I was on a date with my boyfriend of six months. But after we purchased popcorn, took our seats, and held hands watching “Dark Knight,” I couldn’t help but think of Luc, my ex, during the film. Something about Heath Ledger’s character reminded me of him—the lip-smacking attitude of too much Xanax. Sometimes I guiltily tried to measure how much I thought about Luc. Was it once a day? Once a week?
Back home with our shoes off and phones switched on, my boyfriend saw that I had a voicemail. It was from my mom. I watched him listen to the message, my heart quickening.
“Luc died,” he said.
The news hit my body and I collapsed at its weight. My brain scanned for the words, “This isn’t happening.”
“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO,” I cried wet and raw, letting out some primal howl.
I tried to remember the last time I saw Luc. I was breaking up with him after six years together, on and off. Or I was trying to break up with him. He was opening the large window in his 31st floor apartment, saying that if I left, as soon as the door shut behind me, he would jump.
As I heaved into a pile of pillows, my mom called back and told me the details. He died by asphyxiating on his vomit, after passing out drunk. He was found at a stranger’s house, a couple he went home with.
The days that followed were a haze of walking through life, half in the past. When I closed my eyes I was back in his room—sometimes fighting with him, sometimes kissing him.
, to stay in the pleasant memories or thoughts about that person.
There was the time, somewhere around age 18, when we had sex in the pool and he asked me to get a CD from the car. I was in the passenger seat, rummaging with my ass in the air, when he jumped in the driver’s seat and backed out of the driveway. “We are driving around naked!” he yelled.
It was maybe two minutes before his grandmother stopped us on the road.
There was the time we were in bed, sexy-cuddling. His face was serious, silently focused on getting me off. Just as I started to come, he began singing, loudly, off-key: “John Jacob Jingle Heimer Schmidt! His name is my name, too!”
Remembering our relationship sometimes makes me feel like I’m on drugs. It’s a mix of incredible highs and crashes. It’s easy to remember our jokes and romance. But the crushing moments hang in my mind, too. The time he got too f**ked up and hit his mom—it was me crying with his sister, assuring her it would be OK. The strings of verbal lacerations. Him promising to kill me.
The last summer we were together, Luc got a tattoo: two butterflies on his arm. One was perfect and the other one was warped by the tattoo artist. Remembering those tattoos makes me realize that honoring Luc doesn’t come from one extreme or the other. Not from pretending he was a saint at his funeral, or writing him off as a bastard for not ever getting it together. It’s the overlap of both together—the beautiful and the f**ked-up—where there is truth. Remembering both let me grieve. And it finally let me see myself in the relationship: both my good and my bad.
About a month before Luc’s death, I spoke with him on the phone. There were so many times I thought about dialing him, but that night I didn’t hang up before the call went through. We talked to each other in soft voices about where we were and what we were up to. We wished each other the best. I can only hope that he felt good about that phone call, and had arrived at a place of some sort of peace about us.
When an ex dies, everything you’ve never processed about the relationship comes up. The death of an ex forces you to go in one of two ways: either you can finally get over the person by understanding the relationship and what it did for each of you or you can remain stuck in mourning, not wanting to see the whole picture.
In Luc’s death, he no longer haunts me. The relationship rests in peace. And I can honor his life—the whole, real him.