I have never known how to love something in moderation.
As a child, if it was the winter holidays and we were playing board games, I would keep saying, “one more, can we please play one more?” until everyone around me would finally say, “No, no more.”
Or, if I’d finished off my cookies at snack time, I would ask my parents, “can I have one more? …. Or four?”
If I was basking in the sun, I’d stay out in it until I was sick. If I enjoyed going over to a friend’s house, I’d ask to go over every day.
None of these behaviours have really changed with time.
Last year, in May 2020, Kurtis and I had a semi-comic, semi-tragic fight where I accused him of breaking our television.
No sound was playing and I had an, admittedly, overly reactive fit to the idea of our television not working with a lockdown stretching before us.
It turned out that nothing was broken, Kurtis had simply leaned on the remote and turned the sound all the way down to zero. I apologized, of course, while he laughed.
“You get so attached,” he said.
I rolled my eyes and told him to press Play but he said that he needed to get some work done. So, because he now worked where we lived, I popped my AirPods into my ears and tried to find a show to watch that he wouldn’t mind missing out on.
I settled on one about a teenage detective who solves crimes, at times, literally, between classes. It had good, nineties outfits, along with a healthy dose of high-school drama. I liked it.
Over the course of the next few weeks, I watched the entirety of the first four seasons — which seems like a lot at first. But, you have to understand, somewhere around the second season, I began to feel a familiar but not entirely welcome feeling. I’d felt it before, notably, but not limited to, when I watched Gossip Girl for the first time, years ago.
The feeling is always one of both hyper-interest and extreme disinterest, braided together. By the time I feel it, I can’t stop its inevitable effects.
What has happened, when I get this way, is I have become way too invested in one story arc, and the strength of this obsession ends up divesting me of interest in all the other arcs present in the show.
With Gossip Girl, for example, I reached a point where all I cared about was everyone’s favourite toxic couple, the will-they-or-won’t-they, he-bought-a-building-and-pimped-her-out-to-his-uncle, Chuck Bass and Blair Waldorf.
As a result of only caring about what happened to Chuck and Blair, I ended up fast-forwarding through any other part of the show that didn’t have to do with them.
To this day, I still haven’t watched a full episode of Gossip Girl past season 4. I even, deep in the pandemic hole, tried to re-watch Gossip Girl and the same thing happened. By season 5, I was fast-forwarding to the parts I wanted to see.
This has happened to me in other shows too, such as the teen girl-detective show. The first time Kurtis saw me fast-forwarding, he was confused. He’d never witnessed this particular phenomenon of mine, and he asked what was going on. I explained the tunnel vision that I got, the way I couldn’t ever seem to regulate the feeling, how everything else in the show became boring to me besides one particular thread.
“I actually hate when I feel the obsession starting,” I said. “Because I know it’s going to ruin the show for me and I won’t watch the whole thing properly.”
Kurtis laughed, his big one, that kind that came unhinged at the top because he was really going for it.
It is a testament to how loved I felt by him that this laugh didn’t hurt my feelings. Usually, I avoid telling people idiosyncratic things like this about me, because I know it’s weird and when people laugh I feel like they’re laughing at me. But with Kurtis, I knew these were exactly the kinds of things that delighted him.
“Remember when you tried to tell me you weren’t obsessive?” he said.
I did remember. We had been cooking at the time and I must have meditated for two minutes or something earlier because I clearly felt not myself, and in this state, I mentioned to Kurtis that maybe he and I weren’t so dissimilar, maybe I was actually not as obsessive as I thought.
Kurtis had stopped unloading the dishwasher to put his hands on his knees while he laughed.
“Amy,” he said, looking up at me, his eyes especially huge. “Come on.”
“What?” I said, but I was laughing too.
“You listened to the same song on repeat for over 3000 minutes last year,” he said.
This was true. I had gotten hooked, emotionally, on one song, and listened to it (with headphones on! while I was writing! I protested, feebly) on repeat for roughly 50 hours until I switched.
Kurtis had other examples of why I was dreaming if I didn’t see myself as at “least a bit” obsessive but he didn’t need to say them. I had already given up, having realized the hopeful absurdity of even entertaining the notion of being otherwise.
Once I love something, I don’t want it to end. I don’t know how to make myself stop.
I was and am this way about Kurtis, too. From the moment I saw him crossing the street, before our first date, a moment when I did not yet know it was him, I was so interested in him.
I thought so much about him, all the time, put my mind to him so often that it became an unconscious habit. I still wake up thinking about how I can help him or make him laugh or get him what he wants before I remember. These are deadly mornings.
It’s the way my mind is whirring to create more ways of loving him, but there isn’t a place to put any of it. I don’t know where to put any of it. He’s not here. He’s still not here.
