January 22, 2018

Without any warning, Brad shoved his camera under my nose, displaying a photo of two of my friends and an older man I didn’t know. “Who’s this old guy?” I asked. “That’s Barry,” he answered. Barry, the man I was going to marry. Barry, the man I hadn’t seen since he walked out my door nearly 21 years ago. Now a total stranger.

I searched his face but saw no clues. He has a goatee but it’s sheer white now. His hair looked short. “He doesn’t have any hair,” Brad and Kate said. My heart sank. That incredibly gorgeous mane of thick, glinting, copper hair — all gone.

I didn’t know what to feel. I felt detached. I suppose I was stunned. The image keeps popping up in my head at weird times, as if to say, “And what do you feel now? And now?”

Part of me is glad I saw it in such a shocking way (another part wants to kill Brad for taking the choice away from me) so I can make it clear to my PTSD-ravaged self that “my” Barry is in the past. Way in the past. So long ago I don’t know that self of mine anymore. This Barry is a stranger, with his own ways. He stopped being mine a long time ago.

Next to my bed and on my fridge is an affirmation I wrote to help with my PTSD, declaring that I live NOW. “NOW is free of the agony of the past.” And many times that’s true. But in therapy we decided to start my grief work over not having children and Barry came up first. Oh, how I wept. An agony of the past. And a still-held grief for what might have been. The family I never had. The life I never had.

I don’t cry anymore for longer than 5 minutes unless I’m watching a movie or in ritual. I’ve been that way since the Terrible Thing happened almost exactly 18 years ago. But on Tuesday, I cried. I really cried.

Barry was 85% of what I wanted. But he also brought so much to the table that I didn’t know I needed. We kept ourselves to ourselves for the most part. None of our friends understood our devotion to each other. I still remember when Chris wailed, “But Cairril, he owns GUNS!” He was so much more than that.

Some nights as we lay cuddled in bed I’d ask him for a story. After bitching for a while he’d settle into a serial about a soldier and an enchantress on a deserted island. That was we. But we were so much more.

There came a time when I realized that my everyday love for him was flutes and piccolos but the TRUE love, the love underpinning it all, was deep, deep, bass, like the Scottish mountains looming up from immeasurable depths. And I realized that there was no part of me that did not love him.

He had a dream a few nights before he left me where he was floating outside his grade school and looking in the windows. In one room was his party friends. I waited in the other. And in the dream, he chose me. His true self chose me. But in the waking world he was very frightened of change, and living with me would bring change on a tectonic scale. And his fear was greater than his love.

I have had three soulmates in my life. He was number two. And he was perhaps the most consequential on the positive side of the scale. He asked me to stretch and I stretched, not because he wanted me to but because he was articulating a person I wanted to be. I became amazing with him. My life grew rich and textured like I’d so long imagined. And the night came, after the wretched James Bond movie, where we wrapped our arms around each other’s waists and I yelled, “Goddammit, marry me!” which is about what you’d expect from me. We laughed and laughed, exquisitely aware that if he said yes in that moment it meant yes for good. But we just laughed and postponed the final commitment.

Barry was incredibly passionate and romantic. Also extremely patient, beyond anything I’d experienced before. What a fabulous combination for me. He was loyal to the nth degree. He is the only intimate I’ve had who truly believed that we were a team. When there was a problem, it was OUR problem. That meant we put the problem on the table before us and the two of us set side-by-side working through it — teammates. Everyone else I’ve known has approached it like a worker/manager negotiation, where each party picks the opposite side of the table to be on and negotiates for the best possible deal for them.

Only a handful of you have ever known me in a romantic relationship. Almost all my Facebook friends have only known me since I’ve been single. And sometimes I want to grab you all by the shoulders and shake you and cry, “I was loved once!” Someone wanted to MARRY ME once!” There’s more to me than what you see. He saw it in me and encouraged it to come out. I grew wings. But that was long ago and far away. Since 2000 my wings have crumpled and rotted away. I search my self for that long-ago me but she’s hidden.

On my altar I have a card that says, “I am trying to find the way back to myself. I am listening.”

Barry-of-my-youth, bless you for giving me the stage and the encouragement to become whole. Barry-of-today, I don’t know you. All I can do is wish you well. I will tend to the old you in my heart but not beg you to return to that incarnation. It was all so long ago.

Once I was loved. Once I wept. Once I flew. I am listening.