Bear, Part 2 – Love Lost, Hope Found

I decided it was time to write the love story – the story where I fall in love again after my husband dies. The love had already happened – I had been seeing Bear for four and a half months and was a smitten kitten. Bear had watched me write volumes about my grief, but I had written very little about him and it was time.

It took me a week to write it. Bear knew what I was working on and kept asking how it was progressing. On a Thursday afternoon, a couple of weeks ago, the first draft was finally done. The story ended with our trip to Paris, a scene where he holds me, I finally open up about all of my fears, and I have an epiphany that maybe I was finally no longer alone in life.

I emailed the piece to Bear early that afternoon. At 7:30pm that night, he sent me a note saying “Awesome! I’ll read it tomorrow in between meetings.”

What? Huh? If someone wrote a love story about me, I would run to the bathroom stall and read it while sitting on the toilet if necessary. I wouldn’t be able to wait until the next day. I realized that this was yet another of many signs I had argued away. Signs that Bear wasn’t all-in.

Bear had been distant for a while. I told myself the distance was due to the walls I put up around my sadness, but my gut knew there was more to the story. He pulled away a month before we went to Paris, telling me how overwhelmed he was with his life – his 12 hr a day job, house repairs, his (genuine) need for 9 hrs of sleep a night, his exercise, his personal growth. Plus, there was our 11 year, 3 month, and 7 day age difference, which Bear had convinced me didn’t matter, but… maybe it did matter. Bear was just 5 years out of graduate school, 3 years into living in Seattle, and hadn’t yet found his full stride in his life. Isn’t that what your 20’s are for, anyway? Figuring out who you really are? In truth, I was also holding a bit of disappointment over Bear’s need for his friends to not know, before meeting me, that I was an age 40 widow and single mom (“I just want you to make a good first impression. We can tell them after you meet them and after they see how awesome you are.”). He flat-out insisted that we tell his parents that I was 38, telling me “They have a certain idea of 40. They watched that movie “This is 40” and joke about it all the time. It’s better this way. Trust me.” I told him that I wanted to be with someone who was proud to have me as his girlfriend, baggage and all. He insisted he was proud of me and couldn’t really understand that his actions and words didn’t match. Looking back on it, that was really when the fracture in our relationship appeared. Then, a month into this somewhat distant stage, we went to Paris and I thought it would be a chance to reconnect. We DID reconnect and I came home filled with bright shiny new hope, but maybe that beauty and love only really worked in fantasy land when we were away from all of the demands of real life…

That brings us to back to early January when I had written part 1 of the love story, several weeks after returning from our glorious European jaunt. Bear read the essay the day after I sent it to him, told me it was “just beautiful” but by then I was already deflated. I had been aching for him all week – because he was so busy we had agreed on only one date a week (though we used to see each other several times more than that). Sometimes (including this week) the ache would get so bad that I would have to actively focus on shutting down my rampant over-abundant sexual desire. I saw him that night, Friday night. I wanted him to come to a gathering at Bev’s house, so that he could meet more of my friends, but he had chores to do at his home and didn’t come over until 10pm. I was sad. My body felt that things were shifting. We fooled around a bit, but Bear wanted me to go down on him instead of having sex. I had gone off birth control, as I was having my tubes tied soon, and Bear didn’t like condoms. Didn’t he know that I was starving for more connection? I didn’t care about orgasming but had a need for him to be inside of me, to look into my eyes and kiss my neck and face while making love to me. I kept reaching an energetic tendril towards him, but he wasn’t reaching back. I was too sad to ask for what I wanted, so I satisfied him and then when he offered to pleasure me, I declined as I was just too low and my body had begun to close off. We set a 6:30am alarm and went to sleep in preparation to get an early start and hike Mailbox peak.

Bear and I had been taking various hikes together as part of his training for an upcoming climb. He wanted to climb Rainier, the mountain that took my husband’s life. I understood the call of the mountain – my summit in 2012 was one of the proudest moments in my life, and would have climbed it again if John hadn’t died there. So, rather than asking him to stay away from the mountain that is the source of my greatest pain, I stood by him. I bought him crampons, microspikes, and mountaineering boots for Christmas and promised to take him to some of my favorite icy peaks.

