Twenty years and 3 months and one day after that first meeting, he died. I can hardly believe the life I've lived in those 20 years...it seems we packed an eternity of experiences - both good and awful - into those two decades.
We were engaged the day we met. Four months later we were married. Thirteen years later we divorced. Two years after that, we were married again. Four years (plus a little) later, divorced again. Ten months, three weeks, and five days later, he was dead.
The first divorce, I didn't know it was mental illness. One moment he was loving and the best man I'd ever known. The next moment he was scary and someone I was afraid to be around. He would apologize and I would believe him when he told me he would not do it again. I would immediately extend trust and we would start over. But then I would get short with him one day. Or I wouldn't do something he had expected without communicating the expectation. And suddenly there was that scary man again.
So we divorced because I couldn't seem to find a peaceful place in my home or heart anymore.
But then there was the time apart. Time for growth. Time for healing. Time for learning. Time for becoming. We both did a lot of changing. He had become a good friend. We talked sometimes until 3 in the morning. We talked about who we used to be. We talked about what hurt and why. Mostly I talked and he listened. And it felt really good to be heard. It felt amazing. I felt understood, validated. I felt sure he was changed. This had never happened before. He had never listened to me like this before. This was a new man.
We decided to remarry. Quietly and rather quickly since I was about to leave to Europe for several months and I preferred to travel with him rather than alone. I told him I wanted to be 80 years old, sitting on the front porch and saying, "Do you remember that time when we..." I didn't want it to be me telling him about my memories without him.
I wanted to be 80 years old with him.
It became clear, a couple of years into our new life together, that there had been no real change. Only behavior modifications that became stressful to continue and one day the pot boiled over. In a big way. And I was more scared than I had ever been. Because this time there was no trace of the nice guy in his eyes, the one I could appeal to for reason and logic and to get him to calm down. This time it was all just the other guy as I found myself pinned against a wall, his spittle hitting my face as the venomous words came flying out of his mouth that was so close to me our noses were almost touching. I closed my eyes tight and waited until I felt his grip release on my arms. Then I left the house.
I decided to move away until he got help. Not divorce. Just distance for physical safety. He promised to get help. I know I'm no angel to live with. I get upset. I have been known to do or say stupid things in my anger or pain. I could be very condescending. I could be very rigid and immovable - demanding high standards of myself and of him and being critical if one or the other of us fell short of those expectations. I know he had to put up with a lot from me. And I put up with a lot from him. But this was different. This was literally feeling fear of my husband. My arms had bruises. They had these bruises before, in the past. Three other times. But in all of those cases, as that demon of rage was bearing down on me through him, I could find the other guy in his eyes. I could see the sensible and peaceful side of him, begging for help to be in charge again. And I could talk to this side of him and find him.
This last time it all changed. There was no reasoning. So I left. I moved across the country and started life over again. For the...I honestly don't know how many times. More than 25 moves in 19 years...that's just a lot.
I went back to the town I came from, back to "my roots" as it were...although there weren't really any roots there. Mama died when I was 19. Dad remarried and moved away. None of my siblings lived there. But for some reason it still felt like the place to go to heal my heart. So I went.
A few months later, Cory joined me. He was on medication. He promised to continue seeking help. And I kept seeking Divine help to understand everything and to work through it all.
Then there was another episode. A bad one. A dangerous one. We had been helping some friends by keeping watch over the animals on their ranch while they were gone for a week. Because there were coyotes and other dangers, we kept a .22 in our living room so that we could quickly take care of any threat to the animals.
One night I woke to Cory standing at the foot of our bed, shaking my leg. I looked up at him and he told me, "Tara, you need to leave. Now." I was confused and in a daze as I watched him pack a bag for me and tell me, "I keep laying here thinking that I should just go grab that gun and blow your brains out. I don't know what's wrong with me, but you're not safe here. You need to go."
So I left. The next day we figured out our plan. We drove him to a mental health care facility and he admitted himself for observation. Two days into it, he was telling them he wanted to be released. And so they released him. And he came home with a diagnosis and medications to try.
