Our story

So here’s our story.

We met almost 50 years ago, on the first day of 3rd grade in 1974. We lived eight houses apart. We were the two kids in the neighborhood with divorced parents, the beginning of our connection. I was a scared, sad, shy little boy shivering in a world of bewildering pain. No matter how deep my despair, when she smiled, for a moment, the gray clouds parted and the sun shone on my face. Her laugh was the music I would orient my life around, as unquestioned as iron filings aligning to a magnet.

Our school separated us into different classes for 4th and 5th grade, but we we reunited in 6th. I liked her at 8. I had a crush on her at 12. I had a bad crush on her by 13. I was in love with her at 15.

She felt the same.

Neither of us dared to tell the other how we felt.

She had boyfriends. I didn’t have girlfriends. Her boyfriends were everything I wasn’t: confident, handsome, effortlessly popular, coasting through life and acclaim with her smiling on their arm, or glittering in their car.

I traveled, alone. We wrote letters. She still sent me signs I was too scared to acknowledge, out of a terror that I’d be misinterpreting something and that I would never recover. She told me she wanted to be married by 25. She told me she wanted kids. I didn’t. We finally confessed our love for each other, but it was too late. She was engaged to someone who would give her the family she wanted. I went to their wedding, on Valentine’s day, and left with a thread from her wedding gown.

Years and decades passed. Quietly, I burned for her. I knew she would never be mine. That knowledge became the water I swam in.

Once we were walking with her first newborn. A woman stopped us to coo over him and looked at me and said “he has his father’s eyes!” Inside, I died.

We kept in touch. We’d see each other once or twice a year. Sometimes it was too painful to bear. She raised three beautiful children. Much later, I married. No kids.

Six years ago, both of our marriages began to end. We met again at a grammar school reunion. We saw each other and were lost. It was time. It had to be. “No stopping this train,” she wrote.

It took a couple of years before we could begin. Those were hard years, of yearning, of change, of fear. “We were meant to be together,” she cried one night, sobbing into my neck as I held her.

We finally got our chance. In 2020, COVID hit. We were living separately then; we decided to shelter together and she came to live with me, and never left. She had had a nagging cough through the winter that was initially diagnosed as pneumonia, then bronchitis. Doctors weren’t seeing patients. It got worse until we were finally able to get her seen in May, when they learned it was cancer. By mid-June the diagnosis was stage IV lung cancer, absolutely out of the blue. She was fit and active and healthy, and had never smoked. They said the average lifespan for her cancer was three years.

This was the beginning of our life together.

We went into treatment immediately at Dana Farber. Chemo and immunotherapy every 3 weeks that left her catatonic half the time. She couldn’t work anymore and I went back to school to get my masters so I could support her better. She did radiation one summer to try to kill the lung tumor; we never found out whether it worked. It spread to her abdomen and we fought it there. It popped up in the liver and we fought it there. We jumped from chemo to chemo and later, from clinical trial to clinical trial. In April 2022, as soon as our divorces were clear, I asked her to marry me. We planned an August wedding. Dana Farber told us not to wait. We rushed it to May, getting married in the Aboretum in Boston on a perfect day. Saying “I do” to her was the deepest and most truthful thing I’ve ever said in my life.

She rebounded. Her hair grew back (white). We sold our houses and moved and bought a home together in 2023. She made it into exactly what she wanted. She started doing aerial yoga again. We were keeping the cancer at bay, and looking forward to radical new treatments on the near horizon, just needing to stay ahead of it until they came. We had options. We had a future. At the end of the summer, we knew there was an area of the liver that was becoming problematic, but there were 3 different approaches – 2 new trials, and another chemo – on the table, and it was just a question of which we’d pick.

Our dreams were coming true. Our love was perfect. Our happiness was perfect. All I needed was to be near her. Her loves were simple: she loved animals, she loved reading, she loved being with family, and amazingly, she loved being with me. And because it was so easy for her to be happy, it was easy for me to be happy. We were perfect. Every single minute was simple and perfect.

In September 2023 her skin turned yellow.

They couldn’t treat her until they cleared a blockage in her liver. They sent her to the hospital. Over two weeks there, we learned, in a terrifying cascade of stages, that they couldn’t do anything, and just like that, that was it. They sent us home. Three weeks later, she died. I gave her the morphine that she never woke up from. I closed her eyes.

She was the love of my life.

The deepest part of the deepest part of my heart was, and remains, a cathedral, started in childhood, built only for her. I am who I am because I loved her, and because she loved me, in ways I’m only now coming to understand. And now she is gone forever.

The world is a negative of itself now, and I am trapped in it. I am learning the language of grief, the divide that exists between those who have lost their partners and those who haven’t, which I was only intellectually aware of when I was on the other side of it. The permanence of her absence is too enormous to understand. I blink in the aftermath of the bomb blast that blew half of me away, dazed and uncomprehending, staggering in a landscape I only barely recognize. That is grief. That is the world for me now. It will never heal. I am far, far less than half of what we were together.

The most important single thing about me is that I loved her, for most of my life, since before I knew what love was. Everything else is incidental.

You don’t get what you deserve; you get what you get. This is what we got. Not the simple, perfect, happily ever after that we deserved, that most people do get, that was not too much to ask for. It wasn’t. We lost decades in our youth; we hoped we’d have at least one or two still to live. We reached our first anniversary. We won’t have a second.

Take nothing for granted, I shout back across the divide, pointlessly. I couldn’t have received that message myself, even recently. You think you know how it will be. You have no idea.

She was a creature of pure light and joy who inexplicably loved me. I loved her like the earth loves the sun. Without her, I am a rock adrift in cold, dark space. Grief is the price of love. I grieve inconsolably because I loved her absolutely.

I hope I’m wrong about the nature of the universe and that our story is not over. I hope there’s something bigger that will make it make sense in some other frame. It will never make sense in this one. When my time comes — and it can’t come soon enough for me — if I have any agency, I will find her. Like iron filings to a magnet. We were meant to be together.