This past week, I lost one of my most cherished people in my life, my companion and partner, who I will call “O.” in this space. This past week, he died of an overdose.
He and I had an unconventional romantic relationship that we were really quite private about for two years. As weeks turned into months, I came to discover that one of the main reasons for our back and forth was because, when we were off, he was using heroin.
When I learned that he was using, I was devastated and scared. I grew up under the DARE program and have always been a people pleaser.
O was not someone I anticipated to be a user, he was fully employed with a good job, he was attending graduate school at night, and spent his weekends working with disabled children, something he was passionate about, and in community gardens.
He was also a great carouser, with a terrific wit and a dedicated sense of fun who was always looking for wonderful and unique activities for us to pursue when we spent time together. To me the ability to do all of that, and to be on drugs, did not make sense.
I vacillated between a desperate fear that he would die, a desire to help him the most I could, and an urge to get out of the relationship.
The reality though was that all rationality was overruled by the unshakeable fact that I loved him, I had fun with him, and I did not want to say goodbye to him ever.
He knew every part of me - my fears, my insecurities, my hopes and dreams - and he always made me feel more confident and able to take on the world. And I did the same for him.
We got along so well that we really could not leave each other alone. We would write emails to one another all day in between work projects, support each other with our school work, send each other funny photos, and then meet together at night to sleep.
He did not live with me, but he spent a great deal of time with me.
I cherished our relationship, but sometimes I felt like I was a loser because our commitment was so private. He and I were connected, but he was not seeking the trappings of a conventional relationship with me.
He wanted to keep me just where I was and for our relationship to be between us. However, with him gone, I've come to understand that maybe what we consider to be important trappings of a relationship are misunderstood.
O and I were confidantes. We provided each other with support and with tough love. O did not let me get away with playing the victim. He was very good at being rational while I was not.
Whenever I was overwhelmed, he would help me take things one step at a time. And in return, I would build him up and do my best to let him know his goodness was seen and cherished.
I did not sit idly by on the drug issue, but I also did not make him feel like an a--hole for it. I was his number one cheerleader and worked hard to help him see his way out.
Our relationship was deeply intimate; it was not a prepackaged consumable to be marketed to the world as an Item. And it was one of the nicest (though most difficult) relationships I've ever had.
Honestly, I did not know enough about addiction to be as strong of a help as I could have been. I struggled to know where the boundaries should be. Had I had more time with him, I would have gone to Al-Anon or other resources to provide him with support.
He worked really hard in his final months on earth. He got A's in school, he started getting in shape, and he spent almost 100 days sober attending NA. But the addiction was too strong, and he became despondent.
I wished, wanted and schemed with him a zillion different ways for him to overcome his, by the end, complete and utter hopelessness. But in the end, heroin won.
I write all this to you with no resolution. Many people would write and tell you to donate to a place or join a group or do something else positive, proactive and quick. But I know that none of that would have saved my precious O.
I was never truly close to saving him, only he could do that for himself. But I am relieved that I get to keep forever the deep, meaningful support of his love. I was uninterested in getting "the ring" or a double date or the perfect Instagrammable proposal or a nice photoshoot for Facebook.
I was interested only in his heartfelt understanding and the comfort of having him near me. I am glad to have an archive of loving, supportive and silly conversations and private memories over any title or new last name; sometimes the love we need comes in a package we're not used to.
I have learned in the time since his death that this kind of deeply available, warmly inviting love is not often available to many of us, though we may see the simulacrum of it everywhere.
I am lucky to receive a lot of it, especially in the days since this tragedy, and I have incredible support and community and I am doing as well as I might be expected to.
Invest only in patience, understanding, and openness to the people you feel you can become close to, don't worry about showcasing it for the public. Let those who love you take care of you, and try to keep your heart both safe and open.
It's the only thing we really have. And please, stay away from heroin.