I lost you three years ago today. When I say I lost you, that’s exactly what I mean. You are dead, but I have no idea where you went, because you are somewhere I have never been. People love to speculate about what happens after death, but the world is full of people who have never died, so you remain lost. And when you lose something you’re supposed to check the last place you left it and retrace your steps, so I jump around through time, retrace the steps of our relationship. I check everywhere I’ve ever seen you, just in case I’m there at the exact right moment to experience some sort of glitch in time, some freak event wherein I can catch even a glimpse of you.
I look in your mom’s house, your brother’s house, your sister’s apartment. I turn over pillows and look behind potted plants just in case death shrank you, because there is nothing in this world of which I am certain. I drive past your old apartment building and past my old house and consider asking the new tenants if I can have a look around, maybe ask them if they’ve run into any exceptionally handsome and hilarious ghosts since they moved in. I look in the park where your family and I spread your ashes last year to see if anything still remains.
I look in the art museum where we wandered around one week after meeting each other, hands lazily clasped as though we had been doing so our entire lives—no need to hold on tight because we both already knew we fully belonged to each other, even then. We paid more attention to the other people than the art and made up backstories for everyone, some silly, but never unkind. I never heard an unkind word cross your lips, even when your dripping sarcasm was on full display.
I look in the bar where you told me you loved me for the first time, stone cold sober, shouting it so everyone in the building could hear. You were telling me something I already knew, and I said it back, which is something you already knew, too. It felt good to let what had been growing inside of us rapidly since the moment we met burst out of our bodies and into existence, like those crazy seed pods that explode into the air.
I go to the parking lot of the grocery store where we first met. I park in the same spot I parked in back then, I walk the same aisles we walked as we talked, strangely familiar with one another, already sharing a shopping cart, and I pause in the pasta aisle, where you offered to cook me dinner that very night. I was not and still am not the type of person who generally allows people I met seven minutes prior to come into my home and cook for me, but I said yes without hesitation. That grocery store is overpriced and is now out of my way since I moved, but I still shop there all the time, just in case you’re there, weighing our options and debating between a white and a red sauce.
I check at the edge of that lake we drove to during the last leg of summer. It was the golden hour, and you waded into the lake, fully clothed. I stood on the shore, afraid of the water, afraid of drifting away or slipping beneath the surface, until you turned around, water up to your neck, and extended your hand to me. I went towards you, and we were both silent and serious for possibly one of the first times ever. You took a step towards me when the water reached my neck and I wrapped myself around you. We floated there, drifting in lazy circles as the sun set around us, staring silently into each other’s eyes, and I have never felt more intimately connected to another person in my life. It was then that my suspicions were confirmed that you knew me, the core of who I am, not just the parts I choose to show people, and to be seen so completely in that way is both terrifying and liberating. In those moments, I saw a thousand futures for myself laid out before me, each of them with you, because everything was possible with you as my partner, but not even one accounted for you dying young and leaving me here without you.
I know all the old sayings. I’ve lost so many people that these things have been said to me so many times that they have lost any scrap of meaning: you’ll live on in my heart, you’ll always be with me, you’re watching over me, we’ll meet again in the next life or wherever our essence goes after death. It’s my first inclination to say that most days these thoughts are enough for me, because I’m nothing if not a people-pleaser and hate for others to think I am unhappy, but the truth is that there has been no day in the last three years where those thoughts have been enough. No, I don’t weep daily and wrap myself in black shrouds and stand on cliff-sides shouting at the sky (though, if there were any good cliff-sides nearby I may consider it), and yes, I am actually happy more often than not on a day-to-day basis and have dated new people and lived my life. But there is still this gnawing dread in the pit of my stomach that you were it. You were the only person capable of seeing me in my entirety, and I know that is logically untrue and I am fortunate enough to have many incredible people in my life who really, truly get me, but it’s not the same.
People sometimes ask about you and one of the more common questions is “When did he die?” and is it terrible of me to be relieved to finally be able to say it was a few years ago? A few years puts a comfortable distance between now and then that one and two simply did not have, and the pity that is inevitably thrown my way has less gravity to it; people’s shoulders slump less, their eyebrows contort at less dramatic angles. There are less well-meaning reaches across the table to put their hand over mine as they insist that I don’t have to carry this alone, even though they wouldn’t have the slightest idea about what corner of this unwieldy and heavy thing to even wedge a finger under to begin to lift it. I am not ungrateful for these gestures—I am only wearied by the amount I have been given when in all actuality the people who helped me most were and are the ones who are willing to just sit in a room with me while I am sad while we focus our efforts on bad television rather than the hole in the universe right where you used to be that remains open, a vast and unfillable maw.
While the maxims are tiresome and nothing could hold a candle to you actually being here, if I cannot find you here on this earth as Andrew, then I will find you as everything else. You can exist as the smell of sawdust, as the shuddering awakening of the furnace the first cold night of the season with the promise of warmth. I will find you in the new bloom on a plant you got for me that lives on my dresser jungle, as that feeling I get after a long, full, wonderful day as I sink into my bed and my body relaxes because it reminds me of coming home which reminds me of you. I find you during every road trip because every playlist has a piece of you in it. I find you in that space in the early morning before the sun rises when I wake up and realize I have a couple more hours before my alarm goes off, because in a perfect world, I would bury my face in your chest and easily drift back to sleep, but this is an imperfect and unfair world, so I instead drift off to meet you in my dreams, where you are so often found. I find you in the laughter of others—the type of laughter that causes a decade to fall from their face, because wherever you went, laughter followed. I find you during every golden hour in the summertime, because I am reminded of the way the sun reflected in your amber eyes that day in the lake, and because that particular kind of lighting perfectly encapsulates your exact kind of warmth. I find you, I find you, I find you, because even though you’ve been gone a few years, you are still everywhere for me.