I was with my best friend when he died.
He was lying on a hospital bed in a dimly-lit room in a hospice center, ringed by his partner, myself and my partner, his father and his wife, and a nurse. He breathed in so shallow his thin chest didn't register movement. The exhale was a faint rattle. I stared, willing the next breath, which finally came. The nurse touched her stethoscope to Ed's chest. He exhaled.
I stared, willing the next breath. It never came.
"He's gone," the nurse announced unnecessarily.
For two years I didn't smile. I couldn't have a conversation that wasn't about death. I cried whenever I was alone, and sometimes when I was in a crowd of people. I didn't care; not about what they thought, not about how I looked, not about whether I lived. Ed was gone and nothing brought me enough joy to make me want to go on.
I know it was hard for my partner, Jon, to know how I felt. I tried to explain it wasn't about him. Ed and I had been inseparable for nearly 20 years. People referred to us as a single entity. Half of my life had been ripped away from me. I moved through life just waiting for it to end. And then Jon called me one day from the store we owned.
A dog had wandered in, just wandered in from off the street. It's ribs were sticking out, it's paws were rough and the nails worn from weeks on the run. It had a slight hip displacement, possibly from getting hit by a car. It trotted through the store, pushed the office door open, and fell asleep under the desk. "Can you bring out some food?" Jon asked.
Jon started calling him Boi. He didn't want to give him a "real" name in case his owners ever showed up. Boi has brown eyes, just like Ed. When we met he put a paw on my shoulder and tucked his head under my chin. Boi came to us shortly before Ed's birthday. I like to believe he has a little bit of Ed in him. The way he looks at me sometimes, that "you are so full of shit" glint in his eyes, I recognize from Ed's expression.
I stopped not caring at the first touch of that rough, black paw. I started caring the moment his brown eyes locked on mine. I had been stuck in grief, unable to move on. Boi led me to safety.