My boyfriend and I went to the Van Gogh immersive exhibit the other day. There was an almost dizzying feeling the minute we walked in, like those virtual rides at Disneyland that make you feel off-balanced.
We were happy to take a seat on one of the benches to steady ourselves, and watched sunflowers and irises flow like lava from the walls to the floor to the ceiling.
The music swelled. I grabbed Luis’s hand, and nuzzled into his dark, button-down shirt, our sneakers intertwined on the floor beneath us.
We were waiting for something, a piece of information about Van Gogh, some factoid about his life, maybe when he started painting, or if he really cut off his own ear and if so, why?… but none ever came. A few minutes later, under a starry night, I came to a realization and whispered to my guy, “Do you think this is it?” He looked around. “I think so, baby.”
Now, I am not necessarily opposed to, nor do I advocate drug use, however, if there ever was a time to take drugs, this would probably be it. But here we were, 2 middle-aged love birds with nothing but our caffeine high to sustain us.
Luis smiled at me, we suddenly giggled like kids caught talking in the library. He reached for my hand. “Come on,” he said, “let’s have some fun.” So we pushed aside our disappointment, posed for selfies, and gave in to the experience.
The exhibit, by the way, took place in an old, somewhat iconic record store that I used to frequent with my husband, so he was not far from my mind. He never is. In my memoir, Widowish, I write about how Luis was our daughter’s guitar teacher and how our romance began shortly after the unexpected death of my husband.
At the time, Luis was one of the few people who would comfortably mention Joel by name.
That is big in the grief world. Saying your person’s name. Sharing their memory. Acknowledging that they were in fact, here. It was refreshing. I wanted to talk about Joel, to evoke his memory, to process my loss. Luis was there then and continues to be here, now.
Joel has been gone for almost nine years, and Luis has been my partner for nearly eight.
I thought he would be a fling.
“It’s nothing serious,” I would tell my friends during the early, almost secretive days of what would become our relationship. I didn’t want a boyfriend, couldn’t imagine it. But there was something about Luis, the ease with which he carried himself, his confidence, and I found him attractive. He fell in love with the widow, and I fell in love with him.
We are an odd pairing, he calls me his uptown girl, I refer to him as my blues playing, community do-gooder. We live down the street from each other, only spend 3 nights a week together, and while we feel connected and love each other, our relationship is unconventional. A lot of my friends think it’s an ideal situation. Usually, I agree.
Luis’s son is a few years older than my daughter. They’re both graduating from college this month.
We will both be at their respective graduations. If Luis’s son would let me, I would love him up like the Jewish mother that I am.
He has let me into his life in small doses, like the time he needed some new jeans and he let me take him to the mall. The joy I felt was so disproportionate to the actual occasion, and perhaps because it was so contrary to the countless times my daughter wanted me to take her to the mall, that it still stands out as a highlight of our relationship.
My daughter was only 13 when Joel died, a tender age for sure. Luis never overstepped, and maybe even mirrored how I was with his son — eager to participate but respectful of the boundary. By the time she was 16, Luis was there to help teach her how to drive.
He showed up at her first “real” job at an ice cream shop, determined to try every flavor during her tenure just to be supportive.
He was there at her high school graduation and helped move her in when she went away to college. He has been present for the big and small parts of her life and while I may appreciate it in more ways than my daughter does, he takes pride in all of her accomplishments as if she were his own.
But he is not her father, nor is he my husband, and after all of this time together, so much time, Luis continues to allow space in our relationship for Joel.
I am awed by it. That this ‘new’ man I love, loves me and my daughter and accepts our loss without complication. I could wonder, how did I get so lucky? But the other side of that coin is a beautiful life and marriage that was cut short by death. Not lucky at all.
The Van Gogh immersive was not what I expected it to be.
Neither is my life. I’m a widow and while my husband is no longer here, he is very much present — through my writing, through our daughter, and even in my relationship. A relationship with a person who encourages me to let go of expectations, and simply have some fun.