Note: I started writing this in March, but decided to hold off on publishing until today. Please bear with me if anything in this post confuses you…I love you guys and gals dearly, but to go into lengthy explanations would detract from what this post is. What is it, then? In a nutshell, on my 13th birthday, one of my best friends in the whole world (at that time) asked me to be his girl. A month before my 16th birthday, 15 years ago today, our story was cut short when he was killed in a car accident. To say I was devastated would be a gross understatement.
Please don’t be offended when I say this, dear readers, because offense is truly not meant, but this post is not to you. It can be for you, if you find comfort in knowing that pain does ease after loss, that life can still be full and wonderful and amazing, if you allow yourself to live again. I promise. Yes, I still miss him from time to time…but not as the boyfriend he was when he died, but as the amazingly awesome best friend he was before we became a couple…the wonderful friend he still was (on top of being my boyfriend) when he died. I was 15 when he died, and I think that, 15 years later, this represents full circle for me. I have lived a lifetime since that day in 1999, and I have grown as a person, as a woman. I understand a lot of things that I didn’t understand quite as deeply back then. I can pluck out the finer shades of grey. And I think that today, and this post, are the endpoints of that circle.
Grief is a funny thing. Not funny ‘haha’…but it never ceases to amaze me how profoundly grief can change us, move us, even long after we think we’re done being sad. You were the first to teach me that grief is not always manifest with tears and pain, though you were not the last. It has been 15 years. Half of the life I have lived so far has gone by since you died. Yeah, I can say that now. Took me about 6 years before I could say it without feeling like my heart was twisting and shattering all over again.
Up until about 8 years ago, I’d still occasionally write you letters, full of misery, heartache, and pain over losing you. But the past several years, that grief has slowly moved from being expressed with tears and heart pangs to being expressed with a slight smile. I no longer cry or feel sad if I think of you occasionally. I smile. I actually smile. I don’t immediately think of how much it hurt, how badly I suffered without you. My first thoughts now travel to happier memories. Fun times. Laughter. I think that maybe, this will be the last letter I write to you, and in recognition of the transition from pain to fond memory, I think you deserve a letter that focuses on the joy, the smiles…the laughter.
Because we laughed a lot, didn’t we? I remember meeting you, but not really thinking that much of you. I think it would be safe to say that I disliked you intensely. Then, for some reason, that all changed one night as we camped out. You were struggling to light our fire, we kids were so proud to be given the responsibility of our own fire circle…and I remember a mischievous glint appearing in your eyes as you looked at me and said “My dad’s got some gas at the camper…I’ll be right back”. You poured nearly the entire thing on the wood, struck at match, and tossed it, grabbing my hand and pulling me back to a safer distance. Thank you, otherwise I might not have had eyebrows for a while. I can still see the flames dancing in your eyes, and within the blazing oranges, reds, and yellows, I felt my own heart burst alight. Later on, I sat in a chair, my eyes looking into the fire, yet looking so much further…people knew not to say anything whenever I would get lost in the warmth, seeing things no one else saw. But you pulled up a chair and quietly asked “Whatcha looking at, girlie?” Nothing, I’d replied. Nothing…and everything. I took a quiet comfort from your presence, so close to mine that I could empathically taste it.
We became inseparable that weekend, and when we’d reconvened for a campout over my birthday, we picked up right where we left off. I was thrown off so tremendously, because there was a change in the air, a metaphorical precipice only I could feel, and I did not know what was to come. The evening of my birthday, I wanted to see the night sky, because it was so clear out that I knew the Milky Way would be visible. The trees that covered the campsite with cool shade during the day unfortunately also obscured a complete view of the sky, so after dinner, as the sun slid beneath the horizon, I made my way up to the unfinished addition of my father’s house. It had yet to be given a roof, and the space above gave a clear view of the heavens. Lost in my reverie as I lay on my back and smiled as I saw the faintly luminous shimmer of the Milky Way appear in the sky, I did not notice you until you entered my ‘personal space’…and I held my breath as you laid down beside me and put your hands behind your head.
