After many years of wanting to write a book that’s part memoir, part stories of my journey as a hospital chaplain and how the two inextricably intertwine, I finally sat down two weeks ago and wrote a full chapter of it, one that I titled “My Favorite Fork in the Road.” It is the story of how an incredibly meaningful interaction with a patient who I was recommended to stay away from, but chose not to, affected my life forever – in part because it made me a better chaplain, and in part because I contracted C. diff, a terrible hospital-acquired infection, during our encounter. I knew how to quarantine before everybody else had to learn; does that make me a hipster?

It was during my time of being quarantined that I made an online dating profile to distract myself from the awfulness I was experiencing. In making that dating profile that I otherwise wouldn’t have made during that season of my life because I was a way-too-busy grad student (who now couldn’t go to class and was being followed around the house with bleach wipes), I met my dear Lucas. Every classic love story involves C. diff, I’m sure of it.

Little did I know that a week after writing it and sharing it with him, I would have to change the verb tenses about our three-year relationship from present tense to past tense.

It has been 168 hours exactly at the time of writing this that he walked out of, rather than into, our apartment.

It is was our apartment.

He is was my closest companion, my “person.”

I have had a wedding dress that I can’t couldn’t wait to wear.

Of course, my friends all have opinions about what happened; we all do when we see someone we love get hurt. Some of them put their opinions aside and sit with me without giving me advice, instead simply giving me empathy and their (metaphorical – it’s still a pandemic, y’all) shoulder to cry on. These are my favorite and most healing moments. However, some have shared their opinions in ways that, if I’m not careful, can honestly shake me and make me doubt the best parts of the journey he and I went on together.

You were always more dedicated to him than he was to you, always more in love with him than he was with you.

He was giving you signs for a while that he had uncertainty.

You’ll find someone better for you.

The reality is that the corpse isn’t even cold yet. Yes, I have learned more about myself and what I’m looking for in a partner, but let me be sad and not be interested in dating for a while. Yes, he experienced cold feet at various important milestones, but we fought hard for each other and kept warm together. I don’t regret a single day of it, even the most challenging ones. I got to love and be loved by him for months, maybe even years, longer than the people who think they know what they would have done in my shoes. The reality is that they have no idea how sweet it is was to be loved by him, and he and I are the only ones who get to choose the verbs and tenses for this story.

This is a story I’m keeping, verbs I’m holding onto. Yes, healing from this heartache will change some of the tenses and descriptors. He will become the love of my life so far. My favorite companion so far. My favorite person outside of my family so far. My favorite fork in the road so far. Our love will morph from romance to friendship, but we will always share the story of a love that is was worth every risk.

A few days after our breakup, I sent him a printout of the present-tense book chapter in the mail with this note:

Lucas,

I wanted to make sure that you had a copy of this chapter before I go about changing a few verb tenses. I figure it belongs in your box of beautiful things from past relationships.

This story will always be one of my favorites because even though our time as romantic partners is over, this fork in the road led me to one of the best people I’ve ever met.

Being loved deeply gives you courage, and Lucas, the love that you gave me will give me courage for the rest of my life.

Talk to you soon enough.

-E

His love truly gives will continue to give me courage, long after we both fall out of love with each other and find our new rhythm with platonic love. His love makes will make me more likely, not less, to love and be loved again (in the future). It makes will make me more likely, not less, to trust again (in the future). To be fully, deeply, unconditionally loved by him made, and will always make me, a better person.

Cheers to this story and the ways in which it will change and remain the same.

Emmie Arnold

Emmie Arnold (she/her/hers) is a palliative care and intensive care hospital chaplain at a children’s hospital in New York; a candidate for ordination in the PC(USA); avid cook; traveler (on hiatus); friend and family member to many; writer; and musician.

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