Two years ago, Shawn and I threw a party that was particularly crazy.
We didn’t really mean for the party to get so wild. We just wanted to have a few friends over to celebrate the year and toast our successes, failures, and ability to have merely survived. As I remember, we were still reeling from the 2016 election, because that was the election that was supposed to have meant a big, important job for Shawn and ultimately didn’t pan out that way. Instead, we threw a party.
Somehow, we all had way too much wine, in the way that you can when you aren’t really trying to have too much wine but someone keeps refilling your glass as you laugh and tell stories and then….you realize too late that you really had just a bit too much. We let the kids stay up super late (I have a memory of 2-year-old Tommy wandering around just in his diaper at like 10 pm) and we laughed with each other until the wee hours of the night when the kids had all fallen asleep watching movies in the basement. It was a perfect night.
What I remember most about that night was Shawn, of course. Shawn telling stories, Shawn laughing so loudly I thought the neighbors could hear us, Shawn trying to get everyone to do even crazier things than usual. Sitting on his lap that evening, I remember feeling like I was the only girl in that room – or at least feeling like I was definitely the happiest one. We’d had a hard year (or so we thought!) with a lot of disappointment at the end of it, but there we were, fully living life with our friends. Despite it all, we were happy.
Last year around this time, I was at a party with some of the same people. We were trying to keep things normal for the kids, so even though Shawn was in the hospital, I spent a few hours socializing. My lasting memory from that party was watching my friend Kristin and her husband Shaffer interact with each other across the room. She was laughing at something he said, and he smiled at her and pulled her close and they kissed. Then she laughed again.
I mean, I remember it like it was a damn movie. I remember it because it was so painful for me to watch. It was the first time I’d seen a happy couple interact since Shawn had been diagnosed a few weeks prior. That night, I sobbed on the floor of my bathroom, quietly grieving the physical loss of my husband at parties like these, worried that I might someday be without him.
I had no idea he’d be gone three weeks later. If I had, I would never have left his side. I thought Shawn would live for many more years, and although by that point I knew it wouldn’t be forever, I certainly thought he’d make it to all of the parties in 2018.
I never told Kristin about that moment until it happened again last weekend. Kristin and Shaffer were at my house, and she was telling a story and somehow flung salsa all over his cup. He joked with her about being crazy and then wiped off his cup and said something like, “but I love you and you can fling salsa in my cup anytime.”
We all laughed. And then she smiled at him and kissed him. And I thought of the moment a year ago when they did the same thing: showed me a simple act of love. No grandiose gesture, no perfect present. Just a guy letting a girl fling salsa into his cup and still loving her despite her imperfections.
I tried to explain to her how it had made me feel to see them happy a year ago. How hard it had been to witness that moment, but how I remained happy for them even if I was sad for me. I also tried to tell her how this month, finally, I’ve been able to see happiness between couples I know and feel okay. It’s still hard to watch my friends live in their happy marriages, but for the first time, I’m starting to be able to sit with it and feel something like appreciation.
I’m glad that there are happy couples around me. It’s not always easy to watch, but it reminds me, just a little, about how things once were for me. It reminds me of those good times.
I think I appreciated my relationship when Shawn was alive, but I still wish I had done it more often. I wish I had more moments like the salsa moment when I’d turned to him and said, “you can fling salsa in my cup anytime” with a smile on my face. So now, when I see simple acts of love between two people, I am glad that I am starting to feel that happiness not as a threat, but more like an invitation. Maybe I will feel that again someday.
I think it’s a step in the right direction.