words and art by courtenay gray
There is snow on the ground outside, far from untouched and tainted, but it’s there. Tainted love is not just a song but a state of being in my life. The only man to have ever loved me died on Christmas Eve Eve. The coroner estimated that he died a few days before that, but I only found out the day before Christmas Eve. We were a long distance couple.
Christmas Day was unusual and not just because of the pandemic, but because of the grief. There are copious amounts of articles and books on how to mourn people that you can touch, but what about those that you cannot?
We had plans to meet the following spring. Our discussions consisted of museums, art galleries and the type of hotels where the plush cranberry red carpet welcomed you like a movie star. I wrote about how we would sip champagne and feed each other maraschino cherries with a palpable seductive edge.
Our foolish daydreams were palatable then, now they leave an acrid taste because I will never get to do those things with him. The grief comes with a side order of guilt. I spend hours going over the times that I got frustrated with him for forgetting something, or the times that I took his company for granted.
Despite my capacity to love, nobody has ever loved me until one day, when Stewart did. Before then, I would be plagued by unrequited love and the searing pain that comes from it. Valentine’s Day always reminded me that nobody wanted to love me. The sad irony is that Stewart and I didn’t get to see our first Valentine’s Day.
If I was to meet who was in charge of taking people away from this Earth, I would ask them why they snatch away the good things? Why?
As self-serving as I can be, I do not believe I have been so cruel to deserve such emotional torture. When I look at those who have wronged me, I do not see comeuppance or recompense, I see joy and laughter. This does not make any sense to me.
Days shy of Christmas, my one and only love was taken away. The festivity that shone through the car speakers only served as a reminder of what I had lost. Our time as a couple seems so abrupt and premature.
I have tried to keep a positive outlook these past few years, but tragic moments keep hitting me and I have begun to question it all. I feel raw. I feel as though I have shed my skin, and I am a walking skeleton decorated with pulpy flesh.
As soon as I wake up, I am hit with that emptiness. A piece of me is missing, and I cannot get it back. It is gone forever. To remember him, I have ordered the cologne that he used and sprayed his letters to me with. Once it arrives, I will spray it around my room, so I can feel that he is near.
I feel under constant review, an incomplete thing. Those that dig their heels into my soul are suddenly gone, and I am left without direction. The loneliness returns and I cannot hear because the screaming silence is deafening.
Our love story was unique, it was special. I am certain that our meeting was down to chance and fate. We corresponded via text and old-fashioned snail mail. Before I sent my letters off, I would seal them with wax and spray them with my perfume.
The peculiar thing about our situation is that nobody can console me. There will always be something that cannot be resolved. I believe that my grieving process would be far easier if we had been able to meet and hold each other. All I can think about is how his body would have felt against mine and how his hand would have felt holding mine. Then, I have to stop because those dreams are over and far too excruciating to entertain.
Mentally, I am a builder constructing steel walls to trap those daydreams. My pain is the glue that holds it all together. If there comes a day that the wall collapses, I will not survive. My survival is fragile.
I have always had this dream of being in a high rise apartment with glass windows looking out into the glow of the city lights. I would be out on the balcony, watching the stars and letting the man back in our bed sleep. I pictured Stewart as that man, the one who would come out and wrap his strong arms around my squishy waist.
Instead, I am looking for Stewart among the stars. The last thing he told me was to look at the stars because he would be there. He died by himself and I hate myself for not being there. His body lay motionless in his apartment while I sang his praises to my hairdresser. The news of his death would come a week later.
I dream of Paris and how we were going to visit Les Deux Magots & The Café De Flore. Marriage is something I have never wanted but had he asked, I would have said yes. I keep a Polaroid of him in my phone case to remind myself of the man who should never be forgotten.
They tell you that death is common and a part of life, but nothing can prepare you for when you lose someone who you cannot hold. A person who you had trusted to be all of your firsts. There is emptiness in death, but that emptiness becomes porous when you are long distance. The stabbing pain of what could have been hurts me every hour of each day.
Before I drift off to sleep, I take a moment to stare at the sky and look for that gilded star. I know he is there looking down on me and I regain a glint in my eye. Tears will pool and my heart will flip-flop but the pride I feel to have loved such a wonderful human being will make all the pain somewhat worth it.