The next year, after my conversation with Lee, was a blur of sickness and care giving. No one is prepared for the kind of effort it takes to care for a dying loved one, even if they are in the medical profession. My family did the very best we could and in the end the cancer won and took my step father. During that time so many people offered their help and support. We were overwhelmed by people’s kindness and willingness to stop by and chat, bring food, and even day to day supplies like toilet paper. I was then and still will be forever grateful to those who helped us and will try to pay it forward whenever I can.
That being said there was one figure who was surprisingly absent, Lee. I had told him my stepdad was sick and he said he was sorry but weeks went by with no follow up. No visit, call or text. After all of my offering to help when he was injured and being supportive when his family members passed away I had not one word from Lee after I initially told him the sad news. I was about to write him off completely when my mother, worried about transporting my stepdad for an appointment, asked that I call him to help.
Lee came to help which I was thankful for, but I could not forget his icy treatment of me during my time of need. But necessity has a way of pushing thoughts not directly tied to the immediate out of one’s mind and grief even more so.
The months after a loved one passes are a jumble of feelings and basic physical needs. Without people’s generosity I don’t know what we as a family would have eaten besides maybe some ramen noodles. Everything is an effort in grief. But slowly, ever so slowly, things come back into focus. You adjust to a new way of living and try to make room for everyone to feel what they are feeling and support them while attempting to be kind to yourself. My family’s life was focused on ourselves with little room for other people. They were there I know, sustaining us, but I don’t remember their presence.
And then all of the sudden we were celebrating the holidays again, this time without a key member of our clan. It was a time to reflect and I wanted to acknowledge everyone I held dear because life is short. I called Lee and we talked for the first time in months. It was rushed but he suggested coffee which sounded nice. He never called to set a time. I called a month later to wish him a Happy Christmas and he seemed annoyed at my call. He had been out of cell range (which of course I would not know) with his girlfriend. I quickly got off the phone after he suggested dinner, and cried.
I cried for so many reasons, but mainly that someone else was lucky enough to have been at the right place at the right time, with the right dreams in life to get the attention I had so desperately wanted myself. After no return phone call for dinner and an ignored text I resolved to put things behind me where they should have been years ago, but life had different plans.
A friend of mine had invited me for dinner and with a smile I met them and who should walk in but Lee and a lady. I should say that in three years of living in the same area I had not once run into him on accident, but that night was different. I was in his direct line of sight and, since he had not responded to me I decided to let his actions determine mine. He walked right past me without so much as a nod. Now there is some debate over whether Lee saw me or not, but either way the rush of three years of feeling ignored and passed over came tumbling down upon me.
I had to steady myself even though I was sitting down. My wonderful friend tried to calm me down and speak to me about compassion but I knew that if I didn’t get up and say something I would burst. After feeling so neglected, supporting him through so much and staying quiet while he passed me over time and again I could not swallow another instance of the same treatment. I got up and approached the table.
What happened next is not exciting, witty or clever. I hadn’t planned what I was going to say, all I knew is that I needed him to see me. To acknowledge my presence in this world, my existence. With a look that I’m sure betrayed my feelings I approached the table. He jumped up and blocked me off from his party and attempted to make small talk which I mostly stared at him through. I managed to ask why he hadn’t returned my calls or texts for which he made some excuse about family. I retorted that he always had something going on there, and pointedly wished him a good evening.
From his perspective I overacted and behaved like a fool and some people would agree. All I know is that after hearing his story and empathizing, putting my intentions towards his happiness and longing for nothing but the best for him, the pain of his actions towards me cut me so deeply that to this day it still saddens me.
Sadness for the time and energy lost. For the story that lead him to who he became and the knowledge that he could be so much more. The tears I am still able to shed highlight how deeply I loved this man who could barely see me let alone give me anything. And for that I feel foolish.