“Pretty cool, eh little wren?” You said, and I smiled at the nickname, given after you’d heard my father use my middle name. “Yeah. Pretty cool.” I’d said. Every single nerve in my body hummed and twisted. I had unfortunately begun to be teased at school, and was at a point where, if I developed a crush on someone, I said nothing about it. My first experience in that had been an exercise in painful public humiliation, and you’d heard all about it the first day of our summer reunion, and said, an angry look clouding your eyes “He’s an asshole, a stupid kid who doesn’t know what the fuck he’s talking about…or what a great girl he’s missing out on”. But whatever fleeting fancy I had felt for that boy who’d so cruelly and publicly embarrassed me for having the nerve to speak up was nothing…nothing…compared to the fact that I truly believed that I had fallen hard for my very best friend and had no clue what to do about it.
“What makes you so fascinated by the sky, wren?” I took one moment to look away from the stars and meet your gaze. I saw stars in your eyes. I opened my mouth to say something that prior experience told me I had no right to say, and then closed it, silenced too much by the fear of rejection to risk losing your friendship. I shrugged. “It makes me feel so big, to know that everything is intertwined in this really profound way…but it makes me feel so small to be a piece of something so universal…it speaks to me”, here I gestured to the stars, the moon, “It speaks to me”. You didn’t mock me, you took my hand in yours and quietly asked me “What does it say to you?”. How was I supposed to explain such a monumental thing to you without sounding like a complete nut job? But I did. “It says that, no matter what others say or think, no matter what I say or think, that I am good, worthy…even if I think I am anything but good or worthy.”
It was then that you dropped an arm around my shoulder and pulled me close. “Then they’re right, you know.” We sat there for goodness knows how long, and then finally, you said things…things about feelings you had that ran right beside the secret wishes I held in my heart…you asked me to be your girl, and I said yes.
You became my fortress as time passed. When I’d had a horrible day at school, when I couldn’t stand to hear any more of the words that flew at me from the mouths of my peers, you were the only one who could erase them from my mind, ease the pain I felt in my heart. You, more than anyone else, showed me that I truly was worthy. We said nothing to our parents, but I always felt like they knew…time, and a good heart to heart with both my father and mother has proven that they knew.
It’s funny, as time has passed, I have felt at times like I have forgotten you, like you are fading from me, but as I write this, trying to keep it from turning into a book, I find that I have forgotten nothing. I could write a book about those years, because I remember it all. Becky’s mom covering for me, saying I was going to be at her house when in reality I’d be there for moments before you’d arrive to snatch me up for a date. Dinner. Movies. But most of the time, just going to the lake at Speedwell and hiking the trails that meandered through the surrounding woods. Bonfires. Campouts. You and your incorrigible sense of humor. You could lift the worst of my moods with just the slightest upturn at the corners of your mouth. The way you knew I was uncomfortable with compliments but gave them to me anyways. How I could say “I’m fine”, and you just knew I wasn’t, but would just say “Okay. I know you aren’t, but you’ll tell me when you want to. You always do”.
I don’t want to go too into my reaction to your death, because this is not to focus on the loss. It is meant to focus on what we had that was good. But it crippled me, devastated me…stripped me bare and left me weakened, demolished everything I knew. I could have handled a breakup, because you still would have lived, and my mind would have held on to the possibility of a rekindling until I moved on in accordance with the natural way of things. But you were dead. You were gone, and nothing would bring you back. That knowledge broke me, nearly completely robbed me of a voice for two whole months, and sliced open a wound in my heart that festered for years, refusing to heal even a little bit. I played the mixtape you made me until it broke, causing me to cry hysterically for three days.
I remember my senior prom. I was supposed to go with you, but you’d been gone for two years by then. It felt like forever…but the pain was still raw and very sharp. A boy asked me to dance, and I shook my head, fighting tears that had suddenly threatened to spill over. This boy, I never would have pegged him for the compassionate type, up until that first day back at school after you’d died, he’d been a particularly cruel tormentor…after that, overnight he became my biggest ally…he became a safe fortress when I felt miserable, holding me together while I fell apart with grief in his arms. I never told him why I suddenly lost my fire, but I never had to. He seemed to know, in a way no one else could. But this boy took my hand at prom, pulled me to my feet, and whispered in my ear “You can do this, I promise. Please don’t cry…dance with me”. I can’t even remember what song it was, but I remember that I laid my head on his shoulder to hide the tears, and he held me. Not the romantically loving way you held me, but in the love of friendship, he shielded me while I cried silently as we danced, whispering words of comfort to me. He knew it hurt, and at the time, I thought that on some deeper level, he knew why. I thought we were connected by a shared pain that neither of us ever voiced out loud. And what he said at the end of the song cemented it. He said “You look so beautiful, Merry, he would have been so proud of you”.