After Kurtis died, I began an iPhone note in which I tried to store anything that I remembered about him.
I never included things I have written about in the letters; and even so, the note is incredibly long. I scrolled through it earlier this week and felt a tightening in my chest. There was so much to him. I don’t know how to get all of him across. I know I can’t. I also know I didn’t know everything. There was so much of him still to discover.
He was so made for more, after all.
I remember when, at his friend’s wedding in 2017, it was nearing two in the morning. Kurtis and all of his guy friends had been drinking with great intention since the early dinner. I had driven so I wasn’t drinking. I tugged on Kurtis’ arm at half past 2 and told him that I wanted to go home; I was tired and unlike the guy who got so drunk he was rubbing fried chicken drumsticks along his bare chest (he’d taken off his shirt for this activity) I had run out of that party-hearty energy.
“You stay,” I said to Kurtis. “You’re having fun.”
“You sure?” he said.
“But,” I said. “Stop drinking. Grab some water. If you don’t hydrate now, you’ll be puking all night.”
Kurtis told he never puked which we both knew was a blatant lie.
“Seriously,” I said. “Listen to me. You know I’m right.”
We walked to the bar where Kurtis said he would get some water. I listened to him order four vodka-waters.
“Kurtissssss,” I said in that elongated vocal tone that I used when I was amused but also not.
The drinks arrived on a brown, circular tray.
“Don’t do it,” I said.
Kurtis stared right at me, the laughter glimmering in his dark brown eyes. I was trying not to laugh.
“You’re going to regret it!” I said.
Without breaking eye contact, Kurtis picked up the first vodka-water and drained it. I started to laugh, because how could I not?
In succession, he drained the next three.
“Refreshing,” he said.
He had the audacity to wink.
It was such a roguish, stubborn, charming, totally excessive moment: I loved it. What a way to live. (and yes, he did puke for several hours when he finally came home).
I first learned of this deeply embodied delight in living that Kurtis had early on. During our first date, that long, blind date, we drank beer and I asked him if he’d rather keep his body in perfect health but lose his mind or have his body deteriorate entirely but keep his mind.
“Body,” he said without hesitation. “Absolutely keep the body.”
I was flabbergasted. I remember staring at him across the oak table and saying, “that’s totally the wrong answer.”
He contended that there was no wrong answer, as it was a matter of opinion.
“If you lose your mind,” I said. “You lose everything. Who cares if your body is intact if your mind is dark?”
We had a very mild (it was a first date, after all) disagreement. But it was a disagreement. I still don’t think he was right.
“Agree to disagree?” he said to me finally.
“We don’t have to agree,” I said.
We ordered more beer. We grinned. I noticed, for the first time, but not for the last, the way in which part of his front teeth were slightly whiter than the rest. I would learn later that he was self-conscious of this but I never felt he should be. That was who he was, always just a little bit brighter than everything.
I love you so much, I wrote to him in a card from 2019 that I found this week, it’s agonizing to feel it all at once, and I find sometimes I can’t bear it, but I also can’t and don’t want to stop the depth of the feeling; I have yet to strike a limit.
I will always be here for you, he wrote to me in another card from 2020, but when I said his name out loud, when I called for him, there was only the silence of the apartment. The silence that never fell over the apartment until he wasn’t there. I’ve never heard a silence like that of his absence.
I sat in it and thought as seriously about dying as I did in the first days. I held my breath until black points began to bloom in my vision but it wasn’t long enough. A sob broke through and I finally inhaled. In the mirrored doors of our closet, I could see my swollen eyes, my red, splotchy skin.
In the first few months of dating, Kurtis came over one night and followed the sounds of my sobbing to the closet, which he opened the doors of only to find me, on the floor, naked, tears piling down my face. He crouched down and asked me what was wrong. We were supposed to go out with some of his friends; I couldn’t find anything to wear that didn’t make me feel like a dumpy mess. Kurtis told me to breathe.
Then, he pulled a dress and a pair of leggings from the floor, where I left most of my clothes to his chagrin, and laid them flat on the bed. He told me that it didn’t matter what I wore, he always thought I looked beautiful. He reached out his hand, and told me to let him help me up. He swiped my tears off my puffy face with his hand until I began to calm down.
He was always the ballast. He always knew when to just sit with a tissue and when to say we needed to eat out instead of cook in, or even when we needed to get away. Without him, I would just cry, or eat a frozen waffle, or put off travel because of money worries or loneliness or inertia. Without him, I always hydrated at parties and left with enough time to get a good sleep. Without him, I searched up the endings of movies because I wanted to be prepared. Without him, I wouldn’t sleep with the windows of my bedroom open because I was alone and afraid.
