1. remain in the same place.
2. remain in a specified state or position.
1. a period of staying somewhere, in particular of living somewhere temporarily as a visitor or guest.
2. literary – a curb or check.
The ship that once carried me, has put me overboard;
I am moving through time without an anchor, my body stretches to reach what it cannot touch;
Waves of memories tousle my hair, I cannot see what is in front of me;
The sun breaks over the horizon, stay with me to see what I become in the light of day.
New Haven, Connecticut
I’ve had this image as my wallpaper lock screen photo since I snapped it almost three weeks ago on a beach in West Haven, Connecticut. A stop during my ride, I had attached my bike to wooden fencing that lined the paved path, taken off my shoes and stripped off my orange vest, and walked straight to the water. I waded in only knee-deep, but I imagined myself swimming out among the fish. The bottom was sandy with no jagged rocks or broken shells. I looked up and down the the coastline, and I could see the pier where Jackie and Pam were still fishing. I came back to shore where my feet made perfect impressions, and watched the water as it tickled my toes. It was just the right temperature. I was Goldilocks enjoying it all.
At the time, I really didn’t know why I wrote “stay” into the sand. I didn’t think about it, I just poked my finger into the wet somewhere between too soft and too hard and scratched the letters that came to mind. I liked the way the low-curling waves made a lacy-curtain foam-edging above it. Each wave kept creeping closer to my writing, threatening to take it all away, but yet coming just close enough to decorate my photograph with its effervescence. The bits of seaweed in vibrant green and rusty red were like confetti that stuck to my sandy canvas, making me think it was a kind of handmade paper. I’ve had some time to think about this word. ‘Stay’ is not a necessarily comforting word to me, but yet I have been looking at it on my phone now day-in and day-out. It intrigues me, like a puzzle or a primary number. I think I now know what ‘stay’ means to me, and what it does not.
But before I tell you about these thoughts, you should know what lock screen image came before this one. In early January of this year, I was really struggling with who I was in that present time. I had selected the photo below then, for remembrance and reminding. Three months had passed since my partner had died, all the technical milestone aspects of post-death were being checked off of an endless list, and my emotional avalanche was just beginning. I had mechanically gotten through the holidays and was pushed into the new year, and the kids were back in school after their winter break. At this point, I felt pulverized, shattered, unable to find pieces of me I recognized. What I found made me sad, so much did not make sense, and this is when I began grieving the loss of myself in this mess. I was trying to fix my grief through fixing me first: attempting to solve “primary problem number one” in the living world because I could not do anything about what was gone, dead, and ash.
Jon and Paula
This approach has proven to be a double-negative because I know today that I can’t fix my grief, and I cannot fix myself in this equation either. My thinking that the past held answers or was somehow a foundation for my future is like drinking water: I may need to do it, but it has no taste and doesn’t satisfy me. But in January, I was determined, and dug deep back in time to find who I “used to be,” as a start to figure out “something” of who I am now. I began to ask myself tough questions, and the answers were sometimes hard to hear, acceptance of those answers are a “maybe” at best. When was the last time I was truly happy? Where did I feel most comfortable in my own skin and with whom? Who and where am I now? This photograph taken at our engagement party captured a moment in time that gave me hope. Hope knowing that the people in this picture then, Jon and Paula, had something real, had a purpose, and a willingness to give unconditional love. I wanted to find those people, and most importantly, ask them how they did it.
Meanwhile, I was trying to recognize “me” in the mirror. I saw only the tiredness, my weariness of too much, for too long. Our journey together has left scars, some can be seen, others are only felt. If I dared to let you in then, you might try to tell me it will all get better and my wanting to believe you would bring a response of my anger and frustration because you don’t really understand. I wish I could believe you, I wish someone or something could make it better, but it can’t, it can’t, it can’t get better because it just hurts too much! I turned to pictures for comfort, to seek for what no one could help me find except myself: a pictorial holy grail to be filled with shreds, pieces, and droplets of what and who I once was, that I now would forcefully gulp down to try and satisfy the emptiness inside.
