Several wonderful, lovely, supportive friends of mine have told me that I should write a blog. I have been very hesitant about doing so, as I am very aware of just how many people have blogs and how narcissistic it seems for me to start one – especially when that blog has no set focus or theme*. And especially when I know that I will not be updating it regularly or on a set schedule. (But I will try) So against my better judgment I bit the bullet, because gosh darn it, I’m a writer and an artist^ and if just one person has a slightly cathartic experience by reading my words, then this blog has served its purpose.
*I have a whole other post I will publish soon about how America’s need to classify everything with one label really irks me.
^I hate calling myself a writer or an artist though, because it seems to reek of pretension, but it’s true. And I’ll also touch on this more in my next entry.
But onto my intended topic. I’ve been wanting to write about this publicly for months, but I’ve also been extremely hesitant to do so. I’ve had no shortage of things to say about the subject – my journals are overflowing with thoughts, rushed scrawls of passion in the margins, on the covers, on post-its, typed into emails never sent, private Google Docs. But those entries are private, a personal non-magical Pensieve, if you will. But I’ve wanted to express publicly what I’ve been going through. Why, I can’t really tell you. In the weeks after I received the news, all I wanted to do was reach out to others who have experienced similar loss. Grief is indeed, such a solitary thing, and I had never felt more alone. So perhaps this entry is for all those who have also lost and are looking for some sort of validation or companionship in the pain that they are feeling. After all, we all want to feel in life that we are not alone, right?
On June 21st, 2014, my best friend died. He was 26. It was unexpected, sudden, and devastating. What I went through this summer, looking back on it, it was overwhelming. Exhausting. Every day, every minute, was one of sadness. I thought of him constantly. Every moment was tinged with the darkest sorrow, like a terribly bleak Instagram filter. Smiling was hard. True interaction was worse. Every conversation or action had the subtext of his death for me. I was angry. I was depressed. I was hysterical.
However, in the past several weeks, I slowly, finally, started to pick up the pieces. I started to go out again. My appetite came back. My drive and productivity came back. I started to live my life more and more each day for me, and not for his memory.
The grief is still there, as is the pain. But now, I struggle with the feeling of detachment to his death.
It’s like gravity. We know it exists – one can say, “Yes, there is gravity keeping everything in place.” This statement is true, and you can honestly say it very simply. But then to truly think of gravity as a real concept, one would have to make a concentrated effort to grasp the reality of gravity (the gravity of gravity, perhaps?), how it works, and what it all means. The enormity and power of this really magnificent force that is keeping the stars and planets and humans and animals and bugs and water all in alignment – it’s overwhelming to really conceive in our mortal thoughts.
Just like saying, “My best friend is dead,” is no longer difficult for me. I’ve said it so many times. But to really, truly, conceptualize his death, I have to force myself to really think about it. I close my eyes or look at an empty space, and build him in my mind’s eye. Him, his laugh, his voice, his opinions, his thoughts. His sense of style and clothes. His hair, his smell, his dandruff, his scars, his feet, his shoes, his gait, the way his shoulders sloped. Him – he – the person, has ceased to exist. He has died. Suddenly, unknowingly, without warning. Unfairly. Cruelly. Ripped from this earth. My best friend, the first gay man I ever fell in love with, the one who knew Child Me and Adult Me and loved them both, has died. He is no more. And I will never see him again. I will never get to hang out with him, or drive in a car with him, or sing or go dancing or drink beers with him, or pick him up from his mom’s house ever again. I’m not sure what I believe but even if our souls/energy meet after life, it will be in a different way. The way we lived, coexisted, shared the same air, talked about our dreams, our crushes, ranted about things we hate, people who annoyed us, stressed about our careers, our classes, all of that – is done. Our physical human relationship is over.