I woke up before the alarm went off, feeling heavy. Ugh. I was excited to get on the trail, not excited about the thick grey sense of doom that was expanding within me. Bear was sound asleep so I laid there for a bit, hurting. My grief for John has often manifested in my stomach as nausea or a sense of a pool of black tar in my belly, but my pain for Bear was different. In that moment, the skin covering the middle of my chest tightened, as if someone had pinched it with a clothes pin. It was time to get up, so I gently spooned Bear from behind. I kissed his neck, and whispered “I’m going to make our breakfast, sweetheart.” He mumbled sleepily, I got up, we showered, ate eggs on toast with chorizo and Beechers aged cheese, grabbed our gear, and hopped in my Subaru Outback.

We barely talked on the drive down I90. Bear could tell I was distant and was shutting down accordingly in his own way. I flipped through Sirius XM satellite radio stations and mulled over my intentions for the day. In fact, it was a gorgeous bluebird crystal clear day – unusual for January in Seattle. I had childcare until dinner time and was genuinely looking forward to kicking a snow staircase up the mountain. At the same time, I knew an icky relationship talk was inevitable. Ugh. We pulled up to the trailhead and loaded our packs – snow shoes, poles, microspikes, crampons, glacier glasses, buff, glove liners, summit mitts, softshell, hardshell. Oh how I love getting on the trail, ready to tackle the elements! Still, we barely talked. Bear was faster than me and began to listen to podcasts on his Android as he hiked ahead. I felt so terrible! How did we get to this place where there was so much love, but also so much disconnection? How would I tell him that I loved him too much, that I wanted more than he had to give, and that I needed to set him free? In an asbergic-way, I determined that a relationship conversation on the way up would derail our summit attempt, and that I shouldn’t say anything until we had begun our descent.

Oh, how glorious the summit was! I never tire of the 360 degree view from the top of Mailbox. Rainier was out, in her majestic and fierce-but-peaceful way, and I said my usual silent “I miss you, I love you forever” to my sweet John. Bear and I sat in the snow, mostly upbeat, feeling accomplished and endorphin-y, eating chicken and quinoa salad with beets and aged balsamic that I had packed that morning. Eventually, we plunged stepped back down the snow covered boulder field and made our way along the trail as it wound into the trees. We paused, sweaty, to de-layer, and that’s when I spilled. I started gently, asking him how he was feeling about us, and then tumbled into my feelings about how we were spending less and less time together, and how it felt like there just wasn’t space for me in his very full life. We both began to cry. There was no anger or blame, no negativity, just sadness and love. He told me how he was in a state of panic, never feeling like he could keep up with his life. I told him I understood, and that I could see that he was just beginning to forge his path. I knew that Bear wanted to be what I needed, but…wanting is not reality. Bear opened up about how torn he was – I was the kind of woman he had been looking for, but he wasn’t ready to find that woman yet. He had to find himself before he could find her. Still, Bear didn’t want to give up on us. So I asked one last question –

“Tell me this, sweetheart. Just answer right away, don’t stop and analyze. Tell me the truth. Ok?”
“Ok.” He said, a bit wary.
“When you think about us breaking up, is some part of you relieved?”
He paused
“Don’t over think it!” I insisted.
“Well, a little bit.” He said, and then quickly added “Just because then I would have time for all the house projects, and my job, and…”
I looked right at him and said “There’s your answer.”

After that, we barely talked for the 2 hours it took us to descend. I hiked ahead (I’m faster on the downhill) and he hiked behind. Nothing had really been decided yet… I knew Bear well enough to know that he needed space to chew on what we had already said. It became dark. I hollered back to check that he had a headlamp, and plodded along. The temperature began to drop and parts of the trail froze up solid. It would have been the right time to put on my spikes, but I was too sad and heavy to care. I slipped a few times, once going down hard enough that I could have really hurt myself, and in fact, I think I wanted to hurt myself, because maybe if I inflicted physical pain then it would cover the pain of the new tightness of my chest and the year-and-a-half old nausea in my belly.

