I am going to kick his ass…

I am going to Kick. His. Ass.

At the end of Philip’s wake, a young woman came over to me. Look at this kid, I thought, she’s beautiful. In a China-doll way. Dark, straight, shiny hair and poreless, creamy skin (skin that even at her age I never had). The kind of girl Janis Ian was whining about when she was 17* (and sadly, she wasn’t so wrong). “Mrs. Smyth?” she said. “My name is Natalia. I’m Philip’s girlfriend.”

What the???

If Philip had a girlfriend, I thought I’d know about it. I didn’t expect to know every girl he crossed paths with, but if he called someone his girlfriend, he was serious about her. In fact, the only other girlfriend he’d had was Laura, Nadiya’s daughter (which is how I met Nadiya). They were together for a year, and remained deeply good friends afterward.

Turns out Philip and Natalia had been together about six weeks. Turns out they met because Philip was a referee for high school fencing and Natalia was a high school fencer. Turns out they wanted to wait until the end of the fencing season to go public (impropriety and all). Turns out the end of the fencing season was February 25th. That would be two days after Philip died, and one day before the first day of his wake.

Dazed as I was at the end of the wake, Natalia shocked me awake for a moment. I asked her if she wanted my phone number, and she jumped back like I’d spit fire at her. “NO,” she said, and then she was gone. I figured she was too upset to want to have anything to do with me.

Weeks later, Natalia was in touch with Phil on Facebook. It kinda bothered me that he got her attention when I couldn’t…but an active Facebook page seems the currently preferred method of communication, and other than having a page with my face on it, you weren’t going to find me there. She asked if she could have Philip’s army jacket. The one I’d picked up in Urban Outfitters and given him last Christmas. As in, his last Christmas. Phil probably took my “Um. Uh. Well. Oh. Okay. I guess” as an affirmative. Give something of Philip’s away? To a girl who’d been seeing him for six weeks, and would probably forget him in six more?

In the end, I told him to go ahead. She seemed to really want it, and besides, I had his black leather jacket, all warm and worn and broken in the way leather will, the way mere fabric never can.

Then a few weeks ago, I got an email that started “Dear Mrs. Smyth,” and at which I smiled. I’ve never gotten used to being addressed as “Mrs.” Who is she, “Mrs. Smyth?” Some older woman with a muffin top,** wearing Not My Daughter’s Jeans*** because they have so much stretch in them you can size down, their legs cut just a little too baggy and sitting just a little too long atop her sensible flats. Hair grayish and shortish because Women of a Certain Age cannot be bothered taking care of long hair. Brisk and business-like, her life in order, and having pretty much figured out all she’s going to figure out about life. Not young any more, but who cares? She has her husband, her kids (the ones who’ve flown off to separate colleges and isn’t it so great because it’s so good for them to go away), her friends, her work. She might not be in her prime, but at least her life is settled.

I wasn’t Mrs. Smyth. I was Philip and Natalie’s mom. Big difference. Huge, ginormous, world of difference. Skinny jeans, black leather boots, long streaked hair, still-don’t-know-what-the-hell-I’m-doing, God-please-help-me and all.

And did I mention I was really, really happy that my kids were a 45-minute-I’m-coming-home-to-do-laundry drive away?

The letter was from Natalia,**** and while I appreciated her respect, I wrote back and asked her to promise to call me Denise. We weren’t going to have a meaningful conversation with me being Mrs. Smyth.

Rather than go on about what she said, I’ll let her tell you herself. Here is what she told me about Philip:

Ever since Natalie posted that you had a blog dedicated to Phil, I have been quietly reading through every post, every day. It has been a very long time since I cried as hard as I did. Phil was one of the most amazing people I have ever known. The connection I had with him was one that I will never find ever again. Many people say that I am too young to know such things, but I believe that when you know when someone is perfect it doesn’t matter when you feel it, just that you do. He and I had a friendly acquaintance-like relationship the year or two prior. It wasn’t until the end of 2011 that we started to talk more. The click between us was instantaneous. It was like I knew him my whole life. He was constantly supportive… Even now, in my darkest of days, our old conversations are the only things that can make me smile. He had that sort of magic about him. He was a once-in-a-lifetime guy and I was lucky enough to even be able to be loved by him …Honestly, the way he treated a girl would make any mother proud, and it sure did make a huge impression on my mom…she loved him. There was something about him that just told her he was an amazing guy.

And when I asked her how she found out that he died, she wrote:

I found out that he had passed because I contacted Natalie after spending a few days without hearing from him and by that point I was freaking out. Something told me Wednesday that something had gone horribly wrong. The last thing he said Tuesday night was that he would talk to me in the morning and when he hadn’t (something which was completely out of the ordinary) I began to worry. My slight worry turned to full blown I-can’t-concentrate-on-anything-else freaking out by Friday. I had gone home for lunch (something I never did) and saw I had a message from her. That message came with the news…then I was on the ground, attempting to even slightly make sense of things and maybe even wake myself up from this bad dream…

And that is why I am going to kick his ass. Because I blame him? Of course not. But he is dead and I am pissed off. Much as Natalia and I are in touch, I will never know the two of them as a couple.  And here I go again. I don’t want to open my heart to this girl; I am trying to keep my heart still – like I would any other part of me that was broken. You don’t move a broken arm or a broken leg. You let it rest, give it a chance to heal. But a broken heart doesn’t just “heal.” It can’t get put back together because it doesn’t know its shape any more. And now I feel myself loving this girl, this smart and beautiful and lovely child that I already know I could have loved as one of my own if Philip had just stayed around and let me.


