I’m a wife. Again.
I’ve written to you lots over the last five-and-a-half years, over our two thousand days apart, nearly half the number of days we ever had together. Today marks a new day, a new letter.
I’m Mrs. Trish Heyer now. (Pronounced “Higher.”)
The world often asks me about my name, what I’ll do with this whole mess of initials and maiden names and married names. I’ll still have your name in my writing name, because it turns out this is “a brand” now, and publishers and editors like for brands to stay consistent even when lives change and people make promises and start new chapters off the page. So I’ll continue to write under this name, my first married name, your name.
I have to tell you about this book I just finished reading, and I’m a little furious about it. Just in case you might read it, on the off chance that this book is stocked in heaven and the perfectly New You likes to read now, or in the slightly more likely case that someone reading this might later read that, I’m not divulging the title. No spoilers here, no sir. Anyway, stay with me.
Someone recommended it to me, insistent that she had never fallen in love with two characters more than these two, insisting I must read as quickly as possible. In that way that I do, I did no research on the book, but I just picked it up and dove in. As it turns out, it’s a brilliant love story. This girl is looking for a job, and she is hired on a six-month contract to be a caregiver for a man, a 35-year-old quadriplegic. Of course they hate each other at first, and of course they strike up a friendship, and of course they ultimately fall in love. But we learn a few chapters in that she is only hired for a six-month contract because that’s the length of time he has agreed to live. He has tried to kill himself, and he has his mind set on suicide. His family hires her to be his friend, his companion, and to try to change his mind. And up until the very last pages, we, the readers, don’t know which way it will go, whether he will choose life or assisted suicide.
On the very last page, she is sitting in a Paris café, reading a letter from him. He wrote and addressed it for her to read after his death, and today is the day. She learns in the letter that he has left all of his money to her, to provide for her unemployment but also to give her a path to a new life after him.
And then he writes his goodbye to her,
So this is it.
You are scored on my heart. You were from the first day you walked in, with your ridiculous clothes and your bad jokes and your complete inability to ever hide a single thing you felt. You changed my life so much more than this money will ever change yours.
Don’t think of me too often. I don’t want to think of you getting all maudlin. Just live well.
I was so mad. It was awful and tragic and so very, very, very sad. And I was angry with the guy for dying and with the author for writing it and just all together mad at the world of storytelling. Of course I should be angry with myself for sticking with it, but that actually only made me impressed with the author for drawing me in so completely that I couldn’t look away from this train wreck of a love story that captivated me so entirely.
And then suddenly, I was The Girl, and The Man’s words were your words. I realized how you had made a way for me before you died, how you wanted more life for Me After You. You didn’t know you were going, not like the protagonist in this story, and yet somehow I think you knew just the same. And you made a way for me to live, breathe, and stretch my arms wide into the new life without you.
And so, my first love, here I am, now somebody else’s wife. And I hear your voice in words from the book: Don’t think of me too often. Just live well. Just live.
I believe I will.
I’ve said goodbye to you a million times in a thousand ways. This is a new way on a new day.
So long, sweetheart. It was real, and it was good, and it was ours. We had ten years together, and I’ve done half that again without you. And now I begin a new chapter with a new man and a new name and a new life.
I will think of you less, only because I must. But I will always think of you when I feel the sun on my shoulders, when it feels warm and I pretend it’s not burning my skin, even though it will be pink in a matter of time. That will always make me think of you.
And I will always think of you during football season, when Ohio State plays and wins, and when the marching band strikes up the fight song. And I will think of you every single time our son throws a winning pass, which seems to happen very nearly every Saturday. I hope you’re watching him. He is you.
And I will always think of you when I sing How Great Is Our God. I can still hear you singing beside me. And I wonder what your voice sounds like now.
And I will think of you when it is Christmas.
And when I drink root beer floats.
And likely a few times every single day when I’m not expecting to, I will think of you. This is how it has been, how I suspect it will always be. Because I was your wife, and you are scored on my heart.
But in my heart, I can’t be married to more than one person. And now I am Peter’s wife. And every part of this marriage is as sacred as the one I shared with you.
Except, I confess this time around, that I am terrified to love this hard again. Losing you changed me. Courage isn’t my fearless go-to anymore. It’s the default, the only choice left. If I’m going to live at all, I must live well. And living well is a courageous thing to do.
So, I have loved again, now fully knowing what it means to have all my chips on the table. It means I can lose. But it also means I can win. Big.
So I will do this.
It was a good life, ours. Thank you for letting me practice on you. I think I’m better at it now.
See you on the flip, kiddo.
P.S. Could you please visit Peter in a dream? I want him to know you. Please stop by sometime, just like you visit me. He’s expecting you.