Alone at a party

Every once in a while, in the midst of a lively party going full swing, I find myself feeling alone. I’ll feel my body slip out of phase with the rest of the participants of the party, becoming invisible–a stranger looking in at the happy, energetic faces like an anthropologist watching some tribe of primitives performing an abstract ritual. I’ll feel unbearably sad. Not in the way that makes me want to cry, just a slow, longing and regret. Maybe a little jealousy. I try not to admit to the jealousy.

After attending a housewarming party for a younger cousin this past weekend, I started to realize that I become most lonely at the parties of family and friends who knew me and Mike as a couple. The parts of my life where the old me still dwells feels disconnected with the new me. I know that everyone in the room once knew Mike and they know what happened to me. They probably don’t think about it as often as I do, but I still feel awkward among them. I wonder if they are thinking–hoping–that I will arrive at their party with a new love. A new love would surely make everything feel less awkward. I’d be less of a reminder of all the things that could go wrong in life. But even if I did turn up with a new love, I also fear that they would do as I do–hold him to the impossible standard set by a beloved friend–and he would fail. In fact, I worry that my friends and family are harder judges of the people I date than I am.

When I get into these states, I try to recover quickly and snap myself out of my private pity party. I usually thrive in large groups. I like the atmosphere of a an active party. I like the group of people I’m with. But sometimes I just feel like I don’t fit anymore. Especially as I watch these friends and family mature, marry, and have kids. I feel like they are getting to successfully complete a project I started but failed. Failed–as if it was my fault for marrying a man with a genetic defect in his heart.

Sometimes I find myself morbidly wondering if there are any more people in my sphere of friends and family who are also going to experience the loss of a spouse or, worse, yet, a child. I don’t like to go there. I don’t want to wish my fate on anyone else, not even to relief the ache of loneliness in my journey through grief.  Still, sometimes the thought slips in. And I fear thinking it will make it happen. Despite the horrible implications of the thought, I sometimes wish I wasn’t the only source of an oddball statistic of tragedy.  Of course, I want everyone to lead the lives they dreamed. Like I once dreamed. Like I still dream and hope I get someday. But I can’t feel magnanimous every day–that whole “if not me, then my friends” bit is harder to truly believe. Why not me? Why me and not someone else? I know I’ve said those lines before. Despite the rhetorical nature of a question no one can answer, it still pops up in my mind during these sobering moments where I feel separated from my friends.

I seem to be more comfortable, and therefore less likely to fall into a spell of loneliness, when I’m with friends who only know post-Mike Mars Girl. Like my new friends from my bike club and my church. They have no expectations of me or who I love, they never knew me as part of the Mike-Mars Girl couple, they did not know Mike. They may know my story because I’ve told them or they read this blog, but they never felt the reality of it. So they see me as I am now. And I know them as they are now. There’s no standing memory of a happier history together. I haven’t watched them grow up as I have my younger cousins, nor have I grown up with them as I have my friends.

I work really hard on controlling the tingle of jealousy that pinches my spine. Jealousy is the ugliest of human emotions and it only leads me to behave miserably. Yet, I have to admit I feel it. Every time I’m at someone’s wedding. I see the happy sparkle in the couple’s eyes, listen to the nervously stuttered pronunciation of vows, and feel the jovial mood of the guests. I remember what it was like to be the host of such an event. That it was truly the best day of my life. Which was only topped by the first date I had with Mike when I knew within the first half hour of those first moments together that he was the man I was going to marry.

I overcompensate for my feelings of jealousy with weddings by spending more money than I should on wedding gifts. I don’t go overboard, but I have a tendency to spend a little higher than the level of friendship I have with the bride or groom probably deserves. I push myself to be over-enthusiastic about attending the wedding so that I don’t find myself wanting to run into a bathroom and cry by the end of it. Crying at this point is really the ultimate act of jealousy and selfishness. It’s not about me. This day is about the bride and groom–two people who have somehow found each other in this crazy, face-paced world. They are lucky to have each other. Just as I was lucky to have Mike for nearly three years of my life. Even if I was totally unlucky to lose him 20 months into our marriage. As I get older, I realize what I had with Mike was more special than I even knew at the time. Though we called each other “soul mates,” I don’t think we were really fully aware of how rare a soul mate is. I envy people who have found their soul mates. I can barely remember what it feels like anymore, but it was indeed wonderful.

