I’m not sure what to write about today. One year ago, Matt and I had one more week to wait until his next MRI at Columbia. One year ago today, we were four weeks into the six week CCNU treatment cycle and officially on the lookout for any potential side effects. And one year ago today, Matt exchanged seven text messages with me regarding a piece of missing paperwork, he booked a flight to Chicago for a work trip in September, and likely—though I can’t verify this statement—had a brief, but sharp, headache.
A slow decline means that Matt’s symptoms appeared—and inversely, Matt began to disappear—in infinitely small increments. The text messages and emails do not show what exactly, if anything, had shifted between August 8, 2017 and August 9, 2017. Even my imperfect memory fails to find a way to distinguish one day from the next. The shift, if there was one, was imperceptible, even to my hyper-vigilant, hyper-anxious eye.
Scrolling back through years of August 9th emails and photos didn’t land me on any particular story relevant to today, though the pictures tell a heartbreaking story of how time keeps marching forward, despite wishing on so many birthday candles that it would slow down.
I’m left only with a story from this post-hope year. When I introduced this blog to the social media world, I wrote a blurb and noted that I couldn’t bring myself to move Matt’s shoes from where he’d left them by the door, that the only thing I could do was work on this project. It occured to me, four months and more than one hundred posts later, that is still mostly true. On the surface, the life we had one year ago today is completely preserved—clothes, shoes, memorabilia—and I cannot bring myself to do anything to change that fact.
The other day, I truly tried. I sat for over an hour with a box of old paperwork—dental bills from a decade ago, owner manuals for laptops long since surrendered, receipts for paid parking tickets (a surprising amount of parking tickets). I carefully sorted, separating everything that I may one day need from everything I almost definitely would never need. At the end of that exercise, as yet another thunderstorm darkened the sky and shook the house, I weighed the significance of both piles and placed everything back in the original box. I couldn’t, even on that small of a scale, begin to change the way post-hope looked on the outside.
And yet, despite that, post-hope looks nothing like it did six months ago. Everything from where I sit to write in the morning to the honest discussions G, H, and I have about grief and death and cancer. Those changes happened in infinitely small increments. As it turns out, the journey into post-hope is, by necessity, a slow progression, nearly imperceptible.
I can’t write about slow progressions without thinking of another story, which predates all my text messages and emails and photos. Our origin story. I’ve written that it took Matt nearly a year to admit he had feelings for me. That first year he’d forget to call when he promised, he’d make plans without including me, and once, famously, sent his sister to meet me outside of a restaurant because he didn’t want to wait for me out in the cold. (His sister shared an unforgettable opinion or two on that.) Our relationship progressed slowly, in infinitely small,—frustratingly small—increments. An extra phone call one day, a thoughtful question the next, until finally a warm hand waited on a cold night. I didn’t realize Matt had fallen in love with me until long after it was too late for him to turn back.
As it turned out, the path to falling in love was, for us, a slow progression, nearly imperceptible.
I’m not sure what my point is in this rambling post (not the first time that’s happened). Maybe a reminder that there’s no timeline for grief, just as there’s no timeline for falling in love or brain cancer? Maybe. Maybe something about inevitability, how each story informs the one that comes after, how no story would be possible without the story that came before? Possibly.
But I think my point is something less poetic and well-thought out. I think the reason I’m rambling about our origin story is the same reason I put all those unnecessary papers back in the box. I’m simply afraid of forgetting that once upon a time we were more than a year of hope.
Our year of hope was full of love and light and kindness and and courage and tears and fears and anguish and devastation, but when the story is all written, I don’t want our year of hope to be the only story told.
One year shouldn’t define anyone’s story. As I sit in the pre-dawn darkness of this post-hope year, I hope I never forget that.