Every now and then, seemingly out of the blue, my boyfriend Zane will turn to me and say, “I am really lucky.”
Sometimes, he is beaming, as if he’s just unwrapped a gift at the top of a short wish list, but usually his declaration comes with the sheen of tears in his eyes, as if he never imagined such a gift would be his at all. Regardless, I never cease to be moved, assuring him I feel the same way with a long hug or a look that mirrors all the wonder and gratitude in his gaze.
In the last year, however, I admit there have been times when doubt frays the sweetness of his words, when the weight of my life feels like too much to sustain this sense of fortune.
Our relationship, like anyone’s, has not been without obstacles, but when last year I lost Lou, the man who, as my mom’s companion, had also been devoted to my brother and me for more than a decade, I felt more fragile and needy than I’d ever been in our three years together. As I entered the dark, uncertain passage that is grief, I worried I might somehow break us, that the extra attention and support I’d require would exhaust and push Zane away.
I had no concrete reason for such fears. Only the year before, he had supported me through countless doctors appointments and treatment options and long nights when I stayed up, wracked by fits of coughing, as I battled an unusual case of asthma for several months. When I found myself on the bathroom floor in the middle of those nights, helpless and weary and near tears because nothing seemed to be working, it was Zane who would make me a cup of tea and sit beside me, rubbing my back as I fought down waves of nausea.
Eventually, I received a diagnosis that got me on the right medication. Life moved on in normal fashion, and so did we.
But grief, it seemed, was a more complex animal, a great wilderness that I stumbled through, bearing my precarious load of sorrow and regret. Yes, we laughed and relished the times that were as playful and sweet as any that had come before. But I felt the heaviness that moved with me, strange and mercurial and steering us both through uncharted territory.
I didn’t expect Zane to be there for me at every turn, to be instantly available whenever I felt lonely or sad or out of sorts. To me, such exclusive dependence isn’t healthy. But I nonetheless feared burdening him or intruding on his happiness when I did occasionally latch on or crumble at those unforeseen moments when I’d seemed to be doing just fine.
There were times when I had to ask for a little more consideration or care, but for the most part he proved acutely sensitive. When I fretted over Valentine’s Day, not wanting my mom to spend it alone given how Lou had always made such a fuss over her, he suggested taking her out to dinner at a restaurant we knew would have been a treat for both of them. And when Father’s Day rolled around, knowing my thoughts would turn not only to Lou but to my own dad and his many health challenges, he gave me a card, with his own written inscription of all the loving words he imagined both of them saying to me on a day freighted with painful ambivalence.
Still, when my father died in October, I thought of stringing yet another difficult year to the arduous months that had passed and imagined Zane’s fatigue. Yes, I had stuck by him through his own struggles with depression and periods of unemployment and just in the last several months, he’s lost his step-grandfather and watched his own parents grapple with serious illness. But I was beginning to feel like my losses were a storm cloud perpetually suspended over our relationship.
When I finally confessed this to him, even apologizing for yet another catapult into a searing void, his only regret was that I had to endure so much. To him, this was simply life following its course, and to stand beside me through it all has been an honor.
What I have seen in the last several weeks since my father died, more clearly and profoundly than I ever have, is how much Zane loves me. He came to St. Lucia, having never been there before, for the funeral of a man he’d never met and into a throng of extended family, most of them strangers, all without my asking him to. He came, though he’d started a new job only in the summer and the last-minute flight was exorbitant. He worked around a busy schedule to renew his passport, and somehow in the fast, frantic days of planning and packing found time to buy a card, my favorite coffee and a few other treats to bring with him, to drive to my house and comb through my closet in search of something I could wear to the funeral and do the dishes I’d left in the sink with my own hasty departure. And all the while, he reached out daily to cradle my broken-down heart.
Where some flounder or retreat in such times of crisis, Zane rose to the occasion with an ease and openness that made it seem like he’d been around my family in St. Lucia for years. In a different land and culture, in an atmosphere of surging emotions, he was a haven and a rock, though he walked, too, with his own sadness — for me, for my family, for my dad, for the moments we had both looked forward to as we planned a trip to visit him next year.
In the weeks since we’ve returned, my old fears have surfaced: Will we be able to weather this unpredictable stretch in a relationship only four-and-a-half years young? Will my bereavement chip away at the connection we’ve so joyfully fed and forged? And how do I not lose sight of us, and the rhythms of his own journey, in the undulations of grief?
But then I remember, this is true love: not just the giddy hours and breathless moments, the seamless intertwining of lives or smooth-edged puzzle pieces locking perfectly into place. It also is being there in the dark and confounding hour and giving of ourselves beyond the capabilities we’ve known. And as I’ve seen with Zane, it is realizing the privilege it is to share our partner’s pain, to greet their wounds and vulnerability with a warm and tender acceptance. We are lucky indeed, the two of us, to walk hand-in-hand through life’s inevitable trials, growing as we do into a love more rewarding and true.
– Life in LaLa Land, published in The Intelligencer and Bucks County Courier Times