We silently arrived back at the car, de-geared, and began to drive home. Eventually, as we sat in traffic on I90 by Mercer Way, he said

“I think you are right. We have to break up.”

We were quiet then. I began to cry as I drove. He held my hand. I asked him to stay the night so that I could be in his arms one last time, and I could feel that it was what he wanted too. He went home, showered, and came back after I had tucked the kids in for the night. We got into my bed and he sweetly held me and stoked my hair as I cried. We slept some, then made sweet love for the last time, slept some more, and in the early morn I crawled back into his arms to cry again. He cried too. My 7 year old, Melanie, woke up at 7:30am and knocked on the locked door. She said “Mama, what’s wrong?” I told her I would be out soon, which I was. She asked again why I was crying. I softly told her that Bear and I had decided to stop dating, but that we still cared about each other and no one was angry. Her face clenched up into a miserable frown. Melanie hadn’t spent a ton of time with Bear, but still she had become a bit attached to him. I had my maternal moment of panic, knowing that I had to manage not only my grief about Bear but hers too, and, grabbing at straws, said “I know you want me to find you a dad someday, sweetheart. Someday I will find somebody awesome, when it’s the right time.” She looked at me, crossed her arms, and said “Mama, BEAR was awesome.” “I know sweetheart. I know. I’m sorry.” Ugh. Blah. Bleah.

Bear got dressed and came out of the bedroom. Melanie ran to him, hugged his leg, buried her face in his clothes, and said nothing. My heart has so many scars. So, so many scars, because I carry hers and mine both. And then he left, and that was it.

Now, a couple of weeks after the breakup, I am sad but not heartbroken. I ache to have someone safe and kind to hold me, stroke my hair, and kiss my forehead; but that person doesn’t exist and my needs are not so extreme that I will reach for something unhealthy out of desperation. The fact is, alongside my sadness I am also surprisingly optimistic for the path ahead that I’m beginning to glimpse – optimistic in a way I haven’t been since John died. I have had many victories in these last several months. I found that – I have not shut off to feeling. I am still able to reach for deep connection, in spite of all of my darkness. I still have so much love and sweetness to give to a partner. I am still beautiful, and I am worth loving. In fact, as I sit here, typing these words, I observe how strong and stable I feel. I had a successful 4.5 month relationship, fell in love, celebrated him as an individual without needing to compare him to John, and was able to peacefully set him free once I knew we weren’t meant to be together.

I wouldn’t say that I’m a ball of sunshine at the moment, but I would say that I am peaceful, confident, and full of my trademark tenacity. I will grieve for Bear and will of course continue to grief for John into forever. In parallel, I will eventually love again – no question. It’s who I am. Even given my ocean of sorrow and continued struggles as a widow and single mom, I still believe – it’s worth it.

Love is worth it.

 

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Postscript – It is not my intention or desire to give a play-by-play of all of my relationships as I re-enter the dating world.  However, this was my first real love post-loss and thus was a huge milestone that I felt was relevant for those of you who are sharing my journey through my words.  Thank you, again, for sharing my tears and my victories.

 

Bear, Part 1

Falling in love has never been this complicated before.

When John died, I had no idea what dating would look like. When would I be ready? Would I ever be ready? Would a future love be able to let me love John and him at the same time? Early on in my grief process I became involved with a brilliant Silver Fox with ocean deep steely blue eyes. We connected deeply, but that is fodder enough for its own story. Silver Fox caught me before my heart closed down, before the tar of grief seized up the gears inside my chest. After SF there was a long drought, and then when I began dating again, I wasn’t all-in. I called it ‘practice dating’. I practiced flirting; practiced if, when, and how to present the single mom and widow baggage; and shared a few mostly lukewarm kisses. It was easy to meet men online and set up dates, but in truth I found that fantasy was better than reality. I would meet a man online; flirt with him; and allow myself to fantasize that he might be the sort of sweet, intelligent, and outdoorsy man that I could fall for. He and I might text in sexy ways, I would build him up in my head, and then I would indulge in fantasies that he would be the one to unfreeze my ice. I did this knowing that my fantasies weren’t reality, knowing that the man I had not yet met in person could never live up to the ideas I had spun in my head. It was safer that way. Sometimes I would delay the first date as long as possible, knowing that, once I met him in person, the fantasy would be no longer and my Masturbation Fantasy Rolodex would have one less entry. Some of these men lasted only one date, a couple lasted a bit longer, but still – my embers of desire seemed all but dormant.

