“Once our bodies die, we are–I am–never far from you. I’m always around everyone I ever loved.” ~ R.A. Diane, Coffee with my Brother
Grief is a spiral staircase.
I’ve climbed higher than I once was.
I look back to my beloved’s sudden unexpected death in his sleep two years ago and see the staircase corkscrewed below the ground into a darkness I wish on no one.
But, in the depths is where he spoke to me from the beyond.
Impossible? Crazy? Sure, maybe, but it’s completely Kevin. He and I converse.
Fresh into my grief one morning, I go to grab my coffee, to drink out of the one striped cup with a chip on it that I took from his home in the aftermath.
He says, “Come on, Icey,” (his nickname for me), “Drink it black. Taste it. I want you to know how it tastes to me.”
I’ve been drinking coffee since third grade. I’m in my 50s. I know I don’t like black coffee.
But, in this instant, I’m talking to my insistent (just like when he was alive) dead boyfriend.
“Fine,” I say to appease him.
The black coffee settles on my tongue like his kiss. It’s appealing. New and old familiar flavor swirls inside my mouth and mind. I’m tasting it the way he did.
It’s different than black coffee I’ve tried dozens of times in the past. This time it’s smooth and hot and manly. I know why he drank it black. It tastes good.
From that day on, I drink my coffee black. This one thing is better than it’s ever been and offers me one less thing to worry about—the recurring panic of running out of some sort of cream to feed my morning addiction. I like the flavor and the freedom.
I know what black coffee tasted like in my boyfriend Kevin’s mouth, the way it now rolls into mine, the way we spooned in bed.
Over the following weeks and months, Kevin has me experiencing how things felt for him—in his body.
One Friday afternoon, I feel a physical quiver in my heart. It’s unnerving, attention getting, but not painful.
He tells me that’s what it felt like for him; it didn’t hurt; it was just a quiver; he didn’t know.
Cause of death: heart attack.
That Friday evening, I attempt to explain my strange beautiful experience to my sister.
After asking, “What time was that?” she proceeds to tell me at that same time, about 3:30, she felt a sharp pain in her heart and was short of breath to the point of fearing she was having a heart attack and considered calling 911.
My sister is the furthest one could be from a hypochondriac. She’s never called an ambulance for herself or even gone to the ER. I bet she can count on one hand the number of times she’s called in sick in four decades of employment.
Yet, on this day, shortly after Kevin’s death, she seriously thought she might be having a heart attack. Just when she decided yes, she should call an ambulance, the pain subsided.
Somehow, she knew the incident connected to Kevin, although neither of us know what it means. We just chalk it up to weird.
When someone you love is alive and healthy one day and gone the next, everything becomes surreal.
A few days later, I’m struck by intense pain in my heart, like being squeezed by someone’s fist. I fall to my knees on the floor in my kitchen.
“Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!” I say through tears, “Jesus f*cking Christ!”
I feel Kevin’s presence, to which I say, “I thought you said it didn’t hurt!”
“It didn’t,” he says. “That’s what it felt like every time I hurt you. I’m sorry. I was trying to save you from the pain. But, I was saving me. It hurt me so much to hurt you. That’s why I didn’t tell you. I’m so sorry, Icey.”
I’d just found out he’d maintained a relationship with his ex-girlfriend after vowing to never speak to her again.
She and I connected after his death. Then, she revealed they’d stayed in contact. She said, “We were just friends. I promise you. He loved you so much, Alice.”
I knew it was true. I understood how their relationship had evolved into friendship. Now, I even get why he didn’t tell me.
I might have a small jealous streak that revealed itself as a walkaway woman before this woman understood the new boundaries.
After Kevin fell in love with me, it was only me.
Still. I’m furious that he lied—again! The one thing I hate the most. The reason for a few of our arguments. I despise being lied to!
Getting the truth from her is a gut punch. Mostly, I’m mad that my man is dead and I can’t even have an all-out argument with him!
So, Kevin lets me feel how much it hurt him when he hurt me. I physically experience what he says he experienced.
I believe him. It’s his truth.
Another day, I’m just walking down my street when I feel a pop and excruciating pain on my Achilles tendon, like a rubber band stretched too far, and snap! I sit down on the sidewalk in front of my neighbor’s house, grit my teeth and try not to cry. WTF?!
Again, Kevin is present. He says, “That’s how it felt. Remember I told you about that?”
It’s the agony he felt when, as a college basketball star (long before I knew him), he tore his Achilles tendon.
He says he wants me to know how it felt to be him.
I don’t need to feel everything he felt, but he needs me to know.
Sure, I want him to know how much I hurt in the wake of his death, but not to actually feel the soul-gripping intensity of my grief. Not that he feels pain where he is.
Besides, Kevin knows how wretched grief can be; we grew closer while he made his way through his after his mother passed in 2012.
In too quick a time, he’s with her and I’m drinking my coffee black out of one chipped cup, the kind we drank from side by side every morning I stayed with him in his home.
Why didn’t I take two cups?
Now, it’s going on two years since he’s been gone (“just in another room,” he says).
Full circle somehow, I no longer enjoy drinking my coffee black. It began to turn my teeth brown and I returned to my own taste buds.
So, was I fooling myself? No, I was gifted with knowing, feeling and experiencing what Kevin wanted me to.
I tasted black coffee the way my boyfriend did, just as delicious as my grief was wicked.
I’m reminded of a time I texted Kevin a sexy picture of me and he said, “Don’t do that, Icey. You’re wicked!” with a smile in his voice.
Higher on grief’s spiral staircase, more memories like that make me smile and I have fewer conversations with my deceased beloved.
Although I no longer drink my coffee black, I’ll never forget how good it tasted.