After John died, safe to say, I lost sight of who I was and what I meant to him.
Though he had told me hundreds of times how he felt about me when he was alive…without the formal titles and celebrations of a wedding or marriage, after he died, I found myself diminishing the role I played in his life. And I also found myself floundering under the weight of the fact that I was, “just his girlfriend” when he died.
Sure, when he was alive, if one of his friends asked him what our future held, his answer was an unequivocal: She’s the one.
Sure, before his accident, whenever he talked about his future career moves, I was always included in those plans.
But then he died. And I was left here with the living. And there was more of them than there was of me, so eventually, their perspectives began to color my own.
I was left listening to a wide array of people who somehow found ways to mention that John thought all of his girlfriends, at some point, had been, “the one.” His friends didn’t doubt that John loved me, because… well… according to them, John was always “all in” with every girl he dated. His friends had seen how much he loved his ex-girlfriends…so they were sure he must have loved me too.
His family, who never approved of me, felt the need to tell me that they, “had no idea,” John was so serious about me…because, according to them, John was “serious” about all of his relationships prior to ours. And all of those relationships ended, so his family had no reason to believe this one would be any different.
And even though his parents included me in the memorial and funeral services in a genuine effort to “make up for lost time,” when John’s personal items were sent to them, I was told, that his things: his shirts, his sheets, our chessboard…all of those things were “for the family” to go through.
They were sure I’d understand their decision.
And I did. I understood what everyone was telling me: I was just John’s girlfriend. And if John hadn’t died…I might have lived to see the day where I ended up as just another one of his ex-girlfriends.
I don’t blame people for thinking this. When John met me, I was brash and fiercely independent. I didn’t mince words, I was reactive, and ran head-first into conflicts John would have typically avoided. John, on the other hand, was always much more composed than I was, and he was much more of a people-pleaser.
I began to see, after he died, how terribly mismatched we had been.
I began to realize why John’s family had doubts about “his girlfriend.” I could see why his friends, who had seen us fight and make up several times, probably also had doubts about “John’s girlfriend.” That girl, who I was when he was alive, his girlfriend…wasn’t perfect for John. Wasn’t perfect for his career. Wasn’t good for his family.
So I, subconsciously, decided that I’d step up my game after he died and become the woman that everyone else would have wanted John to marry. Simply put, I tried to become “John’s wife.”
For months, I attempted to bury my own pain to help other people with theirs, just like John would have wanted “his wife” to do in the wake of his death. John was always able to paste on a smile, no matter how hurt he was…so I found a way to make crutches out of the broken parts of my spirit, and pretend that that was the only support I needed…just like I imagined John would expect of “his wife.”
After he died, I checked in on his family, like John’s wife would’ve done. I checked in on his friends. I tried to bridge the gaps and overcome the hurdles John and I would’ve faced together if he was still alive.
I had one goal: to live out my life like someone I felt John would’ve loved to be married to, and that woman happened to be a very, very diminished and muted version of myself.
And John’s people, so many of his people, loved who I was.
But then, after nearly a year of swallowing my anger, and choking down my pain, and putting on a brave face, something occurred to me.
I realized a sobering fact: John didn’t fall in love with an even-tempered, ever-forgiving woman who smiled for the sake of others, though she was broken and angry inside. He didn’t fall in love with someone who turned the other cheek after she was mistreated over and over and over again. He didn’t fall in love with someone who avoided conflict. He didn’t fall in love with the woman I believed everyone would have wanted him to marry. Not even close…
John, when he was alive, fell in love with me.
My stubbornness. My tenacity. My, at times, fanatical dedication to talking about the things people found too difficult to discuss. He didn’t like me all the time, but he sure as hell, fucking loved me. His girlfriend. His last one.
That’s what I was meant to be.
John trusted me, his girlfriend, to be his home in this world. No one else, when he died, was closer to him. No amount of time, of experiences, of genetics makes up for the vulnerability and trust we shared with one another: I was the person he called when he was frustrated, when he was lost, when his friends let him down. I held him whenever he was overwhelmed and couldn’t find the words to articulate his disappointment in something or someone, even if that person was me.
Had he done this with girlfriends or family in the past? Maybe.
But I was the last girlfriend who got to hold him when he cried. The last woman he wanted to face the world with.
John would make the four hour drive to get to me after a twelve hour work day, even if he knew I’d be asleep when he got there. He didn’t do that for some idyllic woman, he did it for me.
He fought for me. For his girlfriend. John, who, when I met him, considered family the backbone of his life, went to bat for me when they struggled to see past how different I was in comparison to the “ideal match” they had always prayed for.
John fought to have all of me, his girlfriend, in his life.
He threw himself against the barrier of people’s disapproval for a year. He listened as people told him he was tearing his family apart. He listened as he was told there was no chance of a future where the family accepted his decision to be with me. He listened as his brother, who heard through the grapevine that John was going to marry me regardless of what anyone thought, voiced his disapproval.
John shouldered all of that…for me. As I was.
John listened as some of his closest friends advised him to cut ties with me for the sake of his own happiness because these friends didn’t believe John could ever be happy with someone so different.
And John disregarded them all, and still drove the hours to see me, and still made plans with my friends, and still hung out with my family, and still made plans for the one day where he would eventually marry me. His girlfriend. The girl who no one else, besides him, believed was worth all that damn trouble.
And who knows…maybe I wouldn’t have been worth it. Maybe the tension with his family would’ve gotten to be too much. Maybe I would have hated military life. I would’ve found these things out if I’d ever gotten to be John’s wife. But I didn’t.
But now, looking at all the things that have happened since he died, I’m beginning to think that focusing on the person I never got to be for John was a mistake. Because I’m missing out on honoring the person I was and and can be. The person he fell and stayed stupidly in love with. The person who wasn’t perfect for him, but he knew, somehow, was right for him.
I’m not sure if I was really ever “meant” to be his wife. To be dutiful. To be mindful around people who could make or break his career. I don’t know.
All I know is that I was meant to be his last girlfriend. And I lost sight of how unbelievably special it was, and is, to be the last woman John left it all out on the field for.
Was he happier before he met me, his girlfriend? I don’t know. But I do know that he was better and stronger after loving me. And I am better and stronger for having got to love him.
Some people may disagree with that, but…they didn’t know him like I did. No one did. No one could.
I wasn’t meant to be his wife in this lifetime. And I won’t live that way…tethered to the ghost of a life that never was and never will be.
I wasn’t meant to be his wife, but I believe I was meant to be his game changer. A malady and remedy in one. I was meant to tease the final drops of life, and passion, and frustration out of him in his last few years, so that when he died, he died the fullest possible version of himself. A version not many people got to experience.
Because of me, he died a man who stood up for what his heart wanted. He died a man who had cut ties with what he had always known so he could carve out a path of his own. A path he could have walked alone, beholden to no one. But a path he chose to walk with me.
Because of me, his last girlfriend… he died his own man.
And because he died, I get to live my life as my own woman. A woman who, for whatever reason, got lucky enough to be John’s last girlfriend.