I hate to hear of people complaining of growing older. I feel annoyed when people “dread” their birthdays, but I have to be honest, and admit that I’ve been one of those people for the past couple of weeks. My birthday is less than a week away and it makes me sad to think about, I’m not excited for the day, it will come and go, and from now on when people ask me how old I am I’ll give them a new number. That’s pretty much it for me.
Why? Why at a soon to be 33 (I don’t feel old) do I feel so bitter about my birthday? Just like any milestone, my birthday forces me to think of my last something with Luke, my last birthday with Luke, even worse, Luke’s last birthday. In preparation for this blog entry, I’ve been going through my old Dropbox account and what I use now, Google photos, looking for images to share with you. I hate doing that, I hate scrolling through or searching by date because I know where Luke’s pictures end. I know exactly where I can stop looking. I know where and when he became a memory. Even if I had an image of every single moment I spent with him, I would want more. Take pictures.
I even went through what I morbidly call the “obit box”. Luke and I weren’t big on cards but I got one on my 30th. Buy cards. This card is now mixed in with pictures, his obit, the program from his funeral, condolence cards, pictures J drew for Luke when he was in the hospital. I love and hate this box. I’m not sure why he decided to get me a card that year but I am so, so thankful he did. Yes, he called me sugar. Yes, I let him. Again, buy cards.
Luke had Stage 4 Cancer when he wrote this, six short months to live, and we didn’t know. For some reason, maybe because we didn’t want to know or didn’t want to see the writing on the wall, we never staged Luke’s cancer. We never said Stage 4. We knew he would always have cancer, we knew it was bad, maybe it went without saying but we focused on, we clung to the words the Doctor’s said, they could “control” Luke’s cancer, not cure him, but control his disease. Looking back, I wish I wouldn’t have been so naive. I wish I would have known how short our time together really was. I didn’t know, I didn’t want to know and neither did Luke.
My last birthday with Luke was my 30th. My big 3-0! We had always planned to go all out for my 30th. We’d have a bonfire by the barn on his new property and it was going to be the best birthday! Well, our plans changed. I know Luke tried to pull something together but it didn’t come together and that’s okay. I didn’t need a big party. Luke and I had a bit of a birthday tradition and that’s all I really wanted. Every year on my birthday, Luke would take me to our favorite Italian restaurant. It’s a small storefront spot, some people may not think much of it but it was ours, and I love it, even if I’m never able to go back.
So, like we did every year, we planned to go to our Italian spot for dinner and then Luke would spend the night at my house. This was a big deal! After Luke’s cancer diagnosis, eating became a chore and Luke wasn’t typically comfortable enough after eating to spend the night with me. Some nights he would be up all night in pain and dealing with the side effects of his cancer or chemo. Luke didn’t want me to see it, any of it. Luke protected me, to the point of angering me, for not letting me be around more, but as time has passed I’ve come to forgive his decisions. Some people may think I’m a terrible person for being angry at Luke, even when he was so sick but it’s a reality no one can truly understand until you’ve walked that path. It’s a path I wish on no one!
My birthday night with Luke started perfectly! He was nervous and after six-ish years together, it was the sweetest thing I’d ever seen. He couldn’t wait for me to open my gift! I opened it at my house before we even left for dinner. We always said “I carry your heart” so the necklace he got me was just perfect. He put it on me, and he was so proud, he had that way about him…he could make you feel so special. He would be so excited about giving something to someone, it made you even more excited to receive it. I felt like I was 10 and I had just gotten a new bike. I cried as I answered, 50 plus times, “yes, I love it, its perfect”.
It was perfect then and it holds true today. I joked then that the black inside the smaller heart was him, all of the crap he had put me through and all of our breaks. He laughed and told me he knew I would say that. I won’t pretend for a single second we had a perfect relationship, quite the opposite, we wasted so much time! Luke would admit he wasnt the easiest person to love but neither am I. Sometimes we were off more than on and most people don’t understand the love we shared but that doesn’t make it any less valuable. We really did love each other but we were also best friends. Luke was my best friend. I miss my best friend.