A week later he was in a paranoid state and accusing me of outlandish things - which felt very normal by now, sadly. I did not have the sense or presence of mind to walk away. Instead I engaged and soon there was a full-on argument. The next thing I knew he was pulling my hair up and his other hand was around my throat as he drove me backward toward the wall. And again there was no trace of the other guy in his face.
He must have registered my panic and fear or something because he suddenly let go and cowered down to the couch. Telling me, again, that I needed to leave because I wasn't safe with him.
We made a new plan. We'd keep two residences. When I saw the cycles start, I'd leave and go to the other house and wait it out for a day or two until things could calm down. This would work. It had to. We both couldn't bear the thought of life without each other - the times out of the cycles, when he was himself, were so beautiful and wonderful and just what we wanted life to be.
He was admitted again. To a different hospital. They changed the diagnosis and the medication. This time the diagnosis was much more severe and made all that we were experiencing make so much more sense. It helped me know how to prepare. Or so I thought.
Then the cycle came without warning one day. I was just suddenly in it and there was a knife to my throat, once again backed against the wall. This time I left for good. This time I didn't know how to distinguish between temper and mental illness. So I just left. Two days later, he packed up the car and he drove back across the country to stay with his mom. And I went to California to get a new job and a new life.
The second divorce came in late April of last year. I cried. Outwardly I celebrated and held up a tough exterior. I said it was good and I was glad. I told everyone how free I felt and how much better my life was.
Then I came home and cried.
I missed Cory. Not the angry guy. Not the beast who terrified me. I missed the man who always gave me the best hug when I walked in the door from work. I miss the man who would come home from work and ask me if I needed anything. The man who would remind me to eat and make sure I turned off the computer at a decent hour and got some rest. The man who, when I couldn't sleep would stay up rubbing my legs until the pain went away and I fell asleep. The man who made dinner more often than I did because "there's no such thing as a 'woman's job' in our family." The man who would hold my hand when we knelt to pray and would put his arm around me as we prayed. The man who would laugh out loud with God while talking with him about his day and his feelings. The man who taught me that God was my best friend, not just a revered deity. The man who told me that my fellowman was my business and lived that example always. The man who endlessly gave to the needy, even when we were needy. The man who would make me laugh so hard my sides would hurt. The man who would try really hard to read a book with me...and always fall asleep before we finished the first chapter, but my goodness he'd try. The man who would say, "You've been working too long. Take a break." and then grab my hand and pull me away from the desk and take me outside for a stroll in the cool evening air while we looked at the stars. The man who LOVED Mexican food and would get so excited when we'd eat at one of his favorite places. The man who would bring me breakfast in bed, just because. The man who would tell me to go sit down and put my feet up while he washed the dishes. Then he would come and sit next to me and rub my feet while we chatted about his work and about my work. The man who would see our neighbors outside and practically trip over himself to get out there and talk with them before he missed his chance. The man who would pull the car over in a strange neighborhood and offer to finish mowing the lawn for the elderly man who was straining to finish the job. The man who would literally give the clothing off his back to the homeless people we passed. The man who would sing to me when I was feeling especially low - the times when I really missed my mom. The man who would go with me to the temple and hold my hand and talk with me of the things that thrill my heart, the things of eternity, for hours and hours. The man who didn't always understand or follow my thoughts, but who always supported them and wanted to understand them. The man who saw how much I loved our Father's children and encouraged me to always be that way. The man who scoured my bathroom until it was by far the cleanest room in the house on a weekly and sometimes every-other-day-ly basis. The man who wanted an eternal family with me. The man who little children could not stay away from, but would come to him and ask to be held by him.
That is the man I miss...and have missed for the last year.
When the call came, in early January, to tell me that Cory had coded and was revived but was in a coma, I was shocked by the feelings in me. I fell to the floor, to my hands and knees. I could not move. I wept, sorely, loudly, deeply. I knew I needed to get up, to move. I had three boys who needed to be leaving for school in a few minutes. But I couldn't move. All I could do was kneel there, half on the rug and half on the wood floor in the kitchen and weep. It was as though I had been completely gutted. No. It was so much more than that. I felt like I just lost myself. Completely.
