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This week, I chose the topic, and I said, Remember me . . . ”
Before I begin, a warning: this may be the most unfair post I’ve ever written. It may also be the most honest.
One of my very favorite books ever is Love is a Mix Tape, a memoir penned by Rolling Stones writer Rob Sheffield. An homage to the meaning music can hold in life – at least in his life – Mix Tape tells the story of Rob’s courtship and marriage to his first wife, Renee. This isn’t exactly a spoiler (Renee’s death is mentioned in the book jacket and promotional materials), but Renee dies suddenly, and too young, leaving Rob to grapple with his grief – and to figure out how to create a new life. Mix Tape is so, so crazy good. Rob’s writing is tidy yet emotion-packed, compact yet colorful. I absolutely love love loved the book. And yet …
The book was recommended to me by my friend and mentor, Wade Rouse, and I saw Wade not long after he made the recommendation. He asked what I thought. I said, of course, “I loved it.” Then I paused, and added, “But I hated that Rob re-married.” Wade smiled and touched my arm and said, “I know.”
Logically, it made complete sense that Rob would re-marry; after all, he was only 31 when Renee died. Statistically, at least, Rob had many decades of living left to do. At the time tragedy struck, Rob was a young, funny, talented man who did not want to spend his life alone. I loved the Rob I met through the book and wanted good things for him. Somehow, for some reason, that list of good things did not include a second wife. My feelings didn’t change later when Rob wrote Turn Around Bright Eyes, which was largely about his new wife, Ally, and their shared love of karaoke. I enjoyed Bright Eyes; Rob’s writing is vivid and hilarious and completely relatable. But it wasn’t Mix Tape. And Ally wasn’t Renee.
I didn’t give a whole lot of thought to the books after I read them, and I’ve read many, many books in the years since. I didn’t analyze why Rob Sheffield’s second marriage bothered me – I mean, it’s truly not my business. I should be glad he is happy.
Fast forward a few years to almost exactly a year ago when I started following the story of a young man who was dying of cancer and who wanted to see the new Star Wars movie before he passed. Daniel’s story captured my heart, and I began following his wife Ashley’s Facebook page for updates. I kept following her even after Daniel passed away a year ago today. I worried about her, this young woman who was widowed at the crazy young age of 29, this woman whose personal tragedy touched me in a way I can’t explain. We are now Facebook friends; not traditional friends, but friendly for sure. Ashley is sweet and funny and thoughtful and fair, and I truly want only good things for her. Which is why what I’m about to say seemingly makes no sense.
A few months ago, Ashley began posting photos of her with a guy she appeared to be dating. He seems to be her age, good looking and into some of the hobbies that Ashley enjoys. Perhaps not surprising given my reaction to Rob Sheffield’s re-marriage, Ashley’s new boyfriend hurts my heart.
This scenario is a bit different in that I have a smidge more personal of a relationship with Ashley; she isn’t an author whose Facebook page I follow even though he never posts. Yet my reaction felt very similar. This time, in light of the constant reminders, I spent some time trying to figure out my feelings.
I know my reaction has nothing to do with marriage itself; it’s not that I find the sanctity of marriage to be such that everyone gets one partner and that’s that. I mean, I’m on my second marriage – and my first husband is alive and well. I know of people who married just once, people who lost spouses young and refused to commit again, believing their “one and only” was gone and that was that. It’s romantic for sure, but it’s not the norm, and I have no expectation of life working this way.
It was one of Ashley’s posts that helped me begin to understand the feelings with which I am struggling. Ashley has shared some of the Timehop and Memories posts generated by Facebook. Many of those posts include photos of her husband, Daniel. Looking at those, I realized my fear: I am afraid that no one will remember Daniel. Or Renee. Somehow, in my mind, I was equating Rob and Ashley’s “moving on” with them forgetting their spouses. I unconsciously worried that with their attentions on new loves and new lives, those who passed would be gone in the truest sense of the word.
This is where I am being unfair. I cannot begin to know how Rob Sheffield currently feels about his first wife, about what he remembers and what he shares almost twenty years later. I know that Ashley remembers Daniel; I see evidence of that on Facebook. I intellectually know that just because someone has a new love does not mean they’ve forgotten the old. But that’s exactly how it feels.
I suppose that underlying all of this is my own fear of my mortality, of being forgotten someday when time has passed and those who knew me are also gone. I don’t consciously worry about death or being forgotten, but something in Rob’s words and Ashley’s photos clearly set off an emotional trigger in me, one of which I wasn’t previously aware.
After I wrote most of this post, I pulled out Mix Tape, and I stumbled upon a passage that made me feel a bit better because Rob tapped into the feelings I struggled to understand and explain. He wrote (much more eloquently than I ever could):
After Renee died, I assumed the rest of my life would be just a consolation prize. I would keep living, and keep having new experiences, but none of them would compare to the old days. I would have to settle for a lonely life I didn’t want, which would always remind me of the life I couldn’t have anymore. But it didn’t turn out that way, and there’s something strange and upsetting about that. I would have stayed in 1996 if I could have, but it wasn’t my choice, so now I have to move either forward or back – it’s up to me. Not changing isn’t an option. And even though I’ve changed in so many ways – I’m a different person with a different life – the past is still with me every minute.
Rob recognized how inherently upsetting it can be when someone “moves on” after the death of a loved one, how strange it is to find a new life and to actually enjoy it, even in the wake of so much grief and heartbreak. I truly did not want or expect for Rob or Ashley to be miserable for the rest of their lives, but I guess I was not truly “ready” for them to be so happy. Completely and totally unfair, I know.
Of course, Rob’s words made me wonder whether I would “mind” if my husband re-married were I to die in the near future. Putting aside the fact I’d be dead, I’d like to think I wouldn’t. I would want him to be happy . . . but I would not want him to forget me. I would want to live in his memory. And anyway, the question of his re-marriage is beside the point because I would be gone and he would be left to decide what the rest of his life should look like. Not me.
I would live on, at least for a little while, in my kids and in their memories and in the memories of my friends. Neither Renee nor Daniel lived long enough to have children, the classic way many of us live on in this world. But Rob Sheffield is keeping his wife’s memory alive via his book (read it, please – you’ll thank me later), and Ashley has done so by helping get her husband’s story in the press. An entire group formed around Daniel, a group that remains intact today. Thousands of people will think of him whenever they see anything Star Wars, and that’s pretty amazing. Hell, I will think of Renee every time I listen to Thirteen by Big Star, and I carry my Force for Daniel patch in my purse. I guess, at the very least, I will remember them. And I hope that when I am gone, someone will remember me, too.