The moment I knew: I was 19 and not quite a widow. He respected my need to grieve

A year after her boyfriend’s death, Haylee Penfold was used to expressions of sympathy or pity. But Kye’s reaction was different

On the first date with my now-fiancé, Kye, I laid it all out on the table. I figured there was no use wasting his time. He had to know what he was in for. Kye could tell I was nervous, but he probably thought it was just jitters. He was handsome. Dark hair, kind eyes and the same smile I remembered from primary school, where we first met.

A lot had changed since we performed together in the school showcase. I scanned the room for the closest exit, mentally preparing a panic route for when it all went south.

“So, I need to tell you something,” I said.

He looked at me and nodded, waiting for what was coming. He held my sweaty palms and gave them a quick squeeze. My heart raced.

“So, I have a boyfriend – ,” I said too quickly. His eyes went to the floor and I realised how it sounded.

“Wait! No! I had a boyfriend … I guess. He died.”

I still wasn’t used to the words coming out of my mouth. Kye’s eyes returned to my own and his expression changed. His look was different to the one I’d come to expect. Instead of a pained expression of pity – a look I received so often at that time – his face held care.

I was 19. Not sure what to call myself. Not quite a widow, we weren’t married, though I had bought a ring to give him if he ever woke from his coma. Sadly that ring was never used.

Almost a year after the loss, I started a conversation with a boy from primary school. The online chat was easy. We kept it casual, discussing Marvel movies, exchanging pictures of our dogs, debating where to find the best curly fries in our neighbourhoods.

Finding the right time to drop my life bomb felt impossible. How do you segue from Doctor Strange to the boy you loved catching a deadly case of pneumonia? I waited for the first date.

Kye’s response told me he was different.

It wasn’t “I’m so sorry”, a phrase I’d heard over and over. Instead he said: “What was he like?”

He asked like he actually wanted to know.

For the first time, I spoke about what I’d gone through with ease. And he listened. He squeezed my sweaty hands. I could feel his palms were sweating too.

Our date lasted hours. The talking mixed with nervous gestures of affection. He held my hand in the cinema and I rested my head on his shoulder. He walked me to my car and asked if it was OK to kiss me. I said yes.

Haylee Penfold with her fiancé Kye, when they became engaged.
Haylee Penfold and Kye on the day they became engaged Photograph: Haylee Penfold

Dating while grieving was hard – sometimes really hard. We took it day by day. Kye respected what I had to do to get through it.

When I think of my late boyfriend I think of the day trips we took together. Car rides that turned into adventures without a destination. He was the first person to make me really feel safe, even when we were lost.

One day while stopped for lunch near a lake, a ladybug flew on his hand, then on to mine. After he passed, I looked out for ladybugs. They were my sign that he was with me.

On our first Valentine’s Day together, Kye bought me a ladybug teddy. He told me it was OK to still think of him.

When Kye and I decided to move in together, we went shopping for furniture.

It was exciting, but in those moments I would get a pinch of guilt. I was finding happiness with someone else.

On our way home, we listened to the radio and Kye held my hand. As we pulled into the driveway of our first place together, Kye turned the car off and sat still.

I looked over to see what it was he was looking at. There, on his steering wheel, was a ladybug.

  • Haylee Penfold is a writer from Newcastle, Australia

Haylee Penfold

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
The moment I knew: ‘Being with Lola felt instinctive – like breathing’
An unremarkable commute down the Nepean Highway turns into a moment of revelation for Katie Brebner Griffin

Katie Brebner Griffin

05, Nov, 2022 @7:00 PM

Article image
The moment I knew: ‘A buffet of international men couldn’t sway me’
When she set out for a long international trip, Freya Bennett knew she liked Serge. But it took 10,427 miles of distance for her to realise how much

Freya Bennett

17, Dec, 2022 @7:00 PM

Article image
The moment I knew: the second I heard her voice again, the planets realigned
Andrew Clancey fell in love with Marianne in the early 1990s – then the pair didn’t see each other for 23 years

As told to Janine Israel

08, Apr, 2023 @8:00 PM

Article image
The moment I knew: ‘She asked if she could kiss me. Tectonic plates shifted’
Three months before her visa was set to expire, on a warm summer night in Washington Square Park, Amanda Smith realised she’d do anything to stay with Carianne

Amanda Smith

08, Oct, 2022 @7:00 PM

Article image
The moment I knew: we were ‘just friends’. Then we watched Sharknado with our elbows touching
Throughout her twenties Eloise Snape was a chronic relationship-phobe. When she met Sam, she had to double down on self-denial

As told toDoosie Morris

29, Apr, 2023 @8:00 PM

Article image
The moment I knew: ‘I told her my dream was to become an author. She didn’t laugh’
New to London and ready to party, the last place Jonathan Seidler expected to spend Notting Hill Carnival was indoors discussing books with his future wife

Jonno Seidler

01, Apr, 2023 @8:00 PM

Article image
The moment I knew: ‘He raced over to help some hapless hikers. Their tent was up in minutes’
Though she’d known Ian for years, it was only out in the bush, free from any social pressure, that Tara Wells could really see him for the first time

Tara Wells

22, Oct, 2022 @7:00 PM

Article image
The moment I knew: I was walking home hoping to bump into him. It’s a really long walk
A brief acquaintance became something more when Catherine McQuade added Brendan on Facebook years later. But she was in a relationship, and he was shy

As told to Belinda Luksic

18, Feb, 2023 @7:00 PM

Article image
The moment I knew: there was a backyard dope crop; she was more interested in the apricot tree
On paper, Andrew Herrick was never going to be a good match with Doris. But after years of subtle flirtation, an office romance started to bloom

Andrew Herrick

04, Mar, 2023 @7:00 PM

Article image
The moment I knew: ‘It was so joyful being home, gay and with the girl of my dreams’
A road trip and a shared fascination for lighthouses illuminated Danielle Scrimshaw about her true feelings for her girlfriend

Danielle Scrimshaw

06, May, 2023 @8:00 PM