Mom had died the summer after I turned 19. She went quickly. Cancer. Two weeks and five days from diagnosis to death. She went very quickly. After the doctor told us to prepare ourselves, that it would be any time, I had this urge to yell at the people around me. I wanted them to stop talking and laughing and moving and breathing. My world had just been slammed to a stop by an unyielding concrete wall. I was smashed into it and suddenly had to make sense of a world, of a life, without mom in it.
The divorce, especially the second time brought me so much pain that I could hardly rest at night and it took concentrated effort to breathe each day. But I found a way.
None of that pain could prepare me for the day Cory's dad called and told me he was in a coma and would most likely be dead in the next couple of days.
I still do not have words for the hole which exists in my being that seems it will never be filled.
I went to Florida. I sat with him. He came out of the coma. He began to heal. But then he didn't. But then he did. But then he didn't.
79 days after entering the ICU, Cory left it. But not the way any of us would have liked to have had him leave it. He left it with glazed eyes and a silent heart. He left it covered in holes from tubes and staples from surgeries. And all kinds of unnatural attachments which had to be removed from the flesh shell that laid on that bed.
And I have not stopped weeping for 10 days.
It has only been 10 days. It seems I have cried for an eternity. It seems I will cry for the rest of my life. My heart has physical pain. I did not know I could hurt like this. Nothing in my life prepared me to lose my Cory. He wasn't my husband anymore. But I feel like I've lost my spouse. The divorce didn't prepare me for that like you'd think it would. I feel like a widow. But he was not my husband. I mourn him as his widow. But everyone around me looks at me strangely and wonders why I'm having such a hard time.
They didn't understand the relationship Cory and I had. They didn't know the reason for the divorce was his mental illness and my physical safety. I didn't tell them. How could I? It just made me miss him all the more and cry even harder. It was easier to label him abusive and leave it at that. It was easier to tell them we were both imperfect and just couldn't figure out how to live together. It was easier to tell them that we just decided we were holding each other back and wanted to allow each other to be our best selves.
It was easier to be angry at Cory. Because he would call. And then he would cry and tell me how much he missed me. And my heart would break and I wouldn't be able to breathe. So it was easier to be mad and to blame and to make him feel defensive. Then nobody cried. Nobody felt sad. We hung up in a huff and I would secretly weep having heard the voice of the man I love but with whom I could not live.
That man is now dead. I can't hear his voice anymore. I have no recordings. I have a few pictures. Not very good ones. Mostly just things I've pulled off FaceBook.
We spent nearly 20 years of our lives together. And now the world no longer has him in it. And suddenly I don't know how this world makes any sense at all. I don't know how to yell for the world to stop moving...this strikes much deeper than that feeling. I want to just sit. Forever. And cry. Forever. I don't want to eat - because when I do, I remember him calling me in the middle of his work day "Honey, have you eaten anything yet today? Remember to get up from your work and eat something, please." I don't want to drink water - because every time I do, I remember him texting me, "I did my gallon already today! You should see my shirt! It's soaked with sweat. Maybe I better do two gallons. ;)" I don't want to sleep - because every time I do, I can smell him and I can feel him and I wake up crying because he isn't here. I don't want to look at the stars - because every time I do, I hear his voice whispering in my ear as I lean back on his chest, his arms around me as we gaze into the heavens and look at them in wonderment. And I weep. Again and again and again.
Everyone says it will get better with time. Everyone says "Well, at least you guys were already divorced and you've gotten used to living without him. So it should be easier for you." Everyone says, "I'll bet you just feel relieved."
I smile. I repeat whatever was just said to me. They feel better and walk away. And I weep. Again and again and again.
I must be dehydrated. How can there be any liquid left in my body? I'm not drinking. I'm not eating. But I'm still crying.
People say, "If you want to talk, I'm here." But how do I talk with them? They don't understand that he was both my ex-husband and my eternal companion. They don't get that, while we could not be together in this life, we have every intention of being together in the next. They get snippets of who Cory and Tara were - and they make decisions about how I should be feeling.
