Death and the aftermath

My wife died four months ago. We had fought the night before, ending with her saying she was taking a bunch of pills. I thought she was joking. I woke up next to a corpse. I woke up with a black eye I didn’t remember getting and spent five minutes trying to clean the vomit from around her mouth until I realized she was dead. Time stands still, memories fail. I called 911 and the person on the line tried to get me to move her from the bed to the floor. I tried, moving a woman my same height to the floor, dancing with rigor mortis. A rush of urine. It was then, holding that corpse, that it first hit me.

She’s dead. She’s not coming back. The next few days were a blur of police questioning, family visiting, drinking in bed, realizing the one good thing I had done in my life was irrevocably gone. I have lived through abusive relationships, drug addiction, alcoholism, bullying, rape, and when I told my story to therapists it always ended with Katie as my happily ever after. “And then I met Katie, and my life turned around.”  We had a happy, healthy relationship for four years. We lived together, had a beautiful commitment ceremony, I cooked her dinner every night and sat with her and heard stories about the bookstore she worked at. We went on so many trips, that I look through the pictures, the memories on facebook and I cannot believe I was once so happy, so secure in her love.

All that is over.

The new life starts again. Everything has a bc/ad sense to it, before Katie’s death and after. Everything changed. I fell into an alcoholic free-fall, drinking to blackout every day. After three months in the old apartment I moved, to a different neighborhood, fleeing the place where she had lived and loved and died. The wedding pictures scattered around the apartment remind me of her so acutely. I have hidden other, larger portraits of her. The large foam-mounted print of her that was used in the funeral and given to me afterwards is in the closet. Her ashes are in my dresser drawer in a “Hollywood Forever” shopping bag. Strange, a cemetery with shopping bags.

And how am I?  Not good. But getting better slowly. I went through a very dark period where I couldn’t see anyone and I cried everyday for hours. I starved myself. I went through a shocking amount of liquor. There was a moment when I was taking the bulging recycling bag out and the neighbor was in her workshop and saw the bag break, scattering and shattering bottles. She ran out to help me, this women I had never gotten to know. The compassion in her eyes as she repackaged my recycling, this testimonial to what a pathetic alcoholic I was, moved me to tears.

One of the things that helped me in this period was my Netflix account and the five seasons of VH1 reality TV on my computer. Drowning myself in trashy television was one of the few things keeping me from killing myself. I had to see the next episode of Daisy of Love. That gave me something to look forwards to. I have a base, desperate will to live, despite everything I knew telling me to get out, join her, you have enough pills. NO. I knew that I had been through horrible things before, and that it would get better eventually.

An old friend from high school and college came back into my life, She and her husband sat with me every night for the first week after the funeral. Talking to them, and seeing their love, and how kind they were to me, it renewed my faith that people could be good, and loving, and compassionate. I found solace in my cat, whose loyal, gentle companionship made me feel less alone.

I did everything I could to feel better, treating myself to sloth and self-indulgence just to make the day worth getting out of bed for. Wine/bed/Netflix? At 10 am? Sure. I talked a lot online with Hanners Ellicott-Chatham, who checked in with me to make sure I was ok.

And then slowly, slowly, I began to climb out of the hole. It was a process of changing everything around me that I could so as to feel new, different. I moved, I started using Katie’s car, I embarked on an exercise and healthy eating plan, to combat the peculiar puffiness that starvation had given me. 20 days in and I feel much better in terms of dopamine and a tan.

This is the first piece I’ve written for Queer Mental Health since the death. I have wanted to write again. Editing my punk novella has started up again in fits and starts. I want to get back into the things I love to do, writing, performing, painting, get my life back again.

But it will never totally go away. Four happy years, the happiest of my life, brought to a stunningly brutal conclusion. All I can do is honor their memory, and hope that time will bring healing.

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  1. By Katie Bongiorno

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  2. By Algebra Lazeart

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