Ups and Downs and Downs and Downs

I haven’t written for a while, mostly because I’ve been struggling to adequately explain how I am feeling and because, if I’m being totally honest, I’ve spent a lot of time in avoidance mode.

Last week while in Costa Rica I decided to do some things for myself. First, I booked an 80 minute massage. I’ve only had one of them in my life and that was a relaxing couples massage with Christine. I didn’t know what to order and thought ‘Deep Muscle’ sounded like the right one. It wasn’t.

If you’ve never received a deep muscle massage but want a similar experience, just ask someone to alternate between beating you with a broomstick and tickling you with a feather for an hour.

Anyways, as I lay there I decided to think about Christine (like I think about anything else), but not in regards to how I feel, more about how I should frame my thoughts about her. I made a decision to stop thinking about what I could have done differently, and stop dwelling on how I feel. Easier said than done, of course, but it’s a step.

As soon as I made this agreement with myself a warm sensation overcame me and Christine’s face came into my mind. She was smiling and radiant and beautiful. I felt calmer. I felt better.

The next day I got up early. The local team was taking me on an ATV tour. We rode them up muddy hillsides, through the jungle, along cliff tops, across shallow rivers and through the surf on a white sand beach.

I was speeding through the river, water fishtailing behind me, smiling like an idiot, when I thought to myself ‘I am so lucky’… ‘Oh, right’.

This is an issue. I have a moment of happiness. A moment where I’m not dwelling on Christine or her loss, and then I reflect on the happiness and ‘poof’ gone. It’s like my soul is telling me I’m not allowed to be happy.

We finished the ATV ride with a beer on the beach. The plan was to make the short drive to the beach resort town of Jaco for lunch. This had been the plan for weeks, but when we got in the car one of the guys changed his mind.

Him: Let’s go to Playa Hermosa instead. I know a good restaurant there.

Playa Hermosa was the beach Christine and I stayed at when we visited. I just knew in that moment we were headed to the same place she an I had eaten. Panic spiked.

No, that’s not true. It wasn’t panic. A better term would be ‘pre-panic’. It’s something I’ve been experiencing a lot. Anxiety caused by the fear that I will enter a trigger event. I haven’t had one of those since Maine, but I am regularly nervous of it happening again.

I was right, we pulled into the same place… and it was OK. Totally OK. I mean, it was reflective. I thought a lot. I walked the beach where we walked, looked out over the same horizon. I shared stories about our trip with my team members, the things Christine and I did. It was OK. It was good.

I told her goodbye.

That night as I was reflecting, trying to remember good times I found it was almost impossible to think of specific events that could be classified as ‘good times’. It was difficult. I realized just like bad times, I needed a trigger to bring them up. I went to Ireland, I remembered our trip. I went to Costa Rica, I remembered the adventures we had.

This sucks. This really sucks. Why didn’t I do a better job of storing these away for the future?

The answer is obvious of course. I thought there would be more. When you have unlimited money, why worry about saving?

So instead I started thinking about her in general terms. Her smile, her face, those freaking moles on either side of her nose I loved so much. Her laugh. For people that met her that laugh stood out. It was so pretty, so loud, so passionate. Then I remembered her other laugh. The one that was the most real. When she was surprised by hilarity she would have this loud raucous bark. We classified it as her crazy homeless woman laugh.

Thinking about that made me smile. Then by the time I got back to my room I was sad because I couldn’t have those things anymore.

I spent the remainder of my time in Costa Rica staying busy. During the day I worked hard, met with everyone I could. At nights I’d talk to friends, any friends that would help distract me from her. It was nice talking to them, it was distracting. I stayed up until exhaustion took me.

On my way home I was getting on the plane in Atlanta and I realized I had never looked back at her Facebook profile. There is a great place to see happy memories, I thought.

I started scrolling. I made it back to May and then started reading all the things people had said about her following her death. It’s so much fun when you realize you’re crying around a bunch of strangers and you’re pretty sure they’ve noticed.

I was watching the Alabama/Georgia game on the flight and there was a Chick-Fil-A commercial. It’s one of those ones where the guy comes back from service abroad and surprises his family. He was in their cow outfit getting pictures with his wife and kids. They had no idea it was him in the suit. Then he takes off the head and reveals himself.

The look on his wife’s face, seeing him again, the joy and confusion and whatever else. It’s exactly how I would look if I saw her again.

I totally lost it. I actually barked. Who the hell cries during a Chick-Fil-A commercial? Me, that’s who.

When I got home I said hi to the kids, hung out with them until they went to bed and then went to the bar. Weird stuff happened. Not going to go into it, but it was weird.

I stuck around talking to some people I’ve met there until they called last call.

Sunday was another Get up, Get dressed, Get moving day. Made it through. I was up that night, thinking about happy memories. Trying to remember any specifics I could. Then I had a thought.

What if the specifics are difficult to recall because almost all of our time together was happy?