He wasn't my husband. But my husband died 10 days ago. Nobody gets that.
My life ended 10 days ago. I don't know how to build a new one. I don't want to try. I didn't know I could hurt like this. I didn't know I could feel this much physical, emotional, and mental pain and still be alive. People tell me I need to let go of him. That it's toxic. That it's heavy. But that's not what my heart tells me. My heart tells me he's my eternal companion and to cling to him now just as I tried to do for the last 20 years. I'm certain he's clinging to me. He always did.
People say I should release him and finally be free.
I don't know how to do that. I don't want to do that. I want to keep him, close, forever.
My husband is dead. He was both my worst enemy and my best friend. He was the scariest person I have ever known. He was the kindest, most gentle and loving person I've ever known. He was so cruel in his words that I would cry myself to sleep on the couch after he'd gone to bed. He was so loving and thoughtful that I'd weep for how loved and cared for I felt. Cory was all of this - both devil and saint. He was everything to me for so very long. How do I do anything ever again?
Today is different. I haven't cried all day long for the last couple of weeks. He died on March 17th. Today is April 11th. The day I would have celebrated if not for the mental illness. Today, but for that plague, we would have rejoiced in 20 years of being eternal companions. Last year on this day, I was weeping that the divorce papers had not finalized and I was technically still married and we had reached 19 years.
Today, I am not weeping. But my heart is in a tender place. A sacred space. An aching space. My heart feels like a tightrope stretched between my lungs and I am balancing on it back and forth as I breathe, sometimes shallow and sometimes deep. But I'm breathing, all of the emotions which came before and all which are here today, and even for those that will come in the following days, weeks, months, years as life continues and moments remind me of Cory again and again.
I laughed hard this last weekend. It was the first good laugh I've had in months. And for a brief time, I forgot that I was grieving Cory and that I was grieving my life and that I was not sure how to move forward. I have my friends, Heather Sconce and Karen Tweedy to thank for that. Heather directed "Godspell" and I went to watch it. I laughed until my side hurt. I cried when her 10-year-old daughter danced as a representation of the "gifts" from Jesus to the other people on stage. Then my heart was touched at the end.
I felt calm and peaceful this last week. I sat with my friend Erin and talked on her patio under her twinkly lights. We talked and caught up with each other's lives and hearts. It felt normal and close and tender. And my heart remembered that my life still has normal in it.
I felt loved and reassured and safe with my friend Katie. She sat with me. Let me just feel whatever I was feeling. And didn't let me do it alone. I didn't feel alone in my grief, even though she's never met Cory and never known me as anything but single. My new life was given a breath of fresh air as I spent time with her, repeatedly, over the last few weeks.
I work with my three sweet boys (sometimes not so sweet), and I remember that life is just life. They have the same bickering and petty problems they had a month ago. They are still kind one moment and then yelling and screaming the next. They are still masters of "an eye for an eye" with each other...both in the sad ways and in the lovely ways.
I'm eating. I'm drinking water. I'm making food for others. I look normal on the outside.
And life just goes on. And I just breathe. And the tightrope tightens so tight that sometimes I can't breathe. But then it loosens and I keep balancing back and forth between my lungs, my heart beating one moment at a time. Today I submit. Today I breathe. Today I smile. Today I cry. Today I do a little more than I did yesterday. And that is enough. I still probably fake it a lot more in front of people. I don't know how not to. It's nearly been a month since my not-husband died. They don't even remember that it happened. When I'm asked how I'm doing, to bring it up would be awkward and causes discomfort and silence. So I'm doing good. I'm smiling. I'm feeling happy. And most days, I am. Most days I find those moments and try to sit in them as long as possible.
Not a day has passed without me grieving. It's not a heavy wish for life to be different, but because I loved that man more than I loved myself...I loved him so much that his no longer being on this earth causes a pain and an ache in my physical body that I cannot explain or seem to release.
It has been nearly a month. So I'll just walk my tightrope. And breathe. And smile. And tell you I'm doing great. And maybe tell you that some days still feel a little hard.