The beginning flowed more easily than I’d expected — his interests, his successes, his charms — but when it came time to list the “He’s survived by,” I paused.
Although Bob and I had been in each other’s lives for 12 years, we’d only really started dating again seven months before. And we’d only decided to become officially boyfriend and girlfriend again, to officially start building a future together, the day before his fatal car accident.
Did that make me enough of a somebody to include in an obituary? Even if I did include my name, where was I supposed to put it? After his parents but before his siblings? They were permanent fixtures of his family, whereas I was just a girl who’d loved their son, brother, uncle since I was nothing but sneakers and a Skynyrd T-shirt.
When I called the funeral home to make sure they had received the obituary, the woman asked me: “Isn’t there a girlfriend?” I said, yes, that was me, but I’d omitted myself on purpose. She seemed puzzled but let it go.
After it was published, Bob’s mom texted me, upset, saying I should’ve put myself in. I was a “most important part of him,” she said.
I immediately regretted my decision. I was at my best friend’s childhood home, trying to survive a pre-wedding brunch for another friend. In her room — untouched through the years, full of pink and lacy promise — I curled up on her bed and sobbed.
The next day, a friend would put on a long white gown and say time-honored words and hold a champagne glass high in the air. If Bob and I had done that, I would have included myself in his obituary.
But I was barely the girlfriend. And I didn’t feel like that was enough. I didn’t feel like I was enough.
Although our love had lasted longer than some marriages, the only vows we’d ever said to each other had been quiet, private; that we’d love each other “to infinity.” Plenty of long-term partners never tie the knot, happily. But since our relationship had just resumed, and since one-half of it was now gone, I yearned for that official stamp.
When you’re dating someone who’s alive, you’re writing your story as it unfolds. You stay together or you don’t. You get married or you don’t. You grow old together or you don’t. When that someone dies, your story stops in the middle of a sentence. With no way of knowing how it would’ve ended.
I don’t know if Bob and I would’ve lasted. I don’t know if we would’ve had chickens, and children, and china for our 20th.
A two-lane highway and a cloudless August morning made sure we would never find out.
Does that mean he wasn’t a part of my soul, a “most important part” of me? No. I loved that man since I was 17. He’d been there for me through awful boyfriends, sick parents, a failed marriage; he had been as integral to my growing up as Keystone Light and Kenny Chesney. And I know he would say the same about me.
It’s been a year and a half since I left those four words — his girlfriend Susan Shain — out of a public dedication to the man I loved. I now know that it was foolish, because just as he was everything to me, I was more than enough to him.
But I also know it doesn’t matter. We didn’t need a piece of paper to prove our love story — and I don’t need one to remember it either.