It's the most romantic day of the year and all that crap, which is what I was banking on when I decided to give Sean the weekend to himself when he wouldn't answer my phone calls on Thursday February 10, 2005. My plan was to let him have the next few days to think about things, and to miss me, and I would talk to him on Monday, on Valentine's Day. Of course, the results are well-known by my blog followers: I showed up at Sean's apartment after class on Monday to find him dead, lying next to the rifle he'd used to shoot himself.
Subsequent events included a 911 call, a parade of emergency vehicles, a brief questioning by the police to clear me of any participation in his death, a phone call to his dad Gary as I tried to beat the authorities to the punch so that he didn't have to hear the news in an official declaration the way I did, as though my eyes hadn't already told me all I needed to know. There was a meeting with Sean's mom Laurie which led to a verbal assault as to why I kept pursuing a relationship that was so clearly wrong, comforting words from Gary, Sean's sister Tracy, and his friends, a reversion to the Catholic faith after a 5-year leave of absence, and nine years of guilt even while my brain tells my conscience this wasn't my fault. Nine years of mourning a life cut short by his own hand. Nine years of wondering who he would be today, what his children might have looked like. Nine years of missing the person who clearly wasn't meant to be my life partner, but who did understand me and my hurt and my trauma at the time better than anyone I had ever met. Nine years of wondering what's become of his soul.
I don't think there will ever come a time when I don't cringe at the sight of Valentine's Day decor. The memories of Valentine's Day 2005 are a stain in my memory that won't be dissolved. But this year the blow has been softened slightly by a message received in my Facebook inbox from Laurie this year. Unlike the meeting nine years ago between a devastated mother and a 23-year old girl still in shock, this was a message from one mourning mother to another. We now had the unspeakable in common. We were now two women, struggling every day to keep ploughing through life with the holes in our heart left when our sons left this world.
Laurie told me that I would never really get over the loss of my son, but I would learn to find happiness again. She told me that the day Tracy was married was the happiest day of her life and I know, even without her saying so, that as happy as she was, she distinctly noticed Sean's missing presence on that day. I know that she must have felt something like I feel when Rocco moves and I long for Gabriel's two and a half year old's hand to place over my belly to share the moment with. I know that on this holiday, when the world is so full of love, Laurie and I are both suffering in a way that we've become experts at disguising.
I've learned the hard way that I'm better off spending Valentine's Day sober. This year, for the third year in a row, I will be the sober host of the Anti-Valentine's Day party in the very bar where Sean and I met ten years ago. The backlash against Valentine's Day commercial grossness has grown, and for the last two years the party has been well-attended and well-received. We make angry toasts to our exes, and heckle the unfortunate couples who dare to enter our territory and display their affection among us. We sing break-up songs, done-me-wrong songs, and get-lost songs and find surprising joy in an evening centered on something so seemingly negative. We're all happy to be right where we are. I always make my last toast to Sean, and urge attendees that even while I mock this most romantic of holidays, I would encourage anyone who is able to find love to grab it with both hands. We should never let go of love.
This year I also can't help but note that one more thing is missing: My Valentine's Day gift from 14 years ago, my cat Lily, was put to sleep last July. I've spent many February 14ths, particularly since Sean's death, celebrating her homecoming day in effort to redirect my focus. I do miss her this year, even while my parents' home where she resided now houses a new kitten.
I've come to accept that there will always be people missing from my life. It's not the "normal" kind of missing, either - Who expects to bury their boyfriend at age 23, and then their child at age 29? Who knows how to come to terms with those losses without grasping and falling short and screwing up sometimes? I've done all of the above, but I've been blessed to have people to cling to, people to pick me up, people who don't abandon me when I screw up. On this Valentine's Day as I once again wrestle my warped views of life and love and romance I have confidence that after I make it through this day once again, tomorrowo I will wake up still damaged, still struggling, still stained by the events in my life, and still loved.