For almost 29 years, I was half of two, the Susan in “Richard-‘n-Susan.” We fell in love at first sight at the birthday dinner of a mutual friend, after which my housemates invited him over to grill him (they didn’t trust my instincts).
They approved. We went on a date, an all-day affair involving a long drive in the snow and a leisurely soak in a steaming hot springs. After that, as I wrote in Walking Nature Home,
We were an item. We held hands wherever we walked. We talked about the future in terms of “we” instead of “I.”
We didn’t know each other well enough to make that kind of commitment, but our hearts didn’t care. We were crazy in love, and lucky too: that love grew and lasted longer than anyone would have guessed–Richard and me included.
The chemistry of love carried us through some pretty blinking difficult times, many of those of our own making. Learning to parent together to raise Molly, bouncing around the country for his career, dealing with family tragedies–the usual challenges of life, any of which could have peeled us apart.
My inner redhead was never shy. When I get mad, I am MAD. I don’t stay mad very long though. And when it’s over, it’s over.
Richard considered himself even-tempered, which I learned meant he didn’t let his anger show easily. But when he did, he didn’t get over it–I know because I got pretty good at finding that boiling point. He sulked, he stewed, he brooded. For weeks.
Richard was brilliant, both left-brain and right. He was the deepest thinker and best analyst I have ever known. He spoke mathematics like a language.
His ability to understand stone, steel and wood and what they have to say to us was extraordinary. His sculptures and basins still elicit that in-drawn breath that says, “Wow!” People reach for his work, wanting to touch, to connect with that surprising and beautiful other.
After so many years together, Richard and I finished each others’ sentences and thoughts. We seemed indelibly paired. We certainly thought we were.
Until, thanks to brain cancer we weren’t.
Now, two years after his death, I’m coming to realize just how much one by itself does not equal half of two.
I am not the person I was as part of a couple. I don’t want to be. There is no Richard anymore (except in my heart, in memories and stories, and through his art). I have to figure out my life on my own.
Turns out I like the “on my own” part much more than I would have ever imagined. I am not social and I no longer have the patience to compromise.
I like having quiet if I want quiet, or playing Emily Lou Harris loud if I don’t.
I like deciding what I want to eat when I want to eat it (or not eating at all if I don’t feel like it). I like writing in bed before dawn, working straight through when I’m on a roll, and making my own choices every part of every day.
I like–no, I love–having my own space, designed just for me, and arranging it exactly the way I want it.
I loved living with Richard. He was the heart of my heart, my other soul, and all that mushy stuff. Sometimes he annoyed me, sometimes he made me mad, but we really belonged together. We were each others’ other half.
Then how can I love living alone? I don’t know.
But I am discovering just how much this me does, the me who is one by herself–no longer half of two. I didn’t know I still had so much to learn about being me. I didn’t even know there was a me who could be so happy as one–solo, solitary, alone. That’s me now.