Online an hour ago.
“I miss you already. I can’t stop crying at work and I keep hoping you’ll come back.”
Online 3 hours ago.
“I love you…”
Online 6 hours ago.
“Please come back.”
Stage 1: Denial
“Good morning,” he says softly from the other end of the phone that’s wedged between your face and the pillow. “You were snoring. Little baby dinosaur snores. It was so cute.”
The room is painted with soft morning light as you open your eyes. You pick up the phone, but the screen is dark. No one is on the other side.
There, at the edge of your bed, is the hoody he sent you a year ago. Although the smell has faded, you swear you can feel the warmth of his skin on the sleeve when you press it against your cheek.
You keep your phone on loud in case he calls.
Stage 2: Anger
This weekend, he is seven months clean.
You wear sunglasses inside to hide your tear-stained eyes. You grab an orange juice from behind the glass (his favorite) and order two bagels and two small coffees (iced for you, regular for him).
You find a table against the wall and brush off the scattered crumbs before sitting down. You lay out the bagel and hot coffee on the other side of the table before placing your own bagel and coffee in front of you. You set the orange juice down in the middle.
There, in a black journal, you begin to write. You tell him how proud you are that he made it so long. You tell him you saw a pug on your walk over. You tell him you’re going to drink all of his orange juice. You tell him he should be here. You tell him you’re sorry.
Stage 3: Bargaining
You walk to Central Park with your journal tucked under your arm. You tell yourself you’re going to write another letter, but you don’t.
You find a bench that overlooks two separate entrances to the park and this is where you sit for what feels like hours. You watch for any and every kind of dog and make a mental note to tell him about them later.
You begin to sort through every conversation you two ever had. The ones you barely remember, the ones you’ll never forget. You wish you could make them all stick because you know how cruel time can be to memories — but you can’t pick up your pen to write them down. You can’t move anything.
All you can do is pray.
Stage 4: Depression
This is when you start to break. When it’s late, and the darkness of your bedroom presses against you — this is when you realize how alone you are.
You panic. You scramble out of bed and blindly search your desk. There, among the rest of the half-empty bottles you refuse to throw away, is the cologne he sent you for your birthday.
You spray it on his hoody and press it against your face. You can breathe easier now, you think.
You go to your closet and pull out the box of letters you’ve been avoiding for weeks. You grab the book from the top shelf (one of his favorites) that he sent you to read.
On the inside cover — “I’m not very good at picking favorites, but I know that above all, I’ll always pick you. I love you babygirl. I hope you enjoy this book as much as I did. Always, James”
Stage 5: Acceptance
This — this is the final stage. You recognize this feeling from 12 years ago when it consumed you for the very first time.
It starts with a slow burn. The warmth on your hand as it hovers over a flame, the heat on your neck when you turn your back to a fire. You think you’re a safe distance away — until you’re not.
It weighs against your chest until you have no air left to breathe. You curl into yourself, praying for the pain to give, but as you close your eyes and clench your teeth, it brands you with the color of grief.
Then it disperses throughout your body and you know you’ll contain this heartache within you forever. You cannot outrun this, you cannot drown this out anymore.
You teach yourself how to stand up straight while carrying this weight on your shoulders. You learn how to sleep with this emptiness inside of you constantly echoing. You pat yourself on the back for getting out of bed.
Every night you fall apart and every morning you piece yourself back together again. But every day you carry him with you no matter where you go — and this is how you move on.