There are dates that stand out for each person. Universal dates that connect us as a people and personal dates that define us as a person. Some of those dates are good and some are irretrievably sad.
Generally these dates are parsed across a lifetime so the good ones far outweigh the bad. Across the 40 odd years that I have walked this planet I have been blessed to have more of the good dates than the bad. And as a general rule when those bad ones come around I have the memory of lovely days to banish those dark thoughts.Then August rolls around and no amount of good days can banish the bad thoughts.
August hasn’t always been a bad month. As a child, it was the month where I got to get new school supplies and then start all new classes with new teachers (yes I was that geek that liked school). Later in life it just became a neutral month. Then when I was 21 my favorite grandparent, my amazing grandfather, the man I worshiped and adored passed away unexpectedly. My anchor was gone.
He was my everything to me, more of a father in many ways than my own father. He was the person I ran to when my engagement fell apart five months earlier. I cried on his shoulder as he assured me that I would fall in love again. He was gone. I remember calling my best friend, Fred, and telling him. He dropped everything to drive me the 100 miles north to attend the funeral.
He stood by my side at the wake and the funeral. He watched me as I stoically greeted all of the friends, colleagues and family over the next few days. He covered for me when the afternoon of the wake I disappeared with my godfather and my grandfather’s other closest friends to the nearest bar to knock back shots of Jameson’s. He made sure that I didn’t slap the crap out of my two younger cousins who made complete asses of themselves at the wake, rosary, mass and grave side service.
After it was all over and we went back to the hotel, he held me as I finally broke down and all of the stress of the days prior brought me to my knees. He carefully put the pieces back together and kept my family at bay until I was ready to stand up and face them. It wasn’t the first time he put me back together and it wouldn’t be the last.
Over the next eight years Fred and I would bounce back and forth in each other’s lives. We were briefly engaged, we were best friends and then we weren’t. I ran away in search of a new life and eventually met my husband and moved on. Fred and I stayed friends, best friends. I got married, had a kid and moved several times.
Fred worked hard, moved several times, dated a few people and eventually opened his own company. He moved back to New Orleans and made a life of his own. Throughout it all, we talked regularly, we emailed even more regularly and we still saw each other frequently.
Then my marriage hit a very rough patch. Call it the seven year itch come early or growing pains or two very different people who gave up, whatever it was it led to a separation and an eventual divorce. Once again Fred was there to pick up the pieces.
Suddenly the man who had been my best friend for all of my adult life was also the love of my life. I didn’t know how I had never seen it before. Why had I pushed so hard against this? It didn’t matter, it was here now and I planned on grabbing it with both hands.
Plans were made, furniture and clothes were moved, papers were drawn, schools were selected. We decided to take a vacation to the Keys to celebrate. We spent a glorious week in a private home on a private key. We had to take a boat to get to our island hideaway. If we didn’t want to see other people we didn’t. We swam in the ocean, talked, planned.
On August 23, 2005 we drove back to Miami and separated at the airport. I was off to Orlando on business and he was headed back to New Orleans. I remember laughing as he begged me to blow off my meetings and fly home to New Orleans with him. I kissed him reminding him I would see him in five short days. I was supposed to fly back to Dallas on Friday and drive to New Orleans on Sunday. That was the plan, we had a plan.
Sunday morning, we talked and decided I would delay my trip. His family (parents, brother, sister in law and nieces) was evacuating but he was going to stay. I argued with him and begged him to evacuate and come to Dallas or go north to my parents but he resisted.
August 29th rolled around and one of the largest storms ever to hit the Gulf of Mexico hit New Orleans. Every fail safe the city had failed. Storm surge hit the city devastating it. We were fortunate. Our home sustained minimal damage. I spoke with Fred on Wednesday and everything was OK. He was safe, the house, his parent’s house and his brother’s house were all fine.
He had no idea when he would be able to get out of the city or when we would be able to get into the city. Cell service was sketchy and we knew it would be hard to stay in touch. But I knew he was safe and it was all that mattered. I didn’t know it was the last time I would speak to him.
Eight days later his father called. No one had heard from Fred since the Wednesday I had spoken to him. They’d finally made it into the city and to the house. There wasn’t a happy ending to that day. No killer was ever found nor will they likely ever be. In the space of a single phone call my life was irrevocably changed.
For the second time in my life my touchstone was gone. I couldn’t cope, didn’t know how to move on. It took six months to put all of the pieces back together. There are things I still struggle with and things I still can’t face. Nine years later I enter August hopeful this will be the year I make it through the month without a meltdown or some melancholic moment that drops me to my knees.
It doesn’t look like this year will be that year. Today it all hit me. Suddenly in the middle of a completely innocuous online conversation something random struck me the wrong way. I was shattered. I sat in my office crying, ugly, wracking sobs.
I had the sense of mind to close my office door so the kidlet wouldn’t hear my anguish. My husband (yes the same one from earlier in the story) came home and knew instantly what had happened. He’s been through this before so he knew what to do.
Half an hour later he had me smiling, then laughing. He got me fed and partially sedated and then he put me to bed with my laptop with strict orders to write about it. So here I am writing about it. I haven’t decided if I will actually hit the publish button. This might just be one of those I write, save and never publish.
The one piece of advice my husband gave me was to think about a few happy days to remember. I was free to languish in the grief but only if I could find five happy things to reflect on. So here goes,
- The day I met Fred (which was also in August). He was gorgeous and funny and took my breath away. I ended up going out with someone else I met just before I met him. But on that day a friendship started which helped shape who I am as an adult. He truly made me a better person.
- An ill advised midnight water skiing trip. I won’t say how much alcohol was involved but I am certain it’s proof angels watch out for stupid people.
- A ski trip to Tahoe where I dislocated my shoulder on the last run before we left. I spent the flight home high as a kite and Fred got to cut me out of my shirt in the middle of DFW.
- December 31, 1997 standing on the back of a riverboat in the middle of the Mississippi watching fireworks explode all around us as he asked me to marry him. It didn’t work out but it was a beautiful moment.
- Paris, May of 2005. Fred joined me on a trip and we had a lovely long weekend in the city of lights.
Those are five memories of Fred that make me smile. Technically I have met the quota my husband set for me. But I’m a bit of a rule breaker so I have to add one more. I am blessed with an amazing husband who helped put the pieces back together. Each August when the pain overtakes me, he is strong enough to know it is not about him or our relationship. He picks up the pieces and helps me find my balance again. That is the best sort of happily ever after.