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  • Writer's pictureDrew Dotson

Befores and afters

A few weeks ago, two of my long-time cohorts stopped by to enjoy drinks and conversation – and bring dinner (Yum!). My friend Amanda helped me and Ramón buy our house in 2018, and we were reminiscing about how painfully easy we were as clients in that we had no real must-haves or dealbreakers. When looking at houses, Amanda suggested we narrow our search, but Ramón and I insisted we’d be happy anywhere as long as we were together. This was a far cry from every buyer on HGTV; somebody’s usually demanding a house with a dedicated hot yoga space while the other is hellbent on finding a kitchen that cooks meals by itself.

Ramón was in Michigan visiting family when Amanda and I decided on a home. To my surprise, the house that interested me the most needed a lot of work. I remember getting Ramón on the phone and telling him that it was going to be quite a project, to which he responded, “Okay, let’s do it.” And we did. In our short stint there, we renovated the entire interior and planned to tackle the exterior this year.

Over the past few weeks, with help from many people, I’ve been getting the house ready to go on the market. Though I’m proud of the heart Ramón and I poured into that house, I’m ready to see it become the start of a beautiful chapter for someone else. When I think of “home,” I think of comfort, and that’s simply not how things unfolded. First, there’s the route I paced on May 7, 2019, as I made the phone calls that went a little like, “Are you guys not out doing something for Ramón’s birthday?” Then I’d respond, “No, because I have some news for you.”

There’s the kitchen that brought me great joy before it became cancer command central. The countertops were ultimately invaded by Ramón’s countless medications, which I managed for him because he had absolutely no future as a pharmacist. (Once we were at the oncologist when Ramón confidently said he was still taking his Galliprant. The physician looked perplexed, and I quickly explained he was thinking of a medication for canine arthritis. “Don’t worry. I have him under control.”) I think of the late nights I spent gloved-up, unhooking Ramón’s chemo before placing the pump in its biohazard bag and flushing his PICC line with saline.

Then, there’s my writing space, which is where I was sitting when the doctor called in February to tell us she was saddened to say the leukemia was back. And of course, there’s the pathway I took as I entered the house after The Big Event the morning of April 19. I recall walking past some of Ramón’s shoes on the doormat, thinking how painful that walk would have been if he’d not been revived. Oh, naivete. Every square foot of that house was overtaken by some type of life-changing phone call during Ramón’s first several weeks in the ICU from April into May. And, though I could offer happier counter-memories to all of the recollections above, I’m just not meant to be in that house anymore.

In April 2019, the week before Ramón’s cancer diagnosis, I met my friend Scot for coffee. At the time, it had been almost six months since his daughter, who was my age, died from cystic fibrosis. At one point, while discussing Leann’s death, Scot plainly and simply stated, “It happened.” That resonated with me at the time for reasons I couldn’t explain. The event occurred; note the past tense.

“It happened” has crossed my mind often the past four months. It hasn’t come from a sorrowful place, but rather it’s rooted in certainty – no ambiguity remains. When Ramón’s brain injury was confirmed, I remember thinking, ‘It happened. Now what?’ Then, when Ramón died on July 20, it happened; his death was official at 10:52 a.m. Consider it common sense, but when something has happened, it’s not going to unhappen.

When your world turns upside down, it can be easy to find yourself paused in that moment in time, wishing things were different. I’ve been held captive by sorrow at varying points in my life, struggling to find a sliver of light to indicate that there is an “after” if I allow myself to move past the “before.”

The attached photo shows the before and after of our main living space. (You like that peachish-pink carpet? It was so hard to let it go.) As we were renovating, we knew we were transitioning from a before to an after, but I didn’t realize what a luxury that was at the time. The night before Ramón died, I read a quotation that I’ve carried with me since: “You don’t even realize you’re living in a before until you wake up one day and find yourself in an after.” – Robin Wasserman

Befores can instantaneously become afters, and an after will inevitably become a before. I can say with utmost confidence that I took full advantage of my most recent before, and I’m ready to do the same with the befores and afters yet to come. It happened.


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