*If you actually had to refer to this asterisk, all I can say is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k39P2MK6WPo

**A muffin top is when your belly hangs over the top of your jeans.

*** That is actually a brand of jeans, made for us “mature” women with our “mature” figures.

**** I asked Natalia for some pictures. She hasn’t any of the two of them together, but she sent me some of herself. I’ve put them on my photo page. Take a look for yourself; you’ll see what I’m talking about. I mean, how do you not love a girl who rides a horse? And remember – that guy in the picture really is just her friend. Really.

© 2013 Denise Smyth


14 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. tersiaburger
    May 01, 2013 @ 04:35:42

    I was devastated when I found that Vic had “secrets”…stuff that she did not share with me. I know why she didn’t because I would have been madder than mad with someone I need to be nice to but i was devastated that she did not trust me with the trauma and pain in her marriage.


  2. tersiaburger
    May 01, 2013 @ 04:36:10

    Natalie looks like a real nice girl


  3. kmlagatree
    May 01, 2013 @ 06:29:30

    Denise: I am riveted. Can’t stop reading. Your prose is beautiful and funny and sad and takes me to entirely new places.


  4. fluckman
    May 01, 2013 @ 17:24:21

    Thanks again Denise for sharing about Philips girlfriend and private life. My son was much younger, yet I have realised that he had a whole fascinating life out there, which I knew relatively little about. I think that is probably how it should be; in a way. Its only since he died that friends have shared all kinds of stories that I would otherwise never have heard. They have been a blessing, confirming like Natalie did, that my son was indeed everything I knew him to be. I find myself craving to know these people more, or rather I suppose, wanting to hear more about their life with Sulien. I’ll go and have a look at who Philip spent his last few weeks with.


  5. Denise
    May 01, 2013 @ 17:33:00

    The one we love isn’t the only one we lose; the loss is exponential…


  6. fluckman
    May 01, 2013 @ 17:33:11

    Sorry, I meant Natalia, good and happy looking young woman and great that she has found some healing for her loss through your blog.


  7. fluckman
    May 01, 2013 @ 18:05:45

    You are right, some of the other losses are huge. I loved his best friend, Lewis. He was so very different to my son. Suliens death was devasting for Lewis too, so much so, he has avoided any contact with me since it happened. I understand, but it hurts and in more painful moments I feel yet more abandoned. I miss him being around and realise I have much I need to know. I should add, that Suliens death had a profound impact as it rippled out into our community and through it has also come a deep renewing of many friendships that had waned, or broken. Anyway, thank you again for your blog, its inspired me. I went back to work last week. I had to as I am self employed. Sadly my return to work comes when for the first time in 15 or 20 years, I’m enjoying writing and would like to dedicate much more time to it. I intend starting my own blog here and harbour a desire to write an illustrated book of our life together.


  8. johnanderluh
    Jul 02, 2013 @ 16:31:33

    I wish I knew my daughter’s secrets… I’ve combed through her cell phone, her sketchbooks, her belongings to learn more about her. Even after all the time we spent together, during her illness, there were parts of her life that were separate from me and not shared, and now I long to know about them… I guess I just want more of her.


    • Denise
      Jul 02, 2013 @ 17:55:11

      We’ll never get enough of them. Ever. That’s why I write; I’m with him when I tell our story. Then I go about my day; I am in the world, not of the world. We carry too much; but we both have other children, and if nothing else, we do it for them.


  9. Becki Duckworth
    Dec 16, 2013 @ 12:42:23

    My youngest son is still alive but not in my life unfortunately, I love him and adore him , there are no words to describe the love I have for this perfect being. I have a funny story I am going to share.This happened when Lance was around 16 years old. I was still in my career as a National Event Coordinator and knee deep in setting up the event locations for Bill Clinton, he was stumping across country for Hilary. I was between appointments and stopped by house to check my email and grab some faxes. Lance was home from school already and upstairs in his room. As soon as i walked into the house from the garage then front doorbell rang. I opened it and there stood this very cute Asian girl with beautiful long hair. She looked familiar but I couldn’t place who she was. She said, “hi is Lance home?” I said, “I think so his backpack is laying here in the foyer.” She said, “My name is Phoung, I am Lances girlfriend, I have known him since he was 8 years old.” I replied, “really I have known him since he was in my womb.” I then closed the door, at the same time Lance was coming down the stairs. Lance said,”Mom what the heck, why did you just say that and close the door?” I told him,” Because it’s true and that is not the way I should find out you have a girlfriend.” he was mad at me for days, but later they both laughed about it. Lance and Phoung dated for about a year.


  10. Denise
    Dec 16, 2013 @ 13:42:25

    Yes that is VERY funny!

    Thanks for the smile – today’s not a good day. Everything hurts.


  11. SusanB
    Jan 01, 2014 @ 19:51:14

    Hi Denise, great writing about a tough subject. It’s therapeutic to read about others who are going through life without a child they brought to life. Sucks to be us eh?


  12. Denise
    Jan 01, 2014 @ 20:02:33

    Thank you – and how sorry am I that you know what I’m going through, that you lost your son, that you have to live with this. And I know Philip is teaching me how to do just that; but I am fighting, fighting because I want him HERE and I don’t know how to do this, I really don’t.


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