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.