It’s been about 281 days since John died – about 284 since I last felt his eyes on me. For 284 days, I have experienced emotional turmoil that I did not know existed. I have fallen apart and pulled myself together again. I have physically collapsed into the arms of people I love and have stood up again. I’ve gotten out of bed every single morning with a purpose – even if that purpose was just a shower or a cup of coffee. I’ve found countless reasons to throw my head back and laugh, even during the darkest days. Those who were there for the three excruciating days in the hospital (rest assured, there were many of us) can attest that even by John’s deathbed, we laughed. We laughed at stories of him, at things he’d said, at things he’d done. We laughed at the thought of him waking up and having to endure all of us giving him a hard time for this for the rest of his life.
I remember Mikey nodding at me with his cheeky grin from across John’s bed to say, “Tessa, what’s the first thing he’s going to say when he wakes up?” I laughed and told him he’d probably say what he said to me in his sleepiest voice almost every morning when he woke up: “Oh hey Tessa, what’s up?”
In that moment, that was my biggest hope. To hear five of the simplest words every morning for the rest of my life. To have the chance again to fall asleep next to him, his hand around mine. To feel his breathing, to rest my cheek on his chest and wrap my leg around his, to feel his chin on my head and his hand on my back. To wake up in the middle of the night to the glow of his laptop screen. To continue to have to wash my pillows way more than the average person because of his drooling habit. I hoped and I hoped and I hoped not to lose the simplicity and the purity of us.
I also screamed and I cried and had a full-blown hospital meltdown when I realized my hope was slipping away. When I realized I was losing my beloved. My beloved! I fell into a blind rage and screamed at John. I told him to wake up, that we weren’t done yet. That our time together wasn’t up yet. That we hadn’t gotten our German Shepherd together yet or walked all the way from Rogers Park to Chinatown together yet or gone to the Maldives together yet or moved in together yet or had 10 kids together yet. That there were going to be more Pixar movies coming out that he was going to miss and that Test Pie was going to be wondering where he’d gone and that if he died, I was going to have to figure out what to do with that fucking fish tank that I really did love. That if he died, what was I going to do? Where was I going to go? How was I going to survive? How was I going to watch another Netflix stand-up special or eat another torta or hear another Relient K song or even stand seeing coconut water at the store when I knew I couldn’t buy it for him? How was I supposed to panic about things that didn’t matter without him there to chuckle and shake his head at me and tell me everything would be fine?
Somehow, 281+ days later, I’m surviving. Some days are very, very hard. His birthday. My birthday. Weddings. Holidays. The 26th of every month. The random Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, or Saturday here and there. Despite those hard days, the days that feel like literal hell, I can tell you exactly how I’m still surviving: my people. My people my people my people. I had no idea that the people I had inadvertently collected over the years loved me so damn much. I want to list them all here, but I know I’d accidentally leave people out and I don’t want to do that. You know who you are. My lifelines, my heavy-lifters. My Day Ones, my J. Crew, my Indy family, my Joey and my Phoebe, my Nashville boo, my east coast and west coast and middle America friends, mis hermanas, my international loves all over. My head hurts trying to come up with the right words for you because they’d be inadequate. Just please know I love you in a crazy and real way. That’s the best I can do right now.
Anyway. My friend Sam asked me a couple months ago when I was going to start writing, so here’s a start. My struggles, my revelations, my triumphs – my Eat, Pray, Love. Sometimes about grief, but probably mostly about people and cats and traveling. John’s still here of course, in the stories, in the PBR, in the habaneros, in the pickle juice, in the manta rays. Always in the manta rays.