The feeling that I could have done more. It’s normal, they say. It’s not true, they say. You did all you could, they say. You did your best. The problem is that statistically it’s just not possible for that to always be true. We hurt each other and fall short all the time, every day of our lives, so why would we suddenly stop fucking up when the stakes are life and death? I watched his parents fail him when they chose not to attend family day at his IOP. I saw his sister fail him when she ghosted my text asking her to come to a meeting with me. I saw myself fail him when he was sober for a month and I didn’t pick up the phone and call him even once. Of course I had my reasons. Of course we were all more than traumatized. Of course he did a million things wrong and manipulated and lied and showed up at the wrong time and failed to show up at the right time. Of course the clean-break anti-codependent therapy culture would have me believe I had nothing to offer him, that we could only hurt each other, because we fought and because we were exes. In the harsh light of hindsight and life experience I see just how wrong that was. Because right or wrong, functional or dysfunctional, idiotic or not, I was the only person he trusted to love him and I should have been by his side.
There are a million reasons I shouldn’t have had to carry him alone. A million reasons it’s unfair to hate myself for this. At least twenty people I could hold accountable for the fact that I was in this position. People who didn’t understand either of us, and who didn’t understand that connections aren’t just gone because you sever them. Therapists who didn’t see that I was struggling not for selfish revenge but to find a way to remain in his life so that I didn’t have to stop supporting him when he had no one else. And then there’s the man himself who refused to connect deeply with anyone but me and yet also often refused to do the work to bring me back into his life.
But can I blame him? No, not really. I can’t blame anyone for being sick and needing the one person who ever truly fought for them to be there. In his position I would probably need the same.
Once when we were first dating he took me to Belle Isle to climb on the rocks. He jumped across from one rock to another and then beckoned me to follow. I looked at the gap. I couldn’t do it. He held out his hands to grab me and help me across. I saw my life flash before my eyes looking down at what befell me if I didn’t make it. I still couldn’t do it. He relented and climbed back across and we walked back down the path to the bridge and left.
I wish I had mastered that discipline before he died. The art of giving in. Of saying, okay, fine. My hands are out to grab you and this gap looks safe to me, but I understand you can’t cross right now, and I’ll be the one to cross instead, to be with you, because that’s more important than anything else, and maybe later we can cross it together, with more love, with more people, with more support. He left the world with me standing over on that remote rock, tepidly holding out my hands, and saying, it’s fine! Jump! I guess it’s good I hadn’t walked away from the edge completely, but I know I could have done things differently. I know I could have made more time to visit him on the other side. Now I’m sitting on my side alone, letting my feet dangle over the water, and he’s ash and smoke at an unfamiliar crematorium. We never got to say goodbye.
People will tell me it’s not my fault. But I’m not going to ease anyone’s discomfort, even my own, if it means oversimplifying this or lying to myself. I think it isn’t my fault because I tried so fucking hard and I was so deeply hurt, and I also think it is my fault because in the end I sunk into habitual, suspicious apathy. I think it’s nobody’s fault because they were trying their best, and also the fault of most people who came in contact with us because there was so much willful misunderstanding, so much bad advice. What I know for sure is we both deserved better than what happened to us.