and still trying to get on my feet financially so I worked all the time and couldn’t go out much in the evenings anymore. Vesta started kindergarten and spent weekends at her dads, so they saw each other less and less. I funneled my grief into my art and performance project and spent times working on that when I would have been with her. I fell in love and my scope narrowed, wanting to spend as much time as I could with my new love, again interrupting our usual routine. I stopped prioritizing us. I stopped needing her to survive again., I started taking her for granted, knowing that I had precious time left with her and spending it elsewhere anyway, because we are so solid and so forever. We spent a lot of time together the week before she left and I realized one morning after crying on her bed about many woes and overwhelm that I hadn’t been not prioritizing her as much as I had been avoiding her. I feel abandoned. I have a belief that everyone leaves me: my son, my husband, my previous loves, grandparents and aunts and even teenaged friends. As we talked that morning like we hadn’t in weeks maybe months, I consciously realized how incredibly hard this move was going to be on me. That I had come face to face with yet another chapter ending. And yet, this time, I could see another chapter beginning, just like she’s been saying for over a year that I would see it. A new chapter for both of us. Same book, same story, different page. There it is again: hope, optimism and zest. All the things I admire and aspire to and receive as gifts from my best friend.
I believe that I made contracts with people before I came to this life. That every one is in my life because we agreed in it. Ours is very likely the most important one. The one that said there will be someone in your life who loves you unconditionally, by choice, not by blood or obligation but because we continually have chosen each other. For 36 years, I have chosen her and she has chosen me and it is in the choosing, the living, the loving, the laughter, the sharing that I find the most profound gratitude of my life. For my Jenn. Who will never leave me, even when she does.