I try really hard to show outward happiness for people as they mark new phases of their lives.  I try not to measure my life against their successes for that only leads to jealousy. These kinds of “successes” are really out of our control. It’s nobody’s fault that Mike died. It’s no one’s fault that I still miss him and the relationship I had with him while others find similar love that leads to a more fortunate outcome. I have to remind myself this constantly. Life happens; the quality of your life is measured in how you react to the things that happen to you. What you do with what you’ve been through. I’ve made the best of my life after Mike. I am doing better than I would ever have dreamed, probably better than he would have dreamed.

I have all the right thoughts when confronting these situations. But emotions are emotions, and I can’t help it that the normal rites of passage in adult life depress me. Each one that marks one more thing Mike and I have done or never got to do just tears at my insides. At least I don’t run away from them. At least I put on a happy face and I still show up. At least I keep the thoughts inside at the moment. At least I don’t burden the party’s hosts with my inner anguish. I’m a good little griever. I know how to keep my grief to myself.

A good guy friend of mine is getting married on Saturday. I’ve distracted myself with the usual preparations to keep away from those gloomy thoughts. I finally had a dress altered that I bought almost two years ago so that I could wear it to the wedding, and then I spent half the week trying to locate a slip to wear underneath it (it’s see-through otherwise and I don’t need to attract guys that badly). The week before, I agonized over the couple’s registry to figure out which item was the perfect one to come from me. As if it all mattered. As if they’ll even notice. As if anyone at the wedding will notice me in my much less glamorous gown. Somehow in trying to distract myself, I’ve made it about me again. I’m terrible about this. It’s just another wedding, right? Vows at the church, obligatory dances at the reception. DJ, speeches, crying family members, a few embarrassingly drunk family members or friends. It’s become a tired routine by this time in my life. (Back when I got married, I was one of the first in my group of friends, so the whole ritual seemed new and original.)

No. It does mean something because it’s a friend. And I’m excited to go, to hang out in a group of friends I haven’t seen in a long time. Friends who, one by one, are joining the ranks of the married.

I’m doing pretty good at weddings these days. I mostly get through them by turning my emotions off. Which makes it really hard to appreciate the moment. I used to get sappy at weddings. Mike and I would look at each other during key lines and smile knowingly. Weddings made us glow. Now those very same lines–references to a long and shared life together–often sound ironic.

I guess maybe I should have brought a friend or something, instead of increasing the possibility of feeling alone when, in fact, I am attending alone. But I didn’t really have anyone I wanted to bring as a date. And I didn’t want to give any of my usual friends the impression that I was seeing anyone seriously. I suppose I could have brought a girl friend. But weddings are so personal; people usually are bored unless they know the couple. I think it’s kind of rude, too, to bring someone to partake of free food and beverage at someone else’s expense. It’s not a free party; it’s a wedding. After having gone through one, I understand the cost.

Loneliness is the hardest emotion to work through sometimes. Jealousy, too. I work constantly on overcoming both. People wonder why I spend so much of my time out and about instead of sticking at home more often. To be honest, I keep myself busy to avoid feeling alone. But loneliness occasionally sneaks in when you least expect it–in a crowd of people right when you think you’re having a good time. Because of what happened to me, I think I’ll always feel a little outside of any group. I see the world a little differently than I used to. And maybe sometimes I’m acutely aware of the fact that even amidst a party full swing, at my happiest moment, that the world is changing beneath my feet. That a particular moment is lost as it passes and I sometimes miss it ahead of its passing. People come into our lives and then they go, whether they drift apart or our taken from life, and I think I understand it a little more than others who have not gone through the experience of loss. I feel, always, like I’m trying to hang onto a moment or a person, desperately hoping I can prevent its departure.

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