We met on a tourist-packed sidewalk in front of the general store. My eyes searched for him while everything else turned into a kaleidoscopic blur. His online profile was etched deeply in my mind so I knew for whom I searched. From the three photos through which I continuously swiped the preceding days, I knew his eyes, his ears, his nose, his joy and, somehow, his spirit. I’m almost certain that he knew nothing about me or that I had been cyberstalking him for days while absentmindedly drinking my coffee or watching tv.
When I spotted him, he was with his sister. They seemed so far away from the spot were I stood with my friend, Nancy. They looked calm and snuggled with one another as only the closest of siblings would. Nancy and I, both crowd-averse, looked anxious and determined to cut our way to him through the mesh of humans that surrounded us. Eventually and gradually, with my eyes locked on him, the mass of awed tourists and squealing children swept us up and carried us towards the boy who would eventually break my heart.
I’m usually cautious. I’m therapy-level noncommittal. My con list is always longer than my pro list, and I can’t make decisions. I would never go home with someone that I just met at a bar. And I would never take home someone that I had just met on a crowded sidewalk. But, that day, I was so lonely. The ink on my divorce papers had dried months earlier and I was preparing to move to a tiny farmhouse that was 5 miles from the nearest grocery store. So, that day, as my heart raced and the noisy city sidewalk faded into a muffled buzz in my ears, I threw my caution and pro-con list into the abyss, and invited the groggy and indifferent boy to come home with me. His name was Beau.
Over the years, Beau and I settled into a comfortably co-dependent life together. He took up too much space in the bed, and I let him. I cried into his head during sad movies, and he let me. I gave him the last bite of my sandwiches even though I was still hungry. And, he would run errands with me even though he preferred other activities. In the mornings, before leaving for work, I would say too many goodbyes and give too many kisses. And, in the evenings, I would rush home for our cherished daily stroll together. On adventurous weekends, we would hang our heads out the car windows while winding around mountain roads. On lazy weekends, we would contentedly sit on the front porch and watch the world go by, occasionally howling together with the sirens of passing ambulances.
When he got sick, I went to the doctor with him. I wrapped my arm around him and he shivered against me as I unapologetically explained to the doctor that we were codependent. The doctor knowingly shook his head then delivered the fatal news. As my heart gripped, I tried to ward off tears by focusing on the doctor’s long, unkept eyebrows. But, the distraction was temporary and ultimately ineffective, so I cried. With attempted warmness and understanding, the doctor put his hand on my shoulder and a box of tissues within my reach. Then, he left the room.
Tears, snot and muffled cries fell from my face and onto Beau’s head. Being accustomed to providing emotional support to his highly emotional friend, he briefly let me cry into his head and then with a sigh, he indicated he was ready to go home. He hurriedly rushed to the car, pulling me along while my body heroically resisted crashing into the pavement. Once to the car, he curled up on the sun-warmed backseat, and I heavily sank into the driver’s seat. I pulled my phone from my purse, opened my Favorites and touched the word “Mom.” When she answered the phone, I tried to tell my mom the news, but I was crying too hard to speak. It was minutes before I could tell her the reason for my call. Finally, through loud, breathless sobs, I told her that Beau was dying.
With numbered days and heavy hearts, we went about our remaining time together. I would let him ride in the front seat to the grocery store and he would let me put my arm around him as we sat on the front porch. I cooked him steak and bought him rotisserie chickens. We drove around mountain roads, catching the wind with wide eyes. We went for evening strolls together, slowly and steadily, achieving a state of mindfulness and presence only available to the greatest of Zen masters. I let him take up the whole bed, and he let me cry into his head. And, he let me cry into his head. And, he let me cry, cry, cry into his head.
When he died, we both knew it was time. We talked about it. Being codependent, we had to tell each other that we would be alright without each other. I had told him before that I would be ok without him, but I never really believed it. The night that he died, I knew that he needed to die more than I needed him to live. And, selflessly, I let him go. I thanked him for teaching me about joy, presence, selflessness and pure, unconditional love. And one last time, Beau, my beloved Carolina rescue dog, let me cry, cry, cry into his head.