That same year, just a few months after he found me crying in the closet, I surprised him with a weekend trip out of the city because I knew he would love it. Before I met him, I never felt comfortable doing weekends away. I didn’t know who to go with or if it was silly to drive an hour out of the city to simply see the mountains closer up. He showed me that all of this was not only possible but right to do because it was fun, because we were together.
It was December and I had chosen for us to stay a few days at a hotel in the Rocky Mountains, which are visible from just about everywhere in the city on a clear day and accessible within an hour’s drive.
It was a decently fancy hotel with a view of the snow-capped peaks. I flopped in the King size bed, exclaiming with glee at the multiplicity of down pillows and he emerged from the bathroom swathed in the white, hotel robe. This was the first time I would encounter his delicious insistence that the hotel not just be inhabited, but experienced. A pane of sunlight lit his chest and his head and I took a photograph. He told me that he had something for me.
“What?” I said, genuinely surprised.
He pulled a small white box out from behind his back. It was tied with a thin, black ribbon. When I opened it, I shrieked. Inside, was a beautiful, silver cuff, made of many strands twined together. I had complimented this same cuff on a friend and he had remembered.
It was one of the only gifts that he would entirely surprise me with — others would be ruined, his words, because I’d buy the same gift for him, or accidentally see the confirmation receipt in his email, or just flat out guess what it might be.
“Kurtis,” I said, slipping the cuff on my wrist and lifting it up to show him.
I would wear that cuff for ages; refusing to take it off even when we went hiking later that day.
Near the hotel was a simple hike that wound up through a canyon. He’d done the loop before and assured me that it wasn’t too difficult.
As we walked along the perforated metal stair case, jagged rock surrounded us, trees with petrified spines were bent over by the wind; the path led to a set of four waterfalls, each higher and bigger than the other. He told me that he liked the falls at the top the best.
I wore thick, winterized boots and a grey toque that had cat ears stitched on the top. It was windy when we started but the gusts swept away the clouds and early evening light broke over us. Kurtis was ahead of me, and ahead of him, was a man and a young boy in a yellow puffer jacket; the boy picked up a slice of ice and tossed it, shifting it into the air, the light catching it and flaring through it.
I remember the crispness of the air, the way my attention pooled on the sound of my boots striking the metal grid of the ramp. I focused on climbing, worried I would slip and fall, or worse, be slow and fall too far behind Kurtis who was hiking along, snapping photos, looking back at me, his breath coming in ghostly contrails. He wasn’t worried about falling or losing me or anything.
I heard it sooner than I thought, the thrumming, the way the water moved beneath the iced surface. Beautiful wasn’t the right word for it. There was something awful about the way the water heaved and howled, separated from the air.
When we finally reached the first set of falls, the metal path stopped and we had to climb a set of stone steps that were slick with frost; I crawled, on my hands and knees, up the steps, and then wiggled through a small stone arch that opened onto a cramped metal lookout built into the rock wall. Below the lookout was a deep well of bright aquamarine and bottle-green water that was being churned into white froth from the force of the water falling into the basin. The froth was the only sign that the waterfalls were, in fact, in motion. Outwardly, towering above the roiling water, the falls were frozen solid. The solid warp and weft of the bright blue water that was still in motion when it froze was eerie and striking; somewhere deep in the core of this ice sculpture, water was still moving, falling into the sound of roaring. The sound of the waterfalls was like a drum with its skin broken, hoarse and ragged.
I stared at the falls without blinking or looking away, both consciously and unconsciously trying to notice everything I could about the water. I felt struck by it.
It was the way the water spilled out, unseen but heard, a blind and unthinking thing, untrammeled by anxieties of fate or predestination, unweighted by worry about whether the solid rock it glided over was shrinking, whether its roiling origins were diminishing, whether with the wear of time, its falling would diminish into nothing but blank, unremembering, worn-out rubble.
I don’t know what any of us deserve. I just know he wanted more. More than he got.
Before we left the falls, he told me that in order to see the rest of the falls we would have to keep climbing but the heavy snowfall earlier had made the way too slippery and dangerous.
“Next time,” he said, but there wouldn’t be enough of that.
I looked at him, and then at the backdrop of the forest, the mountain, the frozen water. Everything surrounding us—the snow, the dirt, the trees, the sun, blocked again by the clouds, the stones and ice and decay — they were things anyone could see, things no one could see through.
I still haven’t been past the lower falls. What’s beyond, only he knows.
This is the last official letter in this project. I might sneak a few extra letters in throughout the year, so feel free to stay subscribed if you like.
For your readership, support, and witness, I am so grateful. Thank you for being here with me.