For almost 29 years, I had the great gift of sharing this life with the man I loved almost more than life itself. Richard and I were as close as two humans could be–we held hands wherever we went, and we often completed each other's sentences, or knew what the other was going to say before the words came out. Our bodies knew each other as if we had been born twins, not six years and three states apart, on opposite sides of the North-South cultural/political divide and to very different family cultures as well.
No matter. Once we found each other–and that itself took some doing and a previous marriage for each of us–we came together as if we had been designed for each other. As if we were soul-siblings. With Richard came Molly, his daughter, just three years old when I met her, and at home in my heart from almost that first moment.
A friend once said about the three of us, "The air between you shimmers. It's love made visible."
Richard and I didn't always use the gift well, though I believe we always did the best we could at any moment. We fought, we hurt each other, we sulked. (Okay, Richard sulked–I'm a redhead. I go off like fireworks, loud and blazing bright; but when my temper is over, it's over.). But always, the love won out over whatever we had allowed to get in the way.
The better part of three decades is a long time in any life. Molly grew up, went to college, found a career, friends, and a place she loved to live.
Richard and Molly, February 2010
Richard and I grew too, changing as we did, and found our way home to the Rockies to the town where he had lived as a child. We settled, fell in love with a junky, all-but-abandoned piece of industrial property, which we bought and spent years bringing back life, along with the historic building that became Richard's sculpture studio and the block of frontage on channelized and abused urban creek that still makes my heart sing with its gurgling voice.
Richard evolved from an academic into an expert witness and then an abstract sculptor who worked with native rocks as "ambassadors of the earth," bringing them into our daily lives as a way of reconnecting us to the beauty and wonder of the planet that is our home.
"Paula's Find," a sculptural firepit Richard created for an architect and interior designer.
My writing grew, stretched, deepened, and reached new audiences.
And then one hot August morning, Richard–who had always loved and watched birds–saw thousands of birds that did not exist except in his mind. Those seemingly benign avian hallucinations portended the brain cancer that would kill him two and a quarter years later.
I am 59 now, the age he was when he saw birds. Two months after my birthday last fall came the fourth anniversary of his death.
And I still have the gift of our love, albeit in a different form. Whenever I notice something particularly beautiful–the colors of a vivid sunset, the sheen of a river-wet boulder, a bluebird with feathers as bright as these Colorado skies–I see again Richard's face-splitting smile. I sometimes hear his voice as if at the very edge of my range of perception, the words not quite close enough to distinguish, but the cadence and tone a comfort.
I live with some of his work, and it never fails to give me both a jolt of recognition, a stab of grief, and a smile of pure joy when I run my fingers across the polished edge of a basin he carved, or explore the precise joint between curving steel and rock in a sculpture. His hands stroked here, I think to myself, just like this, as I wipe my eyes.
"Prosthesis," steel and basalt
When I rest my head on my pillow at night, just as I drift off to sleep I can sometimes feel the cadence of Richard's heartbeat, as if my ear were on his chest once more.
And his love lives on in Molly, who will turn 37 this Thursday. (Happy Birthday, Sweetie!)
Whenever I am feeling sorry for myself, I remember that I had the gift of Richard's love for the almost 29 years we were together in this life. And I have it still.
Life gives and life takes away; what endures is love. It asks only courage, honesty, and patience to live with our hearts open.
It's worth the risk. Every bloody bit.