I don’t know, to this day, what made that boy make a complete turnaround the day I walked into class, muted with grief, taking his taunts in silence rather than firing back a sharp reply, or showing any reaction at all. But when the first of what was to be many depressive periods descended over me, he was there. He was unable to fill the void that had opened within me, but his quietly understanding companionship was enough to make me feel a little less alone.
Graduation came, in June of 2001. It was a beautiful day, but I suppose you knew that. I was so full of emotion. Trepidation, anticipation, joy, anger, and sorrow. Sandwiched between Becky and the boy. Two people who had volunteered themselves as crutches, guiding me through the two years since your death. Crying shoulders, listening ears. A soul sister and a boy who offered his strong arms as shelter from the world around me and contained the grief within. Each holding a hand within their own, each knowing when a reassuring squeeze was needed. I silently, desperately, begged to whatever existed above me to send me a sign that you could see me, that you were still, as always, with me. A bird flew overhead, chirping as it landed in the grass at my feet and looked up at us. Becky nudged me, whispering “Look, Merry, he’s here…” But she hadn’t needed to get my attention, my gaze was locked on the bird mere inches away from my feet. A little wren.
My little wren…that’s what you had always called me. There was nothing about me that was little, delicate, or beautiful…but you’d always made me feel like the most beautiful girl in the world.
There is a picture of me, taken moments after I received my diploma, a smile on my face. It looks like a smile of joy, and it is…but it is also one of relief, because that little bird had flown overhead as I walked, chirping happily before flying away.
Half a life, yet I still miss you sometimes, so much. But I know, that wherever we go when we die, you can see and understand *how* I miss you…as my best friend. I am so very blessed to be in love with a wonderful man who is not only my best friend, but my fiance as well. I am even more lucky to have such a wonderful man who understands that me still missing you from time to time is no reflection on my love for him, but merely me missing someone who was an amazing beacon of light and joy during a time in my life when it seemed like my surroundings were very dark indeed. Because there is no comparison.
I loved you…oh, how I loved you. I loved you with the zeal and passion that only a teenager in love can exude. But you ‘got’ me. In a way that very, very few people could, and we had an amazing, abiding friendship that was so beautiful that it sometimes outshone the other aspects of our time together. The Mister is…well, he’s very special to me. He is the only partner who did not react to any mention of you with jealousy…on the contrary, he encouraged me to talk about you. I loved telling him about all our youthful antics, and I still remember one day, when our relationship was still in a newish stage, telling him of how hellish 13-15 (years) was, and how, had it not been for you, for the friendship we had, that I would probably not be alive. And he didn’t get jealous of a dead man. You want to know what he said? “Wish I could thank him”.
Wish I could thank him.
He sometimes says I don’t remember all the nice things he says to me…but I do. You laid the foundation for me to understand that I was worth loving, and he just went right in and reinforced it.
Thank you for encouraging me to sing, for cheering me on when it was hard to see the way to go, for supporting me in all I endeavored to do, for showing me that love existed, that love and friendship are vital companions, and that while love can change its face over time, true friendship is always the same, always constant, and never dies, transcending even death. Thank you, for planting the little seed in my heart that enabled me to always hold out hope that love was not just a fallacy written by the many, that it could and would exist even when everything said it had gone away.
Today, it has been 15 years since you died. In that time, I have loved and lost, then found love once again, in a man who is also my best friend. I have grown, and learned many lessons, quite a few of them the hard way. You always did call me stubborn… And I think, my dear, my kindred spirit, it is time to acknowledge out loud what I have known for several years now, that I have finally let you go. I am better for having known you, and even in my darkest hours, I strove to be the kind of person you would be proud of, the person you always told me I am, the person you always believed me to be. I let go of the romantic aspect of ‘us’ long ago. Rest well, my beloved friend…heaven knows watching over someone like me, you’ve definitely earned it. I’m okay. I’ve been okay for a while now. I will continue to be okay. I can acknowledge that I have let it go.
But I will never, ever forget you.
PS. Keep taking good care of her for me.