My friend, who in high school owned a little plastic rat that became our unofficial mascot, and gave it to his friends for company on their various journeys. Who always put others’ problems before his own. Who, at times, felt angry and lost and hurt and in pain like all other humans, but never showed it. Who got a 1520 on his SATs (back when they were out of 1600) and graduated third in his class in high school. Who studied at Stanford, and in Germany, England, and received two Fulbright scholarships to teach in Turkey. Who loved Oberlin and the progressiveness it fostered. Who was pursuing his doctorate in the very prestigious art history program at University of Chicago. Who never judged anyone and always put himself in other people’s shoes, yet could read someone to filth. Who laughed at everything and played devil’s advocate just for the challenge. Who knew how to make an instant, human, real connection with a stranger and yet still managed to be pretty awkward in an adorable way. Who loved to go out and party but still wanted to grow up and have children and fall in love. Who valued friends and community more than practically everything. Who ate non-discriminately, loving all food and drink, treating each meal and snack as a culinary adventure. Who wrote with a measured voice that could barely contain the excitement that laid in every sentence. Whose passion and enthusiasm was rarely ever matched. Who danced wildly and often and usually alone. Who hated taking photos in public but treasured the memories he had of his loved ones. Who loved to touch and be touched by those he loved, craving intimacy and comfort. Who was in the top of his class and yet had blue hair for most of his senior year of high school. Who loved so fiercely and felt so deeply and had tremendous empathy.
This friend, this person, this man, this extraordinary being – he has died. But even writing these thoughts now, I can feel his presence. He lives on now, like Mufasa, in all of us. It’s true, he will live on now in a different way, as a living memory with all of the many friends, colleagues, family members he’s left behind. And that is comforting, somewhat.
So what do I do now?
That’s what I want to ask. What do I do now? But I know the answer, and he does too. He would say, “Just keep living, Kate.” He would shrug and look at me with those big, beautiful brown eyes, his eyebrows cocked in concern and pain, and he would say, “I’m sorry, Kate. But I’m here. Keep living.”
I still don’t get it. I still can’t believe that he’s really gone. It doesn’t make sense to me. It really feels like a glitch in the Matrix. Something went wrong, someone screwed up. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Really thinking about him gone sometimes feels violent, I can feel the rage bubbling up inside. It feels like someone just tore a chunk of myself away, from my right half. He was a part of me, but strangely, he’s even more a part of me in death than he was in life. Now I breathe him; live him; live for him. But there’s still a loss. It’s like I’ve lost a limb – that limb was a part of me, I have so many memories of that limb – it had scars and moles and hair, and it was a part of me, but now it’s gone. Now the absence of that limb has become a new part of me. I have absorbed the loss and now it’s part of my definition, my story – to be limbless.
The A-type optimist in me wants to end this entry on a positive note, some sort of lesson I’ve learned from all of this that I can pass on to my dear (albeit few) readers. But I sadly don’t have one.
That isn’t to say I haven’t learned any lessons from this experience, but the lessons I’ve learned are ones that most of you probably already know. And if you haven’t, you, most unfortunately, will someday. Death is like an awful club with which nobody wants a membership, but we all will eventually. These lessons don’t even seem worth writing out, because I can barely find the words to express them. They can be only felt through experience. With any loss, there is really nothing to say. What do you say to someone who is grieving? “I’m sorry for your loss.” is pretty sufficient, and even though it sounds hallow and inadequate, trust in the knowledge that’s because it is. There is nothing to be said. It sucks. It’s tragic. But death is an inevitable part of life, just like suffering and loss.
But before you go jump off a bridge, take stock in all that you do have. I know that the intense pain I have felt and still feel is only because I love him. As cringe-worthy as this sentiment can be, it is true that now I appreciate having my friend be such an important part of my life. If I didn’t care about him as much as I do, I wouldn’t be in such pain. We hurt because we love. We could go through life, closed-off, never allowing ourselves to love or feel, and in turn, we would really never feel pain. But we would also never feel such joy, such intimacy, such love. Alfred Lord Tennyson was absolutely right. ‘Tis much, much better.
So go forth, humans! Love, and love fully. The pain will come, and it will hurt. Like a cruel ocean, the tides will rise and fall as time goes on. But like all storms, it too shall pass. And so comes Love.
Louis C.K, as always, puts it so eloquently, as does the masterful Charles Grodin.
One thought on “He was a friend of mine.”
A beautiful elegy, not just for your friend, but for your innocence. It’s true, it’s part of your story now, but it seems you have welcomed it with maturity and compassion. 🙂