And then I went to sleep.

Memories of a Happier Time: Costa Rica

Absence, loneliness. The Theme.

Just like Ireland, when I landed in Costa Rica I didn’t have anyone to tell I had arrived safely. Before bed I didn’t have anyone to video chat with and wish good night.

I’m not saying I don’t have ANYONE to talk to. I definitely reached out to a few people, but it’s not the same. I didn’t have her.

It was impossible to avoid Christine this morning. I was sitting on the hotel veranda, sipping coffee and looking out over a coffee plantation. My breakfast was made up primarily of tropical fruits, cold cuts and cheese. The experience was so similar to one we shared the time she accompanied me on a work trip to Costa Rica.

There was that loneliness again.

Instead of dwelling on her absence I did something different, I thought about our trip together. I can’t say this made me feel better, but it did make me feel different. And different is good.

I arrived a few days before her so I could get work accomplished. She was very nervous about this because she had never traveled alone to a foreign country. She took a redeye and arrived early Thursday. Her phone wasn’t working so there were a couple nervous hours where I imagined every bad thing possible happening. She finally got to wifi and let me know she was fine. It was a huge relief. She slept while I finished the day and when I returned to the hotel I took her to my favorite restaurant in San Jose. It was a place a friend and I found on a previous trip and the steak and wine are amazing.

See, this is the thing about not having someone to share my travel days with. The hotel I’m in right now is ridiculously nice. I love it. I’d usually take some pics, send them to Christine and then we’d immediately plan to visit together some day.

We stayed up late. Some super annoying guy at the hotel bar bought us drinks and then proceeded to hit on my wife. We laughed so hard about it later when we returned to our room.

We had breakfast together (similar to the one mentioned above) in the morning and then I had some work I had to wrap up before we left. I sat at the desk while she worked on packing up. I kept putting my laptop down so I could help. We finally left for the beach around noon.

It’s a two hour drive and we hadn’t had lunch so we stopped at a small cantina just off the highway. My Spanish is poor, Christine’s non-existent. I helped her order some chicken and a glass of mango juice. The food was delicious.

The young woman, maybe 16, who served us was starring at us, chin in her palms. Christine made up an entire backstory for her and was convinced the server was dreaming of a life away from the small village. It became fact in her mind, and we laughed about it later.

We made our way to the hotel. It was at the end of a long dirt road and totally isolated. I was nervous. But when we arrived the place was clean, the pool was nice, and it was right on the beach.

We took a dip in and walked on the beach a little, but it was already getting dark so we went back to the hotel and had dinner. The bartender was incredibly nice, trying to teach us Spanish through his broken English. We all laughed. We ended the night on the rooftop patio with the only other guest at the hotel, an aging professional surfer spending his retirement chasing waves. The stories were amazing.

I lied. We ended the night in each other’s arms.

The next morning we were up late. We had breakfast at the hotel, went for a swim in the pool and then made our way to the beach. The water was so warm. Neither of us had ever been to a tropical ocean beach and it just felt amazing. We reveled in it.

We walked to town for lunch, a little over a mile. There were some kids who were crawling all over the place. On the backs of our booth, the floor, whatever. Christine hated parents who let their kids do this kind of stuff so we left after our meal instead of enjoying a second drink at the bar. On the way back Christine realized she was getting sunburned. I pulled off my sunshirt and let her wear it.

There were also the lizards. They’re everywhere. Usually this would make Christine nervous but in her brave way she decided to embrace it.

Shade was over the pool now and a swim sounded nice but the place was filling up. We decided to take a nap and were awoken an hour later by claps of thunder. The pool was empty, because only idiots would go for a swim during a thunderstorm. We got in our suits right away.

The sun was getting low (it does that at 5 in Costa Rica) so we went back to the beach to play in the water and watch the sunset. A rain storm suddenly broke above us just as darkness fell. The other people on the beach fled. We sat on the warm sand, in the warm rain watching the lighting.

I don’t know how long we sat there. I know the tide caught us twice and we had to move back. There were little crabs rushing from the water. We talked about life, about our dreams. We kissed. We held hands. We talked about the future we were creating, how far we’d come, how maybe buying a little house in Playa Hermosa and spending winters there and summers in Ireland wouldn’t be a bad way to spend our final years together.

I don’t know that I’ve ever felt closer to her than I did in that rain storm.

Finally, fingers pruned, we returned to the hotel for dinner.

We left in the morning and stopped at a fruit stand. Back in San Jose we decided to eat the mangos. They were amazing but incredibly messy. We stood next to each other at the bathroom sink stuffing mangos into our mouths, juice dripping down our arms all the way to the counter. More uncontrollable laughter.

We spent a couple more days together, me at work until four and Christine exploring the city alone, a huge accomplishment she was very proud of.

Like everything else, it ended. She flew home, I joined her a couple days later.

It was such an amazing time.