July 29, 2017 brought another last. Another last I only realized with the help of hindsight. Another last that I look back on and think why didn’t I pay more attention.
One year ago today, Matt and I went out with friends to the lake’s annual adults-only beach party. We’d attended this lake party nearly every year since we moved to town. And every year, it’s a dependably fun night, though no night can match the magic of our very first lake party. Five years ago, Matt and I, still in the fog of new parenthood, realized there is a social life after kids—and it rivals, somewhat, any night Matt and I had in the city (at least any night in the city after we’d aged out of Meatpacking District clubs and gotten bored of Murray Hill bars).
Throughout the night, Matt and I separated and found each other, as we always did at parties. We mingled individually and together. I remember checking on him more than usual and feeling slightly overdramatic as I did. He was fine each time.
I texted him at 8:57 to see if he was getting something to eat, and he responded at 9:02: I would. Or I am some steak.
When I found him, unsurprisingly, on the line for steak, he laughed at his own mistake, made some self-deprecating joke. I remember laughing, too. The panic was there, but it was easy to find reasons to push it aside. Matt was tired, he was texting too fast, and though he wasn’t really drinking, everyone around him was and maybe that careless euphoria was contagious. And, honestly, it was the lake party, a dependably fun night. We—I—could choose to obsess over one text message or laugh it off and enjoy just being together, at a party, with friends.
The night ended for us when the band gave way to a DJ, and the DJ changed from playing early 90s R&B to something that wasn’t early 90s R&B.
We left and didn’t consider that we—Matt and Elaine—might never have a night like that again, to separate and find each other in the crowd, to mingle individually and together, to leave when the DJ stopped playing the music we liked.
This night is surprisingly hard to revisit. I was caught off guard by the rush of emotion making it difficult to swallow. Not only because July 29, 2017 is a last, but also because this post is a first.
July 29, 2017 is the first time in our story I’ve found a date that I can point to and say: There. I lost a piece of him there. I lost for forever the part of him that loved going out to a party, that wanted to socialize and leave when the DJ shifted to a different genre, right there. After this night, the Matt that liked to go out ceased to exist.
It’s an imprecise observation, obviously. I very highly doubt that the tumor caused any part of Matt to fade the moment we walked away from the dance floor. But in revisiting the night, I can’t help but feel as though it’s true. Matt skipped the next party, and the next, and I started missing—and never stopped missing—the Matt who wanted to go out and be out, who small talked with strangers and made me dance when I hate dancing.
Of all the pieces of Matt to lose, zeroing in on this piece feels trivial. I’m almost embarrassed to admit I noticed or cared. But I did and I do. First, because I didn’t want to lose even the trivial slivers of Matt. And second, because I think, maybe, I lost a part of myself then, too. The piece of Matt the tumor stole so unceremoniously was also a piece of us, and therefore a piece of me.
The visual that comes to mind is a Venn Diagram. If you take out even a dot from where the circles overlap, both circles now have a hole.
This year, I went to the lake party. And as I looked around the venue, I knew the hole carved out one year ago today was still missing. I was not the same person I was a year ago today, who laughed with Matt because “Or I am some steak.”
The grief wave that hit was for the loss of Matt, always, but also the loss of us and of me.
My intention is never to make anyone reading along sad. My intention is to never walk away from a post and make myself sad. So, how to turn around what feels like a heavy post? How to make all of this lighter? The answer took longer to find than I would have liked, but writing doesn’t always comply with my self-imposed deadlines.
I think the way to turn this heavy post lighter is with this reminder: a dot is a dot. Maybe that dot is gone forever. Maybe not. Maybe it’ll be filled by some other shape. Maybe it’ll grow bigger than a dot. Either way, a dot doesn’t define a story, then or now.
(And if that answer feels insufficient, then there’s always early 90s R&B.)