Every time I looked at this picture of us from 20 years ago, I saw a me that I now only remember faintly, and funny enough, I still have that rose-covered dress in a closet. Yes, it still fits, I just tried the damn thing on now. My body despite its highs and lows, probably looks the same if not better now due to rigorous exercise and little appetite dealing with my anxiety. My daughter told me the dress was “cute, but so 90s” as she test-squeezed my shoulder-padded frame. Yeah, it was 1996, so if course it looks of that era in this picture, and so does my high-hair! Jon had his “rock star” hair going on, he always looked like he should be heading down to a beach to catch some waves on a surf board. On the weekends, he used to wear untied Timberland boots and ripped jeans at the knees, and some loose-fitted sweatshirt with the sleeves pushed up. My favorite sweatshirt was made by Fatigues, a Chicago clothing company he worked with, it was a soft wheat color that made his eyes look a shade deeper of twinkling blue. At this very moment, tears have spilled out thinking about that, and honestly, most of our time on the weekends (and whenever) in those early years was spent together without clothes on, but I will keep that description to myself.
In July, it had been six months of having the engagement photo on my phone, it was going to take a lot for something to replace it, and the new photograph seemed right. I did the switch in my Connecticut motel room, a private moment between me and my photos. I feel the scrutiny when I make decisions like this, as if somehow I’m throwing him away, and it can be just too much for me sometimes, enough of it! The truth is, I simply out-grew the emotional need to see that picture every day. This is the first time in almost a year that an image of Jon is not front and center on my phone. It’s one incremental step of my putting things in a new perspective. This is a small step, but it is a step. Besides, if I want to see Jon, all I really have to do is look around me. I can point around any room in my house and rattle off how each thing relates back to him. I don’t live in my home, I live in our home, and I think these constant reminders of him in his absence are driving me nuts. I’m being shown what’s missing, constantly, and I can’t see who is actually here: me and my two kids. We need to come first now. Our two kids: another reminder, they are the physical, living evidence that everything was real. Admittedly, the relationship with my kids needs the most attention, and it’s so difficult to give that to them, everything is out of balance.
This is my grief story. Everyone deals with loss differently, there is no right or wrong way, so I remind you now not to judge me. Grief is caused by love, so don’t think that because I’m now saying reminders of him are “driving me nuts” that I don’t love him anymore or that I want to leave all of this behind to forget history and what was once reality. In my reality now, it is time to move forward with “the living,” so I feel called to put “the dead” in a place that allows me, the living, to continue breathing. I’m under ground now, I need air, I need a lifeline or two. When I returned from the reunion trip, this became a painful realization to me: there is no place or space in my house that does not have him in it. He is everywhere here, and I feel sad here. The things remind me of what and who is not here. I cannot have my reality now rooted in sad things or “in place” for someone who is not coming home. Many of these “things” just need to find a proper place, on a certain shelf or place of remembrance, just not in every room. Some things I definitely could do without, like his shoes that my son has already outgrown. Which brings me back to the meaning of ‘stay.’
“Stay” is what we tell pets to do with a hand raised and stiff and as a way of making them not move or be in a frozen state until the magic word of “come” is spoken and they are released from their first command. I would make a terrible pet, I would be the one that would never follow orders. My owners would attempt to correct me with structured training with no avail. Most likely, I would become a stray released to the countryside rather than handed to the shelter, my owners offering me pity knowing the confinement would cause pain and terrible howling. No one would adopt me.
“Stay” is also a word in the title of so many songs about love, loss, and longing. Most all of the lyrics are pleading to someone: stay with me, stay the night, or stay forever. When we find what we want, no matter how fleeting, we don’t want to let it go, and if we lose it, we want it back. The notion of ‘stay’ is elusive for so many people, it’s a desire that most often does not get fulfilled. We sing through lyrics of a song wanting to produce these perfect storms of people coming together to be happy, to love, to hold on to, but the truth is: it can’t last. Everything, in truth, is temporary. Life itself is fluid and in constant motion. The meaning of ‘stay’ is not a solution to my loss, and it will not hold me in a fixed state. I will only allow it to move me forward. So as I remember being on that beach and making the letters in the sand, standing alone, looking up and down the shore, I know now what I was beckoning myself to do: stay in this moment because it will pass all too soon, stay positive because my heart yearns for more love to come, stay on the path even though I don’t know where it might lead me. ~Paula