“If I wasn’t moving to Florida and you didn’t have so many boyfriends, I’d marry the F*** out of you,” Joe said after one too many whiskey and gatorades.

Our 25 year old selves sat buzzed on lust and high on the smell of July 4th sparklers.

He’d been staying in my two bedroom apartment for three weeks. I was working as a news reporter at my first on air TV job. I was lonely and struggling to pay the bills when I got the call from my old college boyfriend’s roommate, Joe. (Who at the time we called Earl but I’ll stick with Joe to help those following along 🙂

Joe/Earl asked if he could bunk up on my couch for a few days while he was in town for a training course on opening his own business. I hadn’t heard from him in years except the occasional mutual friends party in Chicago and we’d never been particularly close, so I found the request strange but the offer to pay some rent money was appealing.

Two days before his estimated arrival I got the call.

“So, the training is actually more than 3 days, it’s 3 weeks. And oh yea, my cousin is coming too,” Joe explained.

Typical Joe and the start of something extraordinary.

So there we sat on the patio. His three week stay had come and gone. The house guest I had been dreading, now was breaking my heart at the thought of him leaving.

Joe moved to Orlando, started his business and I went straight to work sending resumes to every town and TV station close to him.

By Thanksgiving day,  I had a job and the moving truck was packed and heading to Orlando.

I was sure everyone knew I was not moving for a boy but for a great job that just happened to be in the same city as the boy.

One month later we found a four legged puppy running along a busy road. He stole our hearts and started our family.

 

Less than a year after Joe showed up on my door step, I had a diamond ring on my finger.

It was the greatest love story I’d ever imagined and it was my real life.

We planned the big, beautiful wedding (my old college boyfriend attended and actually married Joe’s old high school girlfriend, true story.)

We dreamt of our life together, our careers would grow, our family would grow. We’d buy a place in Chicago and spend our summers and the rest of the year here in Florida.

We wanted a boat and to send all of our friend’s kids things from Disney for their birthdays.

“I hope they all call me Uncle Disney Joe,” he’d say as he’d pick out the perfect Mickey pillow to send to our friend’s son for his 1st birthday.

The day Joe was diagnosed with cancer all of this changed.

I didn’t realize it at the time as I held on to hope and the fight and the chance of a cure.

Slowly, cancer chipped away at our fairy tale. Slowly, I started saying goodbye.

Goodbye to the honeymoon we had planned, we’ll be in chemotherapy. Goodbye to our weekend plans, Joe was too sick. Goodbye to a normal pregnancy, we’ll be traveling for surgery.

I said goodbye to my job, goodbye to Joe’s businesses.

And eventually, goodbye to Joe, the love of my life. The father of my child. My very best friend in the whole world.

This chapter has closed while the imprints the story has left will never, ever fade.

So, now I’m packing the moving truck and leaving these dreams behind.

“I want you to know, I’m team Amanda,” Joe said to me while standing in our bathroom, “If I’m gone and you have to move. You do what is best for you and for Mira. I will always be team Amanda.”

At the time, I nodded but how would I know what is best for me without Joe’s advice, his guidance, his level head and passionate heart to guide me?

I still don’t know.

I do know the reasons I moved to Florida, aren’t here anymore. So i’ll head back to my hometown and try and re-build my life.

I’m once again saying goodbye. To the only place I ever lived with my husband, to the landmarks and places we loved.

I sometimes wonder if I can physically handle one more goodbye.

I’m saying goodbye to our first fur baby, Wrigley Field Evans-Clark. It’s just too hard for me to take care of him and a toddler on my own.

I wave the white flag and surrender.

Our best family friends have helped keep him since Joe first became sick and their two boys will give him a much better home than I can. They’ll send me pictures of him chasing a ball in the backyard and peeing on every single thing in site.

My heart will break a little more but when I leave them his leash but I know it’s what’s best.

I’m heading to my hometown, where I’ll be closer to my parents.

I’m saying goodbye to Joe’s mom who will stay here in Orlando. The most heart wrenching part of this decision. We’ve walked this entire journey hand in hand and side by side. She’s been my rock, leaning in to help me through my grief and juggling a baby on my own.

I feel like I’m taking her grand-daughter from her after she’s already endured so much pain. We’ll make plans, we’ll do vacations, we’ll get flights booked but nothing will ever be the same.

The truth is, nothing has been the same.

Joe left a hole in the hearts of everyone he ever met. A hole I’m not sure can ever be filled but only delicately danced around.

My friends here in Orlando have seen me through my darkest days, life’s hardest journey have been filled with people ready to catch me when I fall. Friendships built on life’s tragedies have a foundation that can never waiver.

When the truck drives away, it’ll be hard for me not to think of the day it arrived.

My dad driving it filled to the brim with Ikea furniture and leopard bedspreads, towing my Honda Civic behind.

Joe stood in the parking lot with a vase of bright orange flowers to welcome me to our new home. He kissed me on the neck, the first step of our lives together.

So, now I turn the page but I’m thankful I can always thumb back to the beginning and re-read my favorite parts forever.