Although I was plagued by apathy, I was not plagued by guilt. When John was alive, we talked about death quite a bit. John had strong premonitions, all of his life, that he would die young. He would look guilty when he mentioned it… as if some part of him knew he would leave me behind some day. John always told me, with great emotion, that he would want me to find love again if he ever passed. John’s running joke was that I would have to find somebody younger, because nobody older could keep up with my athleticism and voracious sexual appetite. That’s how it was – he would tease me, I would laugh, he would grab my ass, I would kiss him, and we were happy. The thing is – that was the past and it is not my future. There is another future for me – one that doesn’t erase or negate my history but rather builds on the lotus flower that blooms from the mud of my struggle and loss.

I was pursued by various men – interesting, kind, intelligent men. However, nothing stuck. On one hand, I felt so much desire for deep connection, but at the same time I was detached and shut off. I began to find comfort in my walled up sanctuary. The separation allowed me to let go of my expectations, which in turn allowed me to be more in the moment, and that’s when I met him.

At that time it was August 2015. John had been dead for 15 months, I was in a deep slump, and I turned to the mountains for therapy. I planned a trip to the Enchantment Lakes with my widow friend Laura, who lost her partner in the accident with John. We parked my camper van at the trailhead on a Friday night, slept, and woke up early the next morning to hike the whole 19 miles in one day. As she put on mascara that morning and I lined my eyelids with smoky blue, we joked about how the mountains were the only place where we cared about looking good, because the only men we were interested in were bearded mountain men.

All day we teased each other about the men we met on the trail. “What about him?” “You mean the dirty one who looks like he slept in his car? HOT!” We were both so broken, we didn’t expect to actually meet anyone… the chatter and fantasy was all we had. There was a group of 3 men we spent the day leapfrogging. I said – “They have beards, what about them?” Laura smirked and said “Cute, but they look a little young for you, Holly.” She was right. Too young, and probably too innocent to stomach all my pain. Back to fantasy, reality was too disappointing.

We finished the 19mile hike and the group of 3 men offered us a ride back to my camper. I was surprised when, a week or so later, one of them reached out to me. I’ll call him Bear. Bear and I flirted and he asked if I would like to meet for drinks. He knew nothing of my children or widowhood, only that I love mountains, have an engineering degree, and was 40. I hesitated, and all but dismissed the idea immediately simply because of his age – 29. Regardless of John’s teasing, I’ve never been into younger men. I like a man who is confident, established, someone who doesn’t need his hand held. I don’t want to deal with any drama, bullshit, insecurities, or games. I prefer men who know exactly what they want and where they want to go in life. My grief and status as a single mother only solidified this intention within me. What younger man could ever handle all my baggage and trauma with grace?

Having said all that, I couldn’t resist. I hated his age but loved everything else about him. Bear had a beefy but compact muscular body built up by years of competitive wrestling in college. He held a Masters in Biomedical engineering, loved hiking, backcountry skiing, sport climbing, knew how to use power tools, raised chickens in his back yard, and was basically my dream guy. For better or worse, athletic outdoorsy geeky engineers who have full gorgeous beards are my kryptonite. I was putty.

We met for drinks and he immediately charmed me with his words. Somehow, I was relaxed and at ease. I had felt so much resistance on all the other dates, so much tension, hardness, but all of the sudden that was gone and I felt like Holly again. I felt simply….present, and alive.

Eventually, I brought him home and shamelessly had sex with him all night. It was glorious, and afterwards every fiber of my being felt lighter than it had since before John died. Still, I was detached. I decided that an actual relationship with this man could not work due to our age difference. I set an intention to enjoy the night for what it was and not contact him again. Of course, Bear was my kryptonite. I didn’t reach out to him but he texted me the next day, telling me that my life philosophy was amazing, asking to see me again. I silently decided that there really wasn’t any risk in seeing him again. Since I already knew it wouldn’t work long term, I wouldn’t get attached.