I don’t wear this necklace often because I still don’t know how to respond when I get compliments. Every time I wear it I hear “oh, what a beautiful necklace! Where did you get it?”. Well, I still can’t answer that without making things extremely awkward. I’ve tried to simply say “it was a gift” but the tears come easy and it’s just not something I want to put myself through. I wear it sometimes but try to keep it tucked away. I also have a terrible fear of something happening to it. It’s all silly, really but I’ll work through it all.
I snapped a pic of myself on the way to dinner. I sent it to my sister and my parents, showing off my gift and letting them know all was well. Plans weren’t cancelled on account of chemo or cancer. This had become a common occurrence. I look at this picture now, I was in his truck, he was right beside me, driving. I took it all for granted. I miss being in his truck, I miss making fun of his music, the way his hand would fall on the steering wheel. I love and hate this picture.
Long story short? Luke and I had a beautiful dinner. We laughed, (we laughed a lot) Luke appeared to be pain-free, in good spirits and I was happy to have some normalcy in my life. I was on a date with my boyfriend and unless we would’ve said so, no one would have known he also happened to have cancer.
Driving back from dinner, our evening took a turn, and our night went from perfect to awful. There was a fancy sports car driving somewhat recklessly, too fast, weaving in and out of lanes and Luke became very angry with the driver of this car. I didn’t understand then, I didn’t have time to process his behavior, I could only see his actions. Luke got in front of the sports car and tried to box him in. I was confused, I was nervous and I became angry when I couldn’t talk Luke out of letting this car pass. I didn’t understand why he was so adamantly policing this other driver. I told Luke what he was doing was dangerous, we should call the police, again, to just let this car pass but Luke refused. Luke went on and on about how this driver was endangering everyone on the road and I didn’t disagree but I felt boxing him in was only endangering us more. This other driver was angry and verbal about it, Luke was verbal back, and I was just so upset. This wasn’t my Luke? How did we get here? How did we end up in a massive blow up argument?
Were we really fighting about this stupid, fancy sports car? Maybe a little but we were both just so angry, and we had so much to be angry over that we let this car destroy our evening. We let this car become everything about our reality that we hated. I’ve thought about this night a lot, maybe Luke needed to feel powerful, cancer and chemo stripped him of his identity, of his physical strength. Maybe he was angry that someone was being so reckless with life when he was fighting so hard for his own, maybe I shouldn’t have gotten so angry, maybe I should have been more understanding, maybe Luke didn’t feel as well as he was letting on, maybe he didn’t feel comfortable spending the night with me. Maybe we really were just angry at life, even after a beautiful evening, we were going home to our reality. Luke still had cancer, the meal he ate was going to catch up to him and maybe this would be his last “my birthday”. Maybe he knew it. Maybe I did, too. The maybes go on forever.
Looking back, it all seems so silly. I’m mad that’s how our night ended. I’m mad we went to bed angry. I’m even more mad we didn’t go to bed together. I missed simply sleeping next to Luke. After Luke’s first surgery he moved in with his parents and they had a hospital bed setup for him, a recliner sat next to the bed. Luke would always let me lay in his bed and he would lay in the chair next to me. He swore he was more comfortable in the chair. His Mom would come downstairs and always kind of giggle at our setup. Luke (the cancer patient) would set ME up, tuck me in and then lay down himself. We would hold hands and still find ways to show affection but the normalcy of just sleeping next to one another, waking up next to one another was gone. We both missed us and as much as we tried, we weren’t, we couldn’t be 30 and 34. Luke was too sick and neither one of us wanted to admit it. We wanted him to be better but he wasn’t, he wouldn’t be.
My last birthday with Luke was my 30th. His last birthday was his 34th and he spent it recovering from his first surgery, still trying to process his diagnosis that had only come 11 days prior. Looking at this picture of Luke makes me sad, of course, but I also think it serves as a reminder of how precious this life really is. If Luke can smile for his 34th, I’ll smile on my 33rd. Of course I’m allowed to be sad, I’m allowed to have regrets. I’ll miss Luke like crazy and remembering him on my birthday will sting but I’m going to try to remember the good times, before and after cancer.
Luke hated this picture of himself and to offset sharing it, I’ll have to share a picture or two of him before he was sick. I’m sure you can tell which is which.
Take pictures, buy cards and celebrate your damn birthday. Xo – Steph