There is always joy in marking the day of a human’s first breath on earth, even if he no longer walks among us. Keith’s first breath was on January 12, 1957. My first stop on the birthday celebration tour was for McRibs Saturday night. Not one but two. One for me and one for Keith. Who am I kidding – it was really just a cover for wanting to eat two. My mom had sent me a message that morning announcing that she was looking at a McRib trayliner and was thinking about Keith. From the moment I read it on, I needled my poor new companion, Gary, for the rest of the day until he buckled and reluctantly joined me in the ceremonial consumption of what Keith and I fondly referred to as “McCrack”.
Keith and I literally would cheer and dance when we would see the first commercials for these artery hardening highly addictive sandwiches. We’d mark our calendars with the release date so that we could be the first ones on the golden arches’ doorstep as soon as the sloppy treats were on the menu board. He could eat two in a sitting without a problem. We would have them every day for weeks on end and weep upon their departure.
His cousin Henry called me while I was half way through the second one and we were in the third quarter of the Ravens vs. Broncos game. Convinced that Keith would have something to say about the outcome of this game on his birthday, we texted each other our victory chant when the Ravens won. A fitting birthday gift for both of us.
Today, I filled 10 seats at the local hibachi joint with my son, stepson and girlfriend, Agent Jay, and the whole Kilmon/Frase household. Little baby Landon experienced his first fire on the grill and the wait staff complemented him on how good he was. They said that most babies cry. Landon, of course, did not. Keith loved babies but I think he would have been overly fond of this little composed man. Ginny shared the story of how she first met Keith and how she couldn’t stand his pushy, bossy nature. She would hide from him whenever he showed up to work the concession stand with her. I had to laugh and asked her if she could have ever imagined him being the one to give away her daughter on her wedding day. We all talked about the time our little devil dog, Grommit, jumped into his lap and proceeded to wipe her butt on his nice white tee shirt, leaving a big brown stripe right down the center.
As our chef passed out the treats from the hot grill, I did my duty to Keith and took on the extra fried rice. Unlike the McRibs, I’m saving some for lunch tomorrow. Brandon pointed out that I would have to walk twice as much if I continued to eat for both Keith and me.
Friday night, the Damnwells’ song, The Great Unknown played as I was driving down the road. Today, it played again as I left the restaurant. The bulk of the song reminds me of many things and people other than Keith. But one line always makes me see him, crystal clear, in his red Cobra with the top down, grinning from ear to ear -
Just follow the stars and speeding red cars, into the great unknown.
That is how we are all born – into the great unknown – and that is where we go in the end. Everything in between is following stars and speeding red cars, with occasional stops for McRibs and fried rice and to find a clean tee shirt.
Happy Birthday Keith. Never slow down for us. We’ll catch up with you one day.
Five years ago at this time, Keith and I celebrated our wedding vows over brunch at Denny’s with our boys.
We originally planned to celebrate today on Times Square in New York City. We had a lot of plans. How often did we tell each other “plans are always subject to change”. Neither of us could grasp the magnitude of this change in plans. I’m not ready to face Times Square right now. I want to make it a more joyous occasion than it would be this year.
I do want to take a moment to grieve. I want to take a moment to breath in deep and let the tears fly. Then I want to keep doing what I’ve done all along – reflect on what Keith meant to me and move into the pages of whatever unwritten story my life holds.
Endless tales of love and loss have already been written. My story so far is just one more. But it doesn’t change how precious my personal book of love lost is to me.
For me, for Keith – our love was knowing that we could feel no greater joy than to see the other happy. Our love was filled with passionate fights and passionate affections. We reveled in each others victories and felt each other’s pain. Our love was a kind of magic.
I still feel it. It will never leave me. My lover and husband and business partner in crime. I feel his love just as strongly as I ever did. Our love. It fractured my spirit when he left and yet it strengthen my spirit so I could go on.
Every time I hear “My Heart Will Go On” I think of our love. I cry almost every time. It is what loving, losing, and moving on are all about.
Happy anniversary, my beloved Keith. Feel joy for me wherever you are. Because between these moment of sorrow and pain, I’m happy. It’s a kind of magic, isn’t it?
I believe in karma. I believe that a person can have more than one soul mate. I believe that when one door closes, another one opens. I believe that love is possible for me again.
But I fear. I fear that in the deep corners of my heart, there is an ache that may never go away. I fear that the threat of being alone will cloud my judgement. I fear that I will find myself comparing him to what Keith did, what Keith said, what Keith felt. I fear that I am too soft for this crazy world. Keith would say I was too nice, too trusting, too forgiving. Without him here, I’ve lost my protector. He’d cry injustice when I didn’t see it. He’d defend my honor despite my protest. I feel like I’m lost in the woods among the wolves without him.
Then again, if he were here, this thought of moving on with an open heart wouldn’t even be in my head. I know he only wanted my happiness. I know he would want me to move on when I was ready.
Why think of all of this just a few days from our anniversary? There is a person out there that has sparked my interest. I know that everything can change in the blink of an eye so I want to live in each moment of my life with no regrets and no fear. I want to get to know him better and see where we go. Yet I fear when it comes to this. Love is an intricate, beautiful, delicate lace work of emotions. Each emotional stitch builds on another – trust, loyalty, support, compassion, protection – taking sweet time to bind together into something definable, recognizable, strong – and along the way, losing just one stitch could make it all unravel in an instant.
So I’ve been turning to my inner Keith and asking him “Does he know how vulnerable I really am?” and “Will I be able to see him for who he is and not for how he stacks up to the Keith standard?” and “If he hurts me, will I survive?” and “do I have it in my heart to try again, and after investing in a new lace work, could I lose him the way I lost you?”
