Chuck never wanted to be one those people who retire and die the next day or the next week. He wanted time to enjoy his life without work, time to relish waking up together and lingering abed. Time to travel and be with each other and grow our marriage even more.
In April 2009 he sent an email to me at home. This is what it said. And this was my response….We put the house on the market, sold or gave away most of our belongings, and packed everything else into a U-Haul truck to put into storage for future use. We’d need some shit to start up again, right, when we settled down?
On May 29 we closed on our house, and Chuck immediately got in the truck, I got in our SUV, and we headed west, the first of many times we headed west from Jersey. And we never looked back.
May 29, 2009. The day we began our Happily Homeless adventures. We tossed what was left of our belongings in storage and continued further west, state shopping, so to speak. Where did we want to settle down?
Until, 3 months in, we looked at each other and said why on earth do we want to stop doing this? and continued on. And on and on, for our last 4 years together. We drove over mountains and through desert valleys and crossed miles long bridges over breathtaking rivers and we climbed to the highest points of various states and laughed when they were barely above sea level, and danced among the waves of the Pacific Ocean and visited family and friends and made new friends along the road, and stopped to have lunch and wander among out of the way cemeteries and paid our respects at National Cemeteries and had wild and crazy sex in towns and cities around America and fell more deeply in love and managed our way through Chuck’s first cancer with its’ 5 surgeries and went back out on the road to fucking live by god and visited National Monuments and Parks and learned American history from a local standpoint and we danced to Clint Black in hotel rooms and in military lodgings and we sat 1 foot across from one another in our SUV and discussed marriage and relationships and men and women and roles and our kids and family gossip and our hopes and dreams and we lived and we lived and we fucking lived until we danced our last dance in Death Valley and this man who lit up my world died in a hospice in southern CA, eaten up by cancer but strong in spirit and with love until his last fucking moment.
On May 15, 2013 I began my Odyssey of Love. I walked down the 15 steps from a condo we’d rented for our stay in Cathedral City, CA, carrying Chuck’s cremains in my arms. I returned to Jersey to give him well-deserved military honors. I bought PinkMagic. I’d never towed and I’d never camped and my world was incinerated around me and beneath me and my heart was shattered into glass and my chest felt as if a meat grinder was continually slicing away inside of me. I couldn’t breathe, I didn’t know how to do what I was doing. I didn’t have a plan, or a destination or a goal. I was like Sgt Schulz on Hogan’s Heroes, but not in a funny way.
All I knew then, all I know now, all I will ever be able to tell you, all I really care about telling anyone, is this…
Love must be stronger than this grief. It must both be bigger than the emptiness of life without Chuck and fill that emptiness. It has to be, or I will cease to exist. I push every day, every every day, to make his left behind Love bigger than anything else.
I don’t know how else to do any of this. Without that Love I couldn’t have driven over 100,000 miles on my own, tracking down highways and side roads Chuck and I traveled together, stopping to eat lunch at roadside stands where he and I lingered over lunch, seeing the mountains and deserts and bridges and lakes and rivers and prairie grasses and beauty of this country through eyes wet with tears and my heart shattering again and again.
The thing is, for anyone who doesn’t know this already…yes, I have incredible memories. Everywhere I go there are memories. I have memories to look at and memories to hold in my heart…but those memories don’t make this better. Indeed, those memories serve as a stark reminder of 24 years gone, never to happen again. Those memories, though I cherish each and every one of them, are a double-edged sword, reminding me of my alone-ness in the world now, without him. And I struggle with that.
Each day is a decision on my part to get up and make Love bigger than anything else. I don’t ignore my grief; I hold it within the Love Chuck left behind for me, I hold it within the Love I had for him, still have for him. And it fucking hurts, no matter how I do any of this, and it’s spiritually exhausting, so I feed the Love every day by reaching out to people, giving and receiving hugs, and being of service where and how I can.
Chuck was Love. I was his Love. He was my Love. He was my beloved, as I was his. We were in Love for 24 years. He died loving me and I kissed him for the last time with my heart overflowing with Love for him and the Love he’d brought into my life. His left behind Love pushed me into my pink car and has fueled me for 4 years and I have to I must always always always carry that knowledge in my heart and plant it in my mind every damn day so that I don’t lose my mind.
Love Love and Love harder and more, no matter anything else.
I repeat this to myself now, at this moment, as my heart takes me back to May 29, 2009, watching Chuck climb into the U-Haul, as I remember turning the key to follow behind the truck, headed west, as we began our Happily Homeless adventures…
Love. Only Love.