My grandmother died ten years ago last month.
Her death at 91 sparked a renewal of relationships among many of my cousins, at least those of us in the top half of the 22 grandchildren. We’d gotten busy raising our families in the preceding years, but Grandma’s post-funeral gathering strengthened bonds that continue to this day. And how can you not celebrate your last remaining grandparent living to a ripe old age, still on her own and still calling the shots in her cantankerous old broad way? Hmmmm…maybe the apple really doesn’t fall far from the tree where the women in my family are concerned.
About three weeks later, I met Mark.
Rather, I should say, I received an e-mail thru a dating website from this newly-single parent in the Albany area who had two young boys. “Nah, kids too young,” I thought, but damned if we didn’t have a lot in common on paper. Kinda cute too, with stellar blue eyes. With dating prospects being as limited as they were even back then (little did I know), I caved and wrote back.
That first e-mail was dated February 6, 2001. Since that time, my father died of a brief cancer illness. Mark was diagnosed with cancer a scant year later, and died 22 months to the minute. And eight months later, my boss/mentor/friend passed away.
Today I continue to work at surviving those losses. And I work at treasuring the time I had with Mark, and the impact our relationship has had on the ‘me’ I’ve evolved into. And I run a lot. Well, maybe not so much due to the current northeast weather, but in my head I’m out there pounding the pavement. Running is a great time for self-reflection, so I often think about him and ‘us’ and our finite time.
During six years and eight months together, Mark and I chronicled our relationship and later his illness thru scores of e-mails. It never occurred to me that one day I would want to have written testimony of our relationship’s early days, but through various computer crashes those early e-mails were long lost to me. I was lucky to have two years’ worth of his illness as written thru e-mails because one of his co-workers had saved them all. His words of strength, humility and joie de vivre have resonated and supported me more than I can ever describe.
But there was something about those first e-mails that I yearned for. Maybe it was a desire to know that it was ‘real.’ With time, one’s memory grows a little murky. I wondered if we were as magical as I wanted to remember. And I wanted to reconnect to the ‘us’ before cancer, to remember the smile on his face on our third date when I showed up with a stitched-up face and two black eyes after slipping on icy pavement. I said, “Are you sure you want to go to a movie with a woman who looks like she’s been punched in the face?” He agreed, and so we spent the next four hours at his house laughing and talking. To think all it took was me tripping on the pavement and cracking my eye open to get him to open up, and then he was putty in my hands.
At Christmastime 2008, I made plans dinner plans with Mark’s boss Joyce to catch up. She also told me she had something to give to me. It seems she had gone thru all of his work stuff long ago, but she recently stumbled on a file folder marked ‘Jennifer’ in his scratchy handwriting on the tab. While not wanting to pry, she said the contents were all e-mails between us. As Joyce slid the file across the table, my curiosity was finally satisfied: six months worth of e-mails dating from February 6, 2001, the written history of a developing connection that turned into love.
Indeed, we were very ‘real.’
Today is 10 years since that first e-mail. And five years ago, also on this very day, we went to Mark’s first chemo treatment, full of a few fears but ready to face the unknown together. That’s just the way we rolled.
Same as it ever was…once in a lifetime.