As I shuffle around my apartment, the one I found five years ago with the stunning view and immediately idolized as absolutely perfect, wrapping beloved trinkets, boxing up a mish-mash assortment of stoneware, and removing art from the soft, grey walls, I stand at the brink of a huge shift. Leaving the home I always dreamed of, down-sizing and moving into the unfamiliar, my understanding of what my life looks like in the future is changed to a blank, forcing me to simply be present, here and now, knowing I am shifting.
For years, it has been my habit to turn on Sex and the City (on perpetual repeat) as "background noise" while I putter and clean or cook, and today is no different. The episode currently playing "I Heart NY" is the one where Big leaves New York, leaving Carrie without her good friend, and the man she has loved. I reminisce of my Big Love, years ago, my college flame... my Chad. My best friend. My biggest critic, and simultaneously the most encouraging person in my life. When I was with Chad, I learned that I had a capacity for creativity that exceeded anything I ever dreamed possible. And he knew it was in me.
I do not think I would have finished my degree in Apparel Design if Chad had not been in my life. Changing from Meteorology to Apparel Design was a huge leap - and I remained uncommitted to the field entering my senior year. I really felt like I was goofing off - going so far as to say to others that I was majoring in "arts and crafts". yikes
What I didn't notice while I was taking these Apparel courses was that I applied myself. I found myself thinking that the work was easy, silly even, but throughout each new class I chose to do the work. I enjoyed what I was being asked to do, felt like I was good at it, and consequently, excelled. When I was taking Physics and Calculus, you would be hard pressed to find me with my nose to the book completing the mutli-variable story problems. While enrolled in my Patternmaking class, you could find me at the studio classroom past midnight completing assignments, listening to Top 40, and singing my heart out. I found joy in this path, and I only stumbled upon the idea of this as a career because of Chad.
Chad was an Apparel Design major from the start. Well, he also planned to major in German, added minors in Russian and Merchandise Management, and finished with another Bachelors in International Studies. He was focused, driven, extremely intelligent, hilarious, my personal lecturer, and my best friend. I adored him.
Because of some personal differences and ideas, we went our separate ways, yet always remained friends. He went out-of-state to pursue his Masters in Apparel Design, and then moved even farther away to get his Doctorate - Graduating Doctor of Philosophy, Apparel Track: Product Development Emphasis. Chad always did want to teach, and this summer after graduating he secured his first ever Professorship in Louisiana.
He came to town around the fourth of July this year, and I was fortunate to get to spend Wednesday evening over dinner with him. Since it had been over a year since we last got together, there was a lot to catch up on, but his first order of business was going to the hat store. He had been on a mission to get a hat for a while, insistent that I go with him to pick it, and schedules not aligning previously made this the golden opportunity. We stopped at Goorin Bros to get the perfect "teacher" hat. It looked like the kind of hat my Grandpa used to wear. It was adorable, a fact I quickly reassured him of when his sister taunted him saying it was a "newsie cap". We went to a nearby restaurant for some food, and each had burgers and enjoyed the summer air at our little bistro table on the sidewalk.
While I sat with him listening to the all he has achieved over the years, and with the finality of reaching his goal, seeing how happy that made him, I found myself smiling and congratulating him. I was so proud of him. He had a tenacity that was contagious while we worked side by side in college, but it was not something I have ever had on my own. Such a thirst for knowledge and the desire to help others in their learning, plus the skill to apply those two things together was truly admirable. Chad was an incredible teacher, he taught me so much.
We said our goodbyes early that evening, ending with a big hug which I did not want to end. It was so good to see him after so long. There are those people in our lives who when we are with them, we feel at home, and Chad was definitely home to me.
The next day, he sent me a video of his nephew playing with his dog - so sweet. I remember feeling bad that I couldn't respond properly since I was out with friends for dinner on the fourth of July. I still feel guilty for that.
The following Monday, I got a call from Chad's oldest sister letting me know that he had passed away on Saturday of a heart attack. I couldn't believe my ears. I was at work, furiously taking notes about where the funeral would be while blinded by tears, talking with a sister I did not know, and hearing that my friend was gone.
They say you don't know what you've got until it's gone, and speaking from recent experience, I know this to be true. Chad and I dated for six years off and on throughout college, and he has become the man I have compared all potential suitors against for the last seven years. I have not experience the same kind of relationship I had with him since ours ended. And in July, I learned that I hadn't given up on the idea of someday.
I was still holding on to the possibility that maybe we would be together again, and it would all work out... and as long as he was still in the world, I could imagine living on campus somewhere, teaching art while he teaches design, a vision of the life we could have had. But here I was, forced to accept it could never be. And it made me reassess some of my own beliefs and values.
Sometimes, I think, as single people, we get caught up in the specific things about what a person does. We may have different habits, careers, or hobbies which make us logically incompatible, and we put less emphasis on how we feel when we are with someone. When I was with Chad, I felt loved, cared for, appreciated, encouraged, and feminine. In my later experience, I have gone on dates with other men with whom I have much more in common, yet in the end I end up feeling no connection, empty, belittled, and awkward. The question becomes not what does someone do, but how are they with you, and how do you feel with them?
Lesson 1: Spend time with people who make you feel good being yourself, and for whom you do the same.
Lesson 2: Always make time for people you care about. Answer the email from Grandma, call your sister back, send a text with more than a " :) " to the man who was the love of your life.
Because you may not have the chance to send another message.
These days, I'm learning to make time for friends, family, and myself, and I have seen a true shift in perspective in my own life and how I spend my moments alone or with others. Quality time is certainly a priority. And lastly...
Lesson 3: Spend time doing what you love. Not all careers or hobbies sound practical, and the truth of the matter is, if something brings you joy, it will feed your soul and give you a sense of purpose that simply pursuing "making money" cannot fulfill.
Chad will always remain in my heart; the man I loved, whom I saw myself laughing with much later into life. His dedication and enthusiasm will inspire me for the rest of my time on Earth to do my best, remain true to myself, and to always go after my dreams.
As I step out of my "dream apartment," move across the river, and take stock of my life, I know that all will be well, as long as I continue pursuing my passion, and keep moving forward.
with love, ~Alaina
Thank you, Chad, for all you have given me. You are dearly missed.