Bear and I spent the next few weeks romping around. We camped, we hiked, we cooked, we discussed favorite books, we went to the ballet, and we had lots and lots of phenomenal the-sky-is-parting-and-the-angels-are-weeping sex. Part of me knew I was falling for him, but the rest of me put up protective walls. I allowed myself to focus on his age as the reason why we couldn’t be a couple. I objectified him, calling him my young lover, my bearded hottie. I saw my doctor (as I did every 6 weeks due to crippling insomnia) and was told that my color was much better, that I was looking healthier. I explained that I was having tons of hot sex with a buff, intelligent mountain man. At the end of the visit she said “My advice? Keep having sex with the hot beefcake.”

It was around that time that Bear called me on my shit. We had just had sex and were spooning – him behind me. He kissed my neck, nuzzled me, and said
“Can we talk about something?”
“Sure.”
“Why do you have such a problem with our age difference?”
Thank you sir, but may I have another? No seriously, there is something totally hot about a man who calls me on it when I’m stuck. He was direct, honest, but also kind as he continued to brush his beard against my neck and back. I softened into him and spoke my truth – that I had objectified him and focused on his age as a defense mechanism, because I was afraid of getting hurt, afraid he would break my heart. I still melt when I remember what Bear said next.
“Holly, don’t you understand, before I met you I thought I was going to have to settle. I thought I would never find a woman who was all of the things – outdoorsy, athletic, intelligent, loves sex, etc.. Then, I met you.”
“So, I guess, if you feel that way, then a few more wrinkles around my eyes won’t really matter?”
“Exactly.”
That was the moment I knew that our age difference really didn’t matter. It was also the moment that something really crazy and ridiculous happened –

I began to smile again.

Sure, I had smiled on many occasions in the 16 months since John had died, but they weren’t real smiles. I would lift the corners of my mouth for the camera when hiking with friends, or when serving my kids’ birthday cakes, but my eyes never sparkled and my heart center wasn’t lifting. The difference, once I welcomed Bear’s warmth into my heart and allowed myself to feel safe, was profound. Everyone noticed. People who didn’t know I was dating someone would comment that I looked different, better, brighter, some even used the word glowing. To be clear, my grief was still an ocean. I still lost my best friend and my children still didn’t have a father. Bear didn’t take away my darkness, but he did add a lot of light alongside the pain. I realized that it made no sense to wait for the pain to go away before I moved forward in life, because the pain was never going to fully go away. So, I allowed myself to get swept away by Bear, while also still often crying for the loss of John.

Bear watched me struggle with my ocean of pain and began to show me the depths of his beauty as a human being. About 6 weeks after we started dating, he watched me get spun up by an upcoming trip to Portland with the girls. Isabella was on the competitive team at the local bouldering gym and the Portland Boulder Rally was the first meet of the season. One of the ways that my grief-related PTSD manifested was as an adrenaline response when preparing to travel with the girls. John and I always used to pack up for trips together and he would do all the driving, because I hate driving. After he died, I would all but hyperventilate while packing for a family trip, because such trips slapped me in the face with the fact that we were 3 instead of 4. Bear watched my anxiety build, and said “Would you let me come with you, so that I can do the driving and help with the kids? Would you please let me help you?”

Bear showed up an hour before we were supposed to leave for Portland with his overnight bag and bright energy, the energy of someone who sweeps in and makes everything better. I was filled with stress – not because anything was wrong, but because that was my body’s chemical response to the trip. I took a shower and while I was showering Bear came in to pee. I pulled open the curtain and there he was – gorgeous beard, big smile, biceps bulging out of his t-shirt, hand knit mountain man beanie. Right then and there, while he was holding his junk mid-stream, the words came to me – “I would follow you anywhere”. These words didn’t come from analysis in my brain, they just sprouted naturally out of my chest. That was the moment I knew –

I was in love.

