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“The Life I Don’t Have” by Katrina Murphy

It’s just after 10 p.m. on May 22, 2013. I am sitting in a cozy apartment in Charleston, SC, close to the ocean and pretty far away from my family. I live here with my cat, Spenser, and my books and the art that makes me smile—much of it made by y’all. I stay out as late as I’d like and have, really, only myself to consider when making decisions. Many people, perhaps, dream of a life as “fancy free” as mine. Certainly, I enjoy it most days.

Someone asked me the other day if I was Irish. I told him, as I tell everyone who asks, that I married Irish. And, I married well.

Someone else asked me the other day what my age limits were on dating. I told her, as I tell everyone who asks, that I absolutely draw the line at someone as old as my daddy—that creeps me out. I’m not judging other people, but, ick. The other part of that answer was instinctively that 50 is the upper end. I’m 40, after all. A decade is reasonable.

I went on to do something else, then I got to thinking. If he were still here, tomorrow, May 23, would be Phil’s 50th birthday. I’d be planning a big party—maybe 2 depending on where we lived—convincing people to fly in, drive in, get there from Atlanta, Asheville, Ohio, Oklahoma, any way they could figure out how. I’d be baking Granny Allen’s pound cake, and I might even agree to make tuna casserole for our private celebration. I’d buy 4 or 5 different birthday cards to be sure I’d gotten just the right one. I’d spread them out over that many presents: books, music, whatever the current hobby was. I’d be cleaning and scurrying and saying I love you lots and lots.

Instead, I’m looking around here at the few tangible bits of him I keep out, thinking about his parents and brother and sister, his nieces and nephews, my parents and siblings, all his friends, knowing they are as bereft as I without that quiet, smiling man around. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t mention him, at least in conversation. Every fellow I’ve spent time with since has heard about him (some of them took it well, others had too much ego, all are in the past. go figure.) All of my friends have heard stories and seen his cowboy hat. From time to time, he still shows up in my dreams, young, smiling, sweeping me away again.

I know, as well as I know his social security number all these years later, that there will never be a day that I won’t still love him. I also know that I am the one still alive, and I have to take the lessons he taught me and keep becoming the best woman I can, a woman he’d be proud of. I have to move past the fear of offering my heart and having someone take it with them when they leave me forever. I’ve made real progress in that direction this year—examining motives (my own) and making deliberate changes.

I gave all of my heart to Phil the first time he kissed me not long after my 17th birthday, and he took very good care of it. I have every faith that someone, some day, will come along and do so again. Until then, I’ll live this full life with all of you and the ocean and poems and music and cats and pots and late nights and sunrises and hold onto my heart, open and ready and thankful.

Katrina Murphy is a poet, teacher, baker, host of the Internet radio show Questions That Bother Me So, and a dear friend who not only kindly allowed me to re-publish this piece after I read it on her Facebook page, but also reminds me each and every day to appreciate just how well taken care of I am in this world. Hang out with her on Twitter via @QTBSradio.

43 Promises to Myself on the Occasion of My 43rd Birthday

1. I will be kind and loving, not judgmental or regretful, when I happen to meet the me from 20 years ago, or ten years ago, or even last year in old journals or photographs or poems or memories.

2. I will consciously work to be open.

3. I will not continue to overpromise and under-deliver because I haven’t correctly estimated the amount of time for a particular task or because of health issues, and I will forgive myself every time I break this promise and overpromise and under-deliver anyway.

4. I will get out of bed when the alarm goes off, or when I naturally wake up—whichever comes first.

5. I will forgive my parents for not calling me more often after I left home and call them much more frequently than I currently do.

6. When I feel myself gaining weight, I will not buy more comfortable pants. Instead, I’ll figure out how to do what I need to do to get the pants I already own to feel more comfortable again. I will do this all without judgment.

7. I will be my own beloved.

8. I will write every day—whether that’s a blog post or a poem or a journal entry or a note telling someone I love how much I love them.

9. I will tell the people I love just how much I love them, loudly and more often.

10. I will kick Zuckerberg’s ass the next time he makes a change I don’t like on Facebook.

11. I will network out of a desire for community not advancement.

12. I will live in a way that even if the coffers are low, I can still give out of the abundance of my heart and spirit.

13. I will not break up with God no matter how often I feel like taking a break.

14. I will write more poems that make me nervous when I have to read them out loud to an audience.

15. I will dare.

16. I will speak up even if I’m not sure anyone’s listening.

17. I will remember to say please when I ask for something not just in my tone but with my actual words.

18. I will read more than one book of contemporary fiction this year.

19. I will not spend too much time apart from Mrs. Woolf.

20.  I will not suffer “buyers remorse” from saying yes when I should have said no.

21. I will remember to send birthday cards.

22. I will drink more water; I will drink more champagne.

23. I will break up with my blue-and-white couch on a regular basis.

24. I will not keep Netflix DVDs for months at a time hoping I’ll eventually watch them.

25. I will do the impossible at least once, and maybe even twice.

26. I will read War and Peace.

27. I will use my vacuum cleaner.

28. I will accomplish the things I put on my to do lists.

29. I will end the year with a surplus in my savings account, even it it’s only one dollar, and even if by savings account I mean the old flour tin where I sometimes hoard dollar bills.

30. I will sing in the shower more.

31. I will try to get through the entirety of Pretty in Pink.

32. I will buy a TV antenna so I can watch the Golden Globes and the Oscars and the old British sitcoms that air on Maryland Public Television.

33. I will dance more.

34. I will learn the words to Joni Mitchell’s “River.”

35. I will play the piano every once in a while to prove I still can.

36. I will forgive all those who’ve left me behind and I will celebrate all those who’ve stayed.

37. I will put things in perspective.

38. I will be kind to my body even when it’s not being very kind to me.

39. I will cry as often as I need to for as long as I need to.

40. I will not be ashamed to let someone see me cry.

41. I will read more Walt Whitman.

42. I will buy some of the albums I like rather than endlessly streaming them for free.

43. I will keep the promises I can and not hold on too hard to the ones I can’t.

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