A letter to a lost love: “At least once a year I lose you all over again…”

phoebe johnson death of partner

On this day five years ago I flew from Vancouver to San Francisco eagerly awaiting our reunion after the failed start that was Canada (visa technicality meant you’d been denied entry to Canada and sent back to Thailand).

I hadn’t heard from you which was incredibly strange and off the back of the events of the previous 48 hours, to say I was a wreck was an understatement. Still I hoped and listened to everyone’s genuine reassurance and pushed on to what was to be a fresh start to our overseas trip.

Hours later I sat in San Francisco International Airport arrivals lounge. For 3.5 hours I anxiously scanned every person who walked through those doors but none of them were you. I eventually went to the the Information desk and all they could tell me was that if you had been detained they couldn’t release that information, and to check return flights to Bangkok, Thailand, for an idea of when you might arrive back there (if you’d been deported).

I can’t explain the fear and anxiety that was coursing through my veins. I knew something was terribly wrong.

MORE FROM MAMAMIA

New reassurances came: “he is probably just stuck with the authorities and will be released soon” or “he has gone to a hostel for the night ‘cos he couldn’t contact you” (the most absurd suggestion, given he had all our accommodation details) and many other variations of “It’s Gus, he’ll be fine!”. Except I knew you weren’t. This was wrong; all so very wrong.

That night I didn’t sleep. Every movement outside the house I was staying at made me sit up, my stomach a pit of despair, hoping and praying it was you at the door. Morning came and nothing. The next day was spent compiling a timeline of events to provide Interpol, as you were now officially a missing person. And trying to find a way to make sense of what was happening without any idea of what was actually happening.

The call came at 6am (San Francisco time) the next morning. It was my dad. You’d been found dead in a hotel room along with another young Canadian man.

Advertisement
"The moment I heard my ring tone I knew what was waiting for me." Image: Phoebe Johnson.

Australian authorities had been contacted, who then delivered the news to your father, who then told my parents. They tried numerous times to contact me but phone connection wasn’t working well. Eventually they got through to me.

The moment I heard my ring tone I knew what was waiting for me. Answering that call is still the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.

It was beyond shattering. It solidified what my heart already understood. That life would never be the same. That somehow I had lost my whole world.

phoebe johnson death of partner
"Every year the grief and the process changes." Image: Phoebe Johnson.

I don’t know exactly how I managed to get on a plane and come back to Australia that day or go to Bangkok to see your corpse in the coming weeks or watch you be buried or continue on with a heart that was beyond repair.

Every year the grief and the process changes. But the experiences and the pain stays the same. Sometimes I need remind myself of what happened so I can understand the depth of my emotions. Sometimes I need to remind myself of who we were together and what we had to process the sense of loss I feel. Sometimes I need others to remember so I don’t feel so alone. Sometimes I need to be comforted. Sometimes I need quiet. I can never predict what I’ll need.

All I know is on this day (and in the days leading up to it) my heart dies all over again. Because the world is an emptier place without you. Because you’ve missed out on so much. Because of a million things I can’t explain. Because you were one of the brightest lights I’ve ever know. Because I will always love you and miss you.

Phoebe Johnson was born in a 1963 Holden EH on the way to the hospital in February ’86. And she's been doing things kind of differently ever since. To discover more of her work visit Tea Leaves and Typos.

This post has been republished here with full permission.

JOIN THE CONVERSATION