Or perhaps I should say – I was in LOVE!!! I didn’t tell Bear right away. I was so full of emotion (both joy and sorrow) that I feared it might overwhelm him. Even after we finally said those precious words to each other, I would try not to say them too often. Sometimes after we made love I would put my head on his damp and salty chest, close my eyes, and say it silently in my head over and over – iloveyou.iloveyou.iloveyou.iloveyou.iloveyou.iloveyou.

Even though Bear helped me and clearly wanted to be there for me, I did my best to protect him from the deepest darkness within me. Occasionally I allowed him to comfort me, but mostly when I fell into my pit of despair I would keep my distance. After all, these weren’t his burdens. I wanted our relationship to be about Bear and Holly; not about Bear, Holly, and Dead John. I became consumed with fear in a way I had never experienced before. What if he sees how broken I truly am and runs away? Will my grief, sad children, and complicated life be more than he wants to take on? If he does leave me, can I cope with yet another loss while still so fragile? If I tell him I’m afraid of more loss, will that make him feel boxed in such that he can’t leave me if he wants to?

There was the night that I fainted at dinner at a friend’s house. I was sitting up, eating roast chicken stuffed with ham and mushrooms, and all of the sudden I began to lose hearing and vision. My friends tell me that my lips went blue and my left arm was both bent and shaking uncontrollably. They dragged me to the couch and I came-to immediately. My doctor told me later that it was a vaso-vagal response, mostly likely brought on by the stress and exhaustion of my long haul as a widow and single mom. In that moment, however, we had no idea what it was – a stroke? A small heart attack? Bev said
“Give me Bear’s phone number. I’m calling him.”
I laid there on the couch, still woozy “No, don’t call him! He is in an airport about to get on a flight for work. If you call him, he will either cancel his trip and mess up his job or stay up all night worrying when he can’t help anyway.”
Bev looked concerned and said “Ooooh kay. You sure?”
“Yes I’m sure. Don’t call him.”

Then, there was the doctor’s appointment when I broke down sobbing. I had decided to get my tubes tied, mainly because the idea of a baby and 3rd C-section at age 40 put in a place of panic. I needed some control in my life, and had to make sure that my virile boyfriend didn’t impregnate me. Bear offered, a few times, to go with me to the consult, but I told him “No, I will be fine, I don’t want you to have to take time off work.” I was NOT fine, however. The doctor and I went through my reproductive history and general health – my 2 traumatic C-sections, my miscarriage, my year of post-partum depression, my PTSD and insomnia as a result of the death of my husband. The doctor and I both cried. I felt horrifically alone and needed a hand to hold. I went home and cried for most of the rest of the day.

I didn’t give Bear the chance to help. I was afraid to ask too much of him, afraid to over burden him. What if I leaned on him, and he said it was too much? What if I became too needy? If he saw all my hairline fractures, would he still find me appealing? In many ways I shut him out. I sensed frustration and sadness on his part due to my distance, but still I was too afraid to open the kimono.

After we had been dating for a few months, Bear and I embarked on a luxurious trip to Europe. We planned to base ourselves in Paris and take quick day trips out to both Amsterdam and Bruges. I had been holding back from Bear for a while, and hoped that maybe the trip would help us to connect more deeply. The first day started out so wonderfully! I took Bear to my favorite spot – Musee Rodin. We walked hand in hand through the gardens displaying The Thinker and The Gates of Hell. We looked at some of his earlier pieces, inside, and I told Bear of how much Rodin detested being commissioned for busts and sculpting what he thought to be frivolous details such as hats and fancy clothing. Later, Rodin would move to the simple naked body. He was scandalous at the time because he refused to even cover the genitals with fig leaves. Bear soaked it up, and then suggested we move on to Napoleon’s tomb and the Military Museum. There, the tables turned and it was Bear’s time to play teacher! He pointed out the traditional bayonets, which flanged out in all 4 directions. Bear said they were eventually outlawed by the Geneva Convention, because they made holes that couldn’t be sewn up. He explained why the ancient shotguns needed cloth to pack around the bullet, and how the concept translated to modern day pistons. It’s just so sexy when a man has things to teach me! They day felt easy, balanced. We were a happy couple, strolling in Paris.

