I never thought of myself as a terribly superstitious person, and I still don't, really, except that you died on Friday the 13th of June, 1997, eleven years ago today. And while I thought that was sad, and strange, what was even sadder and stranger was when your father died, also on Friday the 13th, a couple of years later. That was when I was at the height of thinking of myself as unlucky, and when your friend dies on what's traditionally thought of by kooks and paranoids and hysterics as the unluckiest day of the year, well, you start to think there might be something to it.
Something happens when your best friend dies at pretty much the most vulnerable point in your entire life. It leaves a hole in you, and what's missing is the ability to trust happiness. One day you were there, and the next day, everyone who knew you was looking around at each other, wondering how this couldn't be just a figment of our imagination, wondering who we all were without you in the world. You start to feel like this awful hole in your life might become permanent, like nothing would ever feel good again, like that the awful truth that nobody tells you as you're growing up is that nothing is more fleeting than happiness.
That's what happened to me, that awful summer eleven years ago. And I put a lot of time and energy into feeling good by chemical means, something that I knew would not have thrilled you. But I just felt so awful already, and I would have done anything to have you to talk to about it, and you were gone, just gone, like there had never been a you. I just had so many regrets, regrets about having intentionally pushed your buttons, regrets about not sitting down and talking to you about how bad I felt and how unhappy I was, regrets about how I'd made choices that hurt you, regrets about how that Sunday a week before you died, I had just waved at you and Julie and Jamie as you walked across the parking lot and I hadn't stopped to at least say goodbye. I was just swimming in this sea of regret for everything I had done and become that was a disappointment to you and to myself.
For such a long time none of us really talked about you or how much we missed you or how unreal and bad it felt because we couldn't do it without breaking down, without it hurting more than we could stand. When I think back to that summer, and I'm not sure that this is accurate, but what I remember is this sense of everyone who knew you standing around looking at each other and wringing our hands.
I can and do talk about you again now, but what hasn't left me, what probably won't ever leave me, is the fear. You died and ever since there I have been afraid to feel too happy, to make too many plans, to look too far forward; I have always felt like I am right on the verge of having the rug pulled out from under my feet, and as a result, I have always been hesitant to stand on the rug at all, because what's the point? I look at my son, and instead of feeling the unrestrained joy that I feel like I should feel, I force myself to not think about all the unlikely ways he could break my heart, all of the things I can't keep him safe from, about how vulnerable love makes you.
I start thinking like that, and I wonder what kind of advice you would give me, because I trusted your advice more than anyone I've ever known, and I start thinking about how if you were here to give me advice, I wouldn't need this kind of advice at all. It's hard to not be so mad at you, madder than I've ever been at anyone. I really don't think I'd be like this if you hadn't died when I was struggling to get myself together, to drag myself out of the black hole I'd been in for a year, to shed the shadow that I had lived in for so long I couldn't even remember what it felt like to smile. I don't think I'd be like this if you hadn't left this hole in me, and no matter how much I loved and trusted you, no matter how much I miss you, this rawness will always stand.
But I'm left with the other things that stand too: the memory of how you volunteered to work backstage during my high school graduation--your fiance's mother was my biology teacher--so that you could be the one to hand me my actual diploma and be the first person to shake my hand. How you proposed to Julie by dressing every member of the youth group in t-shirts that spelled out "MARRY ME JULIE??" How much excited you were when you called and woke me up in my crappy college apartment on the hottest morning of the entire summer to tell me that Julie was pregnant.
I think a lot about how I'm older now than you were when you died. I think about synchronicity and coincidence and what a small world the world is. I think about how I'll make more money this year than you ever did. I think about I think about how young I was when you died, how young all of us were, and how it seems both so long ago and like it was yesterday at the same time. I think about how Joy and Rob and I all have kids almost exactly the same age. I think about how Gerry is getting married to a woman who is perfect for him, and how you used to joke that, to Gerry, the perfect woman would be, like, a whole gymnasium full of women. Dan and Max and I ran into Julie and Jamie at Meijer on Christmas Eve this year, and watching my son flirt with your son was...surreal. It was seeing myself in a parallel universe. It was seeing you come back to life, and it made me think about how much you loved being a dad, how much you loved other people's kids, how much you would have loved my kid.
It's the time of year that I start listening to the same music that I listen to every June: Pretty Angry by Blues Traveler, Hey Kind Friend by the Indigo Girls, Song for a Friend by Jason Mraz, Hallelujah by Jeff Buckley. My ipod is a very disturbing place to be right around this time of year, and I think about that and then I think about the fact that there was no such thing as an ipod or a google search or a, I don't know, a Wii when you died. This morning I was walking to my office--I have an office; can you believe after four years of doing my homework in your office, I have my own office?--and listening to How to Save a Life by The Fray, and I just kept thinking, this would really have tickled Mark, I'd give anything for him to see me here.
If I were in Michigan today, I would do what I did for seven years: I'd go to your grave, and leave flowers there. I'd listen to I'll Remember by Madonna, the cassette single that I gave you the day I graduated from high school, and roll my eyes at how ridiculous and inane a gesture that was. But I'm here, in Washington D.C., and I'll do all the adult things that I do now: kiss my husband, blow raspberries on my son's belly, take the train, walk to my office, drink my coffee, do my job, and I'll think about the person who I was eleven years ago today, how the phone sounded when it rang, how I was so sure I had misheard Joy telling me that you'd had a heart attack, at 31 years old, and died, how I kept thinking she must have meant your father, maybe, or your younger brother. I'll think about how the person I was eleven years ago today was so different than the person I was eleven years and one day ago. I'll think about your son, growing up without you, and how adorable he is, how he brought me flowers at my wedding and I saved them and took them to your grave the next day before I left on my honeymoon, and how much I wished you could have been there.
I'm still mad at you. I'm still afraid of losing the people I care about the most in the world. I'm still all screwed up, really, because I've lived my entire adult life without you and you invested so much in me and you deserved to see that investment pay off and I deserved to redeem myself. I am still so fucking mad that you're gone. But you are. And one of the things that you dying made me realize is that I have to strive to find meaning in the most senseless things, that even when I'm mad at you like this, I owe it to you and to myself to remember you, to celebrate your goodness and your spirit, to keep striving away from the fear I feel because you died.
You and I once agreed that it was always best to finish things with a quote. Like the movie says, somebody else has probably already said it better than you. You probably would have said something inspiring, about a door closing and a window opening or something like that. But the song I always think of when I think of you is this one:
I could let you slip away
just wait for rainy days
find the perfect coffeehouse and stay for hours.
But wouldn't that be failing us,
letting go too soon,
when everything I am still holds on to you
And these souvenirs keep you here
You're really somewhere down the road
But I'm still stranded here, holding all these souvenirs
I could hide it all somewhere
pretend I didn't care,
Fill my time with daily things until I'm numb
But isn't all this feeling why we reach for love at all?
Isn't it the reason that we hear the call
for more than just these souvenirs
they keep you here
You're really somewhere down the road
But I'm still stranded here, holding onto all these souvenirs
I guess I'm still pretty angry, is what the Blues Traveler song says. I think of you when I hear that song too. But I loved you, and I am who I am because of you, for better or worse. I owe it to you and to myself to remember you like this every year. Every year since you died, I've written this letter, and I will write it over and over again. I miss you, Mark.
Friday, June 13, 2008