I thought I understood death. The wispy memories of an aunt who took me to the swimming pool in the neighborhood where my parents grew up and fed me snacks while I pouted during Adult Swim, tinged at the edges with a hazy sadness as I recall being left with an elderly neighbor when the memorial moved to the cemetery not so many months later.
I thought I understood death, when I think of my father and his losing battles and the person I hardly know and the horror and vast emptiness I feel when I think of the space he’ll some day leave behind.
I thought I understood, until my phone rang with a call I instantly knew was wrong, because J should have been at work. And his voice broke, and I made him say it twice. ‘Oh God. Oh my God. Are you okay? What happened?’ What questions do you ask? What support do you give? ‘Should I go to you? I’ll come pick you up. Where do you want me?’ And he went to his friends while I played board games and had my nails painted with mine. Because what could I offer him? I knew R only in passing, only because J lived in his house and once upon a time they played instruments together. I wasn’t part of that. I kept a garden in his backyard and stole sips of gin from the bottles on his counter and bitched about how dirty their bathroom was. I had my first kiss with J at the bottom of his staircase, petted his dog and let her out when no one was home. Was woken up from post-work naps by his band practicing in the basement more times than I can count. None of that makes us anything more than acquaintances.
And yet, it aches. It leaves an empty spot that’s quickly become saturated with fear. I wake, grasping for J in the middle of the night, terrified he isn’t breathing, he’s cold, he’s gone. I can’t pretend that we are anything but finite, and that the end is absolutely the end. No time for conclusions or good byes or I love yous or finished business. Everything from R’s life is standing still, so many people frozen, shocked at the gaping hole one individual leaves.
It’s a lot to take in.
Tomorrow we remember him. He was something of an entrepreneurial and musical icon here. Even without knowing him so well, I’ll cry. I’ll cry for his family and his bandmates and his friends. For his girlfriend. For J. For the realization that this could just as easily, just as suddenly, be my closest friends, and I can’t do anything to prevent that.
I have nothing new to say. Writers and artists have explored life and death since the dawn of time. There is nothing new under the sun.
Please, bring comfort to these aching people. Bring gentleness and stillness to their exhausted souls. Guard us and keep us safe, healthy, alive. Give us strength to live without fear. Give us strength to make all that we can from the short time we’re given.