The next morning, I woke up at 4am covered in sweat, the kind of sweat so profuse that the bed sheets become soaked and horrifically clammy. I was having another adrenaline response and instantly became filled with fear. Fear was like a thick heavy snake that slithered in through the wound of my broken heart and lurked inside of me, sucking up light and optimism. My brain knew that my various fears were irrational, but that awareness never mattered in the horror of the moment. When I became consumed by fear, I became despondent, icy, distant. I didn’t want to wake Bear, so I got out of bed and sat on the couch to cry. We were supposed to get up at 6:30 in order to catch an 8am train to Amsterdam. Eventually, as I sat there in the darkness, I realized that I had to make a different choice, regardless of the consequences. There I was, in Paris, with my awesome boyfriend, crying in the dark, not letting him in. Why the hell was I here at all if I was going to keep putting up walls? If I showed him my darkness and he ran away, what then? Well, at least then I would know, and I would be able to move forward, albeit through more tears.

At 6am I crawled into bed, woke him up, and cried my fucking eyes out on his chest. I told him how afraid I was. I told him I didn’t know if I could survive losing him, but that I was also deathly afraid that if I told him how much I really loved him then he would feel trapped. I revealed that I had known the whole time it was me holding back, that he had wanted to be there for me but that I hadn’t let him. I said I knew we couldn’t move forward unless I surrendered and told him of these fears, and that I did, indeed want to move forward. The whole time Bear held me tenderly. He stroked my hair slowly, over and over. He brushed his fingertips over my cheek and kissed my forehead. He enveloped me with his arms until I felt completely encompassed by his nurturing light. I said “When these fears come up again, I’m going to tell you.” And he said “Yes. I want you to. I want you to tell me.” I cried a bunch more, and then said “We should get up and get ready for the train.” To which he replied “Shhh. Not yet. Lay here a bit longer. We have time.”

By the time we got on the train, the snake had exited my body and I felt excited for the day ahead of us. Bear and I read peacefully on our kindles for 3 hrs, holding hands. We arrived in Amsterdam, hit Damstraat, and proceeded with our grand plan of inebriation before visiting the Van Gough and Rijksmuseum. After inebriation, bagels, and a visit to the flower market, but before getting to the museum, Bear realized his passport was missing! Pick pocketed in the market perhaps? Who could know, and we were not sober, so we put our two adled brains together to make one good brain, made it to a police station, filed a police report, got online to print out the forms needed for the consulate, got new passport photos, and then found a dingy guest house for the night. The consulate wouldn’t open until the morning, so we wouldn’t be taking a train back to our darling Parisian studio that evening. What a lovely team we were! It wasn’t a disaster, it was an adventure, and we were happily together. Sometime after the 2nd time we made love that evening and a 3rd time when we did it in the middle of the night, I said to Bear “There is nowhere in the world I want to be right now besides this shitty hotel room in Amsterdam with you.” “Me too Tiger, me too.” He said.

Our Amsterdam dalliance had cost us a precious day in Paris, but we didn’t care. We procured Bear’s emergency passport, hit the museums we had missed the day before, and zipped back to Paris later that night. By the end of the week, I said to Bear “Do you think we can bring this magic back with us to the real world?” “We can, Holly. We will!” I left Paris thinking to myself that maybe, just maybe – I am not as alone as I thought I was.

What will happen with Bear? I don’t know. In fact, in spite of our wonderful trip to Paris, our relationship began to show hairline fractures when we returned. What I do know now is this – I can love again and I can be loved again. I can experience joy and throw myself over the edge of the unknown. It’s true that I’m still a single mom. It’s true that I will never stop grieving for the loss of John and for the loss of my children’s innocence. There will always be parts of my life that I must navigate solo. Still, I’ve finally realized, that maybe, just maybe – there is joy in my future. My life is a story, and there are more chapters that have not yet been written. I am sad and I grieve, but I am also opening back up, reaching out. I have re-joined the land of the living, and that feels damn good.

Stay tuned for Bear, Part 2.