Two days ago my ride-or-die died on me.
I met Joe online, of all places, in early 1998. Back in the days of AOL, streaming chat rooms, and dial-up servers. Before social media, dating websites, and Amazon. We met in a chat room that I used to frequent. I talked to people from all over the U.S. and Canada, even a smattering of other countries. But Joe lived 20 minutes away from me in Los Angeles.
We graduated away from the chat room and onto an instant messaging program called ICQ. (Do you remember ICQ?! Dinosaur days!) I had no intention of dating – good grief I was pregnant! – but I was also isolated and alone, and chatting on ICQ became a nightly ritual. Usually, it wasn’t more than a check-in: “Hey, how are you?” “Good, you?” “Good.” Sometimes he’d tell me about a softball game he attended when his job had a league, or about a car show he went to, or about a beach-side bike ride he took after work. Bike ride stories usually involved seeing someone wearing spandex who had no business wearing spandex.
Toward the end of my pregnancy, my nesting phase manifested as a need to go out and have fun: dinner with a friend, a movie, something! But I only had one face-to-face friend and her husband wasn’t letting her out. My next option was this guy online. So I invited him to take me to the movies. Here I was huge with pregnancy, cankles galore, and at least an inch taller than this guy with a distinctly south L.A. dialect and a love of cars. He was very gentlemanly, sweet, easy to laugh. It was a fun, safe night. (Except we saw There’s Something About Mary. Kind of an awkward movie to see with a virtual stranger.)
Two days later I was in the hospital in labor. And I thought Oh no, Joe’s going to think I didn’t like him! But of course, I explained things when I was home again, and we resumed out nightly check-ins.
Fast forward three months. He mentioned that he, a girl from work, his brother, and his brother’s wife were planning a trip to Knott’s Scary Farm (a Southern California theme park, Knott’s Berry Farm, dressed up for Halloween). He was looking for discount tickets, and I had a hook-up for them.
Seeing an opportunity for another fun night, I said, “Since you’ll be out here anyway, how about we go to dinner? And since we’re already going to dinner, how about we shoot some pool afterward?” So we did! (And you know, I had forgotten all about that until just now.)
At dinner, I gave him the tickets and he gave me the money. The tickets ended up costing me more than I’d quoted him, but I didn’t have the nerve to tell him. As soon as the exchange was made he asked, “Soooo, would you like to come?” The girl he was going to take suddenly stopped talking to him. So sure! Another free night of fun!
After that night I decided I didn’t really want to be without him, so we started dating.
We were an official couple for 9 years. I called it quits in the middle of the recession, so neither one of us could afford to live on our own. We got comfortable with it and continued to live together another 13 years. Until 2 days ago. We met face-to-face for the first time 3 days before my son was born, and he passed away on my son’s 22nd birthday.
Joe had an infectiously warm spirit. He was chronically good-natured and likable, generous, caring, always laughing. Except for that one woman from work, I don’t think anyone ever fell out with him or stopped being his friend. He helped me raise my kids, taking on the role of father, and eventually grandfather. He was our confidant, our sounding board, and our safety net. He was there when I got my first grown-up job and helped me get my first apartment. And he was a survivor. He had health problems as long as I’d known him, but the older he got the more momentum they gained. On Tuesday his heart just gave out. The doctor told me it was too weak to even beat anymore: it was just quivering.
I had to make some hard decisions on his behalf. I knew what he’d want, but did he truly understand? Was he really ready to go? Did it matter, if his body wasn’t going to cooperate? Despite Covid, they let the kids and I go to him to say good-bye, and let me stay with him as he passed.
Joe taught me to find the humor in difficult situations, however morbid, to make it through. So I apologized for letting him die with a bad haircut. I told him I had to stand on his right side because his head was turned to the left and his face looked crazy, like it belonged on the Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland. And that was all the morbid humor I could muster. I kept a hand on his head, on his shoulder, skin-to-skin. I told him I’d be there with him until he was gone. I promised we would do something beautiful for him.
I’m still waiting for all the happy memories to come flooding back, and for that peaceful knowledge that he’s in a better place. All the comforting things that came when I lost friends and loved ones in the past. And I’m trying to be patient, knowing that he’s new to his afterlife and that I’m blind and deaf in my fresh grief. But boy, does losing your person suck. It, like, really really sucks.
Rest in peace, Jojo. ❤