I almost never look at these photos…I could probably count on one hand the number of times in the past ten years I’ve taken them out. I still have the mental snapshots, and they are clearer and more precise than any of these. I could measure out for you, with my hands, the exact span of his hips, the width of his chest, the circumference of his arms. I can still exactly remember the timbre of his voice as if I had just heard it yesterday. I still catch myself imitating his body language, his mannerisms, and even some of his sayings…they’ve become such a part of me by now that sometimes I have to remind myself who I got them from.
Today his sister Heidi posted on Facebook that she’s making the blueberry muffins that he always loved. A family friend commented that that was such a nice way to honor him, and that she was sure Hansel was smiling down from heaven as Heidi whipped them up. And for the first time since we lost him, I felt…happy, at that thought, instead of the old rage and despair that would ordinarily have risen up because he is no longer a part of this world. Not that I haven’t been weeping all day…it gets easier in some ways and it never gets easier in others, you know? Because out of everything, that is still the thing that can bring me to my knees the way it did ten years ago: I just want him to still be somewhere in this world. Even if it’s all the way across it, even if I never got to see him or talk to him again…I just want to know that he’s here, somewhere, still living a life.
It took a long time to get to the point where I could be anywhere around family and not want to burst into tears with every other word…but this December, I finally reached it. And I’m so grateful for it. I used to be terrified that hearing their voices or seeing their faces would plunge me back into that deep, dark abyss, but it doesn’t, anymore. I ran into his parents at my favorite coffeeshop in the middle of a Saturday afternoon a handful of weeks ago, and was struck by how much they still feel like a second family. And his sisters… I will always be grateful for them, and for the bond we will always share. But this last time, when I met up with them over Christmas, it felt more like we were old friends instead of fellow survivors. And I’m really happy for that. I’m grateful.
Ten years ago today, my life changed forever. Cataclysmically. There is nothing, besides my family and my two best friends, that would look the same if we hadn’t lost Hansel that day. And every anniversary since, I’ve been anticipating this one with a mix of hope, dread, and relief. It’s only been ten years. It’s already been ten years. But ten years seems to put a sort of cap on it, if that makes any sense. For the first half of the ten, this day meant that things were still getting worse instead of better. Then, in the last half, it was getting better, so I didn’t want this day to make it worse. The past couple of years have been remarkable for healing and gaining peace, and now, finally, I can feel happy for things. I can feel happy for blueberry muffins. I can feel happy for old pictures and my ring and his notes. I can feel happy for how handsome he was, and how fun, and all the ways we fell so deeply in love with each other. I can feel happy for people’s comments about him smiling down from heaven. I can enjoy his family and friends for the good memories they bring, and for both the old and new meanings they hold in my life.
Ten years ago plus a day, I sobbed my heart out onto my mom’s kitchen counter and told her I didn’t think I would ever be okay again. I’m glad that I was wrong. I will always wish that he was still here, and I will never not cry when I realize that wish will never come true. But I’m glad that I was wrong.