So it’s Monday, which means I just finished another counseling session with Caitlin. This one was longer than normal, because I talk too much, I ALWAYS go over my “time”, and because I haven’t seen her since Dec 18th, when she went to the Rockefeller Center Tree with me, to help me face the place where Don proposed marriage to me back on December 18, 2005.
I hope it is not too weird to say that I love this woman. Just as a human being in the world, I truly do love her. She means so much to me, and not in a creepy “What About Bob?”,obsessed with my therapist sort of way – but more of an “I’m more convinced than ever that Don put her into my path” sort of way. So I love her, for those reasons, and many more.
For about 15 minutes yesterday morning, I thought that Caitlin might be hurt or dead, and I had a mini-panic attack as I paced my apartment, re-living the same 15 minutes or so of that hellish July morning when I got the phone call from the hospital saying only: “We have your husband. You need to get here immediately.” Yesterday, I re-lived the 15 or 20 min it took for me to hang up from that call, get a car service, and then RUN into the E.R. waiting room like a marathon sprinter, where nurses and doctors surrounded me and took me into a private room and made me “sit down” so they could tell me the thing that would shatter my soul and make me break into ten thousand pieces for eternity – that my husband had a massive heart attack, and “he didn’t make it”.
Now, as someone who lost her partner to sudden death, I have re-lived that day many, many times. But it is always different. Sometimes I re-live the entire day, in sequential order. Other times, I re-live the first few minutes where I was jarred awake by the ringing phone, or the moment when I saw him lying in that tiny room in a tiny bed – just lying there, dead, with his white socks on his feet. Other times, I even re-live it as if I were my husband – from his perspective. I start picturing what it was like for him that morning. While he was at the PetSmart, stocking shelves with pet food. When he collapsed, did he know it was coming? How instant was it? Did it hurt when his head hit the hard floor? How long was it, really, before his manager found him and attempted CPR? How much longer was it before that ambulance arrived? Was he wondering where I was, or was he scared? The questions and scenarios are neverending, and I’m not entirely sure if they will ever fade to black.
But this was a bit different. Yesterday, my panic and fear and anxiety was more specific in it’s attack. It was focused on those 15 minutes or so where life was on pause – where you are just sitting in the water – treading – and waiting – for something, or nothing, to happen. And you have no idea whether the happening will be something, or nothing. Cries of despair, or sighs of relief. It was that awful thing of knowing in your gut that something horrific has happened, but not being able to confirm it, until you have more information. The living inside the hell of your own mind, to find out whether or not your life is about to change forever, or not. I did this all yesterday, as I was once again sweating and pacing and saying out loud to nobody and the universe: “No. This is not happening. This is not happening. This is not happening.” The same exact chant I said out loud, over and over again, on that unthinkable day, just two and a half years ago.
And so there I found myself, chanting the words again, begging my heart to please begin beating at it’s normal rhythm, instead of this frantic, lightning-speed thing it was doing. Yesterday morning, I turned on the news, and there was a huge 3-alarm fire in a high-rise apartment building in NYC. I had missed the first few seconds of the story, so I did not catch the exact address, but it had just happened only a few minutes before I started watching the story unfold, and they were showing the massive flames and smoke coming out of the high windows, a giant hole being slowly shaped into the side of the building. The whole thing was very “9-11-esque”, and Caitlin was there on that awful day. At the time, she worked at a bank inside one of the two Towers, and although she obviously made it out alive, the day, for her, was filled with trauma, due to all the horrific things she witnessed. The type of things that you really never forget. But now, beccause of her experience on that day, she is often able to relate to me and the many traumatic, P.T.S.D.-like emotions and experiences that I go through, as someone who lost their partner to sudden death. And here I was – watching this high-rise that looked like the high-rise where she lives, on fire. This is not happening. This is not happening. This really is not happening. Is it?
The address they gave for the building is the exact corner of the building where my counselor lives. The building looked a LOT like her building in the live pictures. They said the fire started on the 20th floor and went up above that. She lives right above the 20th floor. This was not good. There were just too many coincidences, and my stomach was doing flips. How would I cope without her? It’s only been 3 weeks without seeing her, and I’m about to lose my sanity. What if she is hurt? Or dead? Or NOT dead, but had to be in or around that building and be traumatized all over again by fire and smoke and chaos? Have I told her enough times and in enough ways how much she has helped me? Is it too late? Again? I kept trying to breathe, but nothing came out except for stifled sobs and terrified groans.
As I waited for her to respond to my call and my email, which were both different versions of a crazy person screaming in all caps:”ARE YOU OKAY??? PLEASE SAY YOU’RE OKAY! PLEASE DO NOT BE DEAD!!!,” I felt as if it was the longest 15 minutes of my life. Except that it wasn’t. I already had my longest 15 minutes, back on July 13, 2011.
It was approximately 15 minutes or so before Caitlin responded to my cries of “YOU CANNOT BE DEAD!!!”, and told me that she was absolutely fine, and that it was not her building that caught fire, but the one right next to it. Right next to it? What are the chances?
So today, when we had our session and I heard her voice talking to me again for the first time in weeks, in that comforting and quiet tone that she has, I felt myself talking back in one huge sigh. Each time she spoke, her timber enveloped me and held me like a warm and safe blanket. I told her that she is not allowed to die, at least not before she writes the Forward in my book. She laughed, and we continued on with our conversing, the both of us possessing that incredibly dark humor that we use to cope with life and death. “Don’t you worry. I’m not going anywhere”, she said. And for now, I will just have to believe her.
That is, until the next time that I find myself waiting and treading water, inside of those 15 minutes of not knowing whether the something you will be facing, is something terrible and tragic – or nothing at all.