I can hear Keith’s reply. “If he hurts you, I’ll kick his ass! Until then, be happy, Cherish. Don’t worry about what’s down the road. Enjoy today. Go for it and have fun. Don’t do anything too stupid.”
I believe I will. I believe its worth a try.
I have chosen to stay silent as of late. I have reached moments recently that I could not describe and chose to digest them instead. I’ve looked into the quiet world left behind by Keith’s absence and am acclimating to what it means to live in it without him. He visits me in my dreams. He was with me just last night. Out in the garage, gathering up metal chairs and re-engineering them with a blow torch into some other contraption, he chatted away. I couldn’t understand what he was saying. He was in Tigger mode. He was healthy and smirking at me, that naughty glint in his eyes. He was the Keith I love doing the things I loved seeing him do. He still exists, right there in my dreams.
This last Saturday was the anniversary of his death. Day 365. No different from day 364 while day 366 came and went and here we are on day 368. The days surrounding Thanksgiving brought back the grief I have felt. The days leading up to Saturday were met with laughter and story telling and remembrance of what made Keith – - well Keith and what made us so deeply in love with each other. On Saturday, I received emails, phone calls and texts from the people who loved us to mark the day. I carried their messages with me yet I could not bring myself to return the sentiments. I have felt all of you by my side through it all. I have always felt you here, just like I have felt Keith with me.
Christmas is one short week away. Since January, I’ve been announcing that I’m canceling it. My father asked me why I didn’t care for Christmas. I had to tell him I didn’t know why. Lack of light? Stress of buying the right gift for the right person? I still went Black Friday shopping with Zach. It was something Keith and I did every year. He’d scour the ads and pick out the one thing we needed at the best price and then make a plan of attack. It was our only present to each other every year. He was able to do it last year, bound to a wheel chair, with Zach pushing our cart and me pushing Keith’s chair. He even found the old Keith spark and visited with the pharmacy staff while we stood in line. The same pharmacy that saw us every week to get the cocktail of medications filled. We became the proud owners of a new TV for our bedroom shortly after 2:00 AM Friday morning.
As day 375 draws near, I’m filled with a different kind of Christmas spirit. One I’ve never really felt before. The same crazy silver Christmas tree we had last year sits in the living room. This little tree that I bought 6 years ago as I went on Christmas strike, tired of doing all the decorating around the house is fondly called the ghetto tree. Christie took one look at it all those years ago and pronounced “that tree is so ghetto” and thus it has been called the ghetto tree every since. This year, its decked out in well earned peacock finery. That’s plenty of decorating for me. I haven’t invested in a lot of gifts to go under it either. This year, its about being with people I love, embracing all that I have in this world, remembering what a gift I had in Keith, realizing what the Grinch figured out so long ago -
It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes, or bags. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas… He thought…means a little bit more.
And it does my friends. Remember that. Don’t worry about the right gift. You already have it in you. Don’t worry about the decorations. Surrounding yourself with those you love is the most festive decorations you have. The rest will follow. No one has ever been caught saying that their biggest regret was not having hung the stockings with care, that they wished they had baked one more batch of cookies, that they let themselves down for forgetting that Uncle Bob preferred red ties over blue ones – - not ever. Don’t count the days till the next holiday, the next anniversary, the next birthday. Embrace all that you have on day 001, day 365, day 789, day 1,563, day 12,385. None of us know what’s ahead of us, so let our hearts grow 10 sizes today. Right now, on this day and every day that follows.
What’s not to love about a man who does dishes? I used to host Thanksgiving on the farm in Hurlock, MD. Keith managed to endear himself to my family very quickly as he commandeered the kitchen to scrub up the pile of plates, pots, pans, and utensils while the rest of us struggled to move away from the table with our densely stuffed stomachs. At my grandparent’s birthday party, Aunt Jan caught him over the sink, scrubbing away, and proclaimed “he’s a keeper”.
The crazy notion of once again hosting a large Thanksgiving dinner grabbed a hold of me this year. It has been met with a mixed bag of emotions. I haven’t fired up the kitchen like this in almost 7 years and I’m thrilled to pull out the mixer and fire up the oven and root around in the pantry for feast day treats. This is also the last holiday Keith was with me.
I know he got an ear full yesterday as his corn fed, farm raised wife did her suburban duty and raked all the leaves out of the front yard. A task he took great pride in doing and insisted the whole family pitch (or rake) in to get every annoying piece of tree debris to the curb. Meanwhile, the entire time I’m raking away, I’m thinking that this practice is a perfectly good waste of time, energy and natural compost.
As I made my late night run to the grocery store, I could feel the weight of his absence. I wouldn’t return from the store tonight with the list he had given me. I wouldn’t be met at the car with an extra hand to carry everything in. I wouldn’t walk into the house embracing all the pre-Thanksgiving prep smells of onions and garlic and spices. I tried to replace a light over the kitchen sink but the fixture seems to be broken. Keith would have been able to get it running with a stick of gum, a toothpick, and rubber band.
One more milestone, one more step towards learning how to live in this life after Keith. There is room in my soul to both grieve and be thankful. I am thankful that I will have my family around me tomorrow. A family full of warmth, strength and love. I am thankful for my friends near and far, long standing and new, that have lifted me up in ways I don’t think they could ever fathom. All of you are my anchor keeping me in safe harbors, my light chasing away the shadows. I am thankful that for a short time, I walked through life with a man worthy of all the love I could give him and he, in turn, loved me deeply. These gifts I carry with me may not get the dishes done or the leaves raked or the turkey cooked, but in this strange new world I now inhabit, they are everything that matters.