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Phil, Lake Worth Beach Florida, April or May 1993

On March 12, 1993 I met Phil at a business meeting of all places for a medieval historical society I used to be involved with. We hit it off immediately; the first night we traded life stories until he had to go to work that morning. When he came back that night he brought me a volume on Saxon English history and I decided he was a keeper.

Three months later we decided we wanted to get married. His family was mostly in Indiana and north-east Florida, and mine was mostly in Florida and north-east Ohio. We were also young and dirt poor and trying to figure out how to afford a marriage, and we also assumed we had all the time in the world.

We lived for a time in Lake Worth Florida, and then we moved to Indianapolis Indiana in 1994. Then in late 1995 we decided to return to Florida to help a family member of mine. We returned in March of 1996, right around the time of our third anniversary as a couple, and 8 days later, on March 23, Phil got killed by a drunk driver; he was 32.

What was that like, losing someone who was pretty much my life, in a way that was completely unexpected? Even worse, losing him in a way that should have never happened? One day, you are a happy couple planning on spending the rest of your lives together, and concluding that we should just go get the paperwork filed already…

And the next…you are sitting there alone; the person you thought you would get old with is gone, and you are feeling like you have been ripped in half. And then you have to deal with people staring at you; constantly staring, asking if you are okay, saying things like, “I am sorry to hear about your boyfriend“, and “you’re still young yet, don’t you worry.”

What does life look like over the next few months and years as people say things like “you should smile more” and “well, you aren’t over it yet. It’s okay, someday you will be“? It looks like this piece of rather dark poetry I suppose. You spend a lot of time angry; downright pissed off to be blunt, because first, he wasn’t a puppy, or a toaster.

He also wasn’t just a boyfriend, he was the man I was planning to marry. The man I could talk to about anything and who wasn’t shy about telling me when I was wrong, but could do it without being a jerk.  He was the man I could count on no matter what; we trusted each other and each other’s judgment and that is a rare thing in this world.

And I was already beginning to see how women could be judged socially by the presence or absence of a man. At 23 I was still young enough it was expected I would find someone else pretty quickly if I set my mind to it. I went overnight from being socially acceptable to an expectation that I would “find someone new when you are ready honey“.

Cue the bad poetry….

Will I Ever Smile Again?
Hands stuffed into pockets 
The sound of sprinklers 
Soaking the sidewalks. 
Quietly I pass by. 
Will I ever smile again. 
In the early morning 
Not much going on. 
Lurking in shadows 
Watching the world sleep. 
Will I ever smile again. 
Cut out of life 
It flows on by. 
Like a vampire 
I can only watch. 
Will I ever smile again. 

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Phil, Ft. Lauderdale Renaissance Faire, February 1994
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Phil, my Dad and I, 1994.

When I see you 
I see the discomfiture 
At my presence 
Hiding in your eyes. 
Will I ever smile again.
I’m not the same. 
We lack common ground. 
Not my choice. 
*I* didn’t kill anyone. 
Yet I pay the price. 
No I’m not happy. 
What do you expect? 
My lover’s dead. 
YOU get over it. 
Will I ever smile again.

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Phil, spring 1993

Walk in my shoes 
Before you judge me. 
I will survive 
No thanks to you. 
Will I ever smile again.
This a freak show? 
Am I the joke? 
Maybe for you 
But I’m not laughing. 
Will I ever smile again.
I am the vampire. 
I am walking dead. 
Strength of Will 
Keeps me from destruction. 
Will I ever smile again. 

I have some hope. 
I am still alive. 
A bitter disappointment 
Is my current existence. 
Yet I pay the price. 

C. Formanek 96

22 years later, yeah I eventually did start smiling again. I eventually got over feeling like I was an outsider looking in on everyone else’s norms of living. I stopped being pissed off at people for being ignorant and rude, and overly proud of themselves because they were married and had children to prove their social worth.

Over time I learned that mostly, people don’t mean to be ignorant or rude. Some don’t know what to say but feel they are expected to say something; and it is usually pretty dumb because they have no experience to draw from. Some people are mean and stupid; they feel some need to exert superiority, and so they pick the most obvious thing.

And as the years go by, you come to realize that most people perceive themselves to be incredibly weak and prone to fear, loneliness, and social ostracism. As I got older and failed to find another relationship that would successfully result in marriage and children, the questions, suspicions and judgments have gotten more severe.

What’s wrong with you that you aren’t married?” “You don’t have children? Don’t you want children?” “Are you Gay? Are you sure?” “How can you stand to be alone? I don’t think I could handle being alone. I must have somebody in my life.” “Are you absolutely certain you aren’t a Lesbian? You aren’t lying to me about it are you?

I learned to roll with it. You really can’t fix stupid, and it is a waste of time and energy trying to fix stupid. A lot of it is cultural, some areas are more heavily influenced by traditional women’s roles in the home and family than others, and its useless to argue against it in the middle of such an area. And why would I?

I liked who I was as part of a couple with this man or I wouldn’t have been planning to marry him. I learned to live with his loss, I learned that there is no such thing as “getting over it”, that is just the wishful thinking of people who are uncomfortable with the subjects of death, dying, loss, grief and bereavement.

I liked who I was as part of a couple with this man because there was genuine respect between us. It went both ways; that respect. It included trusting one another, and sharing a leadership role without a need to be competitive. We weren’t afraid to make a mistake and learn from it, either one of us, and we were both stronger for it.

And I am alone now because I would rather not accept a position in another relationship where one person is the leader and the other a follower. One of the most obvious reasons for couples conflict is an imbalance of power because one person in the relationship has no respect for the other and there is no mutual trust in judgment and thinking skills.

Phil knew how to be a leader and share leadership. He wasn’t so wrapped up in his own ego that he judged himself based on comparisons with others. He believed in building people up instead of tearing them down. Accepting anything less from someone else would be an insult to his memory and what he taught me in the last years of his life.

In the last 22 years without him I have learned that people in general, not just me, are a lot stronger than they think they are. Nobody knows this until they are tested; and usually, nobody is more surprised than the person surviving such circumstances. And experiences like this become a part of you for better or worse. You live with it.

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Phil, 1993