I awaken from a dreamlike haze, a blurred kaleidoscope of color, only to find myself enshrouded in darkness. Your cavernous room is silent, save for a faint mewing emanating from a large cardboard box in the corner.
In my disorientation, your apartment feels eerie, strange, unrecognizable, ringing with a penetrating emptiness that only makes me crave you.
How did I get here? Why is my world so lonely without you? Where are you?
In an instant, your image fills my mind, consuming me. And, as I feel the lump in my throat and the remains of hot, thick tears on my cheeks, I remember.
The overdose. Your collapse. The phone call to your mother…
Still uncomfortably nestled in your bed, permanently awakened by a life taken too soon and a life forever shattered, I swivel towards your mahogany nightstand. Your mother’s phone.
She never left your side as the paramedics attempted to revive you. We sobbed alongside each other, your mother and your first love, stammering and heaving with a sense of abandon, embracing each other in the wake of our grief.
But, as she grieved the loss of her only son, as she mourned the twisted path your addiction had led you down, she left her phone on your bedside table.
Take care of him, she cried through her disbelief that you were gone.
I will, I promised. Forever.
With tears blurring her vision, your mother stumbled out of your apartment, leaving me alone to contemplate how I could care for you in death when I was powerless to save your life. I was no match for your addiction, for all the times you promised to change, for the months you spent in a clean living facility, for the relapses, for the overdose that overtook you. As you fought your demons, as you attempted not to succumb to the urges that haunted you, I naively believed our love was strong enough to heal you.
But last night, as I tearfully witnessed you choking, struggling to breathe, I was struck with the truth: Only you could have healed yourself from your addiction. It was too late for anyone else to save you.
Bleary-eyed and overtaken by grief, I drag myself out of your bed to the cardboard box in the corner, where a dull scratching sound awaits me. With tears streaming down my face, I gingerly lift your kitten out of the box, stroking its velvety orange fur as I fruitlessly pray for you to return to me.
As if God heard me in my distress, I discover an unmistakable red cardstock paper heart and a small glue stick right where your kitten had been peacefully sleeping just moments before. My unfinished Valentine for you. A poem, messily scrawled across the back of the heart, dripped with promises to love you forever, no matter how far apart we are, no matter how life challenges us. On the front of the Valentine I never had the opportunity to give you, a delicate doily, embossed with a faint, cursive promise.
My love, I’ll always take care of you. I love you. Happy Valentine’s Day!
I sense my eyes welling up as I mourn you, cursing the promise I feel like I broke, the promise to always take care of you. And then, as I walk to your window to let sunlight overtake my darkness, a realization strikes me.
I’ve always cared deeply for you, despite your struggles. I’ve always taken care of you in your darkest moments. And, in spite of the addiction that ultimately ended your life, I discovered a beautiful soul, full of love and light and life. I’ve always seen your humanity when others saw your illness, and in both life and death, the greatest display of the love and care you deserve is to be seen for who you truly are.
I open your window, crying softly into my unsent paper Valentine as the rays of sun mingle with my tears. I know that even though I couldn’t save you from the grips of your addiction, even though my love wasn’t strong enough to heal you, I will forever remember you as the beautiful soul you were. My love, I wasn’t able to save you, but I will always care for you.