The last piece I wrote was your eulogy. I stopped writing when I got too sad. I used to write about my father’s death until I fell in love with a girl who said, “I don’t do dead parents.” So I stopped doing dead parents because I wanted her to love me more than I wanted to love the broken parts of myself.
But sad is not a broken part of me.
I keep your eulogy printed in Times New Roman in the hatch drawer of my desk. It’s just as ragged as the day I unfolded it from my black dress pocket. It was 90 degrees, how can we hold the whole service graveside, they said, but your parents insisted. And I understood then but didn’t have the words. That walls would have constricted our sadness, that we needed space to pour out and break like the clouds on a late summer Maryland day. We swelled in the humidity, in our shock, on the blacktop in that backyard on Main Street where we spent many a debaucherous night in 1999. At the shiva, at the memorial, at the afterparty and the after-after party because we had all come to town for a wedding. We had nowhere to go, nowhere to put this shellshock.
Your laughter was infectious. I have never loved to make anyone laugh more. Big belly gulps of air until we cried and we didn’t even know it wouldn’t last that long. Twenty-two years isn’t enough. Love never used to feel like enough, but I’ve learned to savor it, to suck the marrow out. Otherwise, it will slip away, it will burn out and we are left with nostalgia. And I cannot live backwards.
And we said we would be better after you were gone, we said we would bridge the space between our zip codes and I swore I would answer. Until I saw your father’s name on my screen and I couldn’t, and I couldn’t write to your fiancée and I couldn’t talk about it. (I still don’t. Talk about it.) You would always answer, I talked to you every day for years.
Grief is the blank space, the this number has been disconnected, it peppers the air that we will one day become.
It was May and I was walking to the subway, headphones on, volume up. And there was your fiancée on the screen. You were getting married in 4 days. She was calling about dresses, she was calling about dinner, she was calling about rehearsal. I fumbled to switch the audio back to my phone SORRY, GIVE ME A MINUTE. She was calling to tell me to call everyone because Mitch didn’t wake up, Mitch died and I had never heard a more sick joke. But when I called back, she wasn’t laughing. I dropped on the curb of Court Street at 8:30 in the morning and the primordial sound I made came from the place inside me that only breaks in case of emergency. People stared at the contents of my backpack that had spilled onto the sidewalk. The landscaper asked if I was OK, a woman with a stroller made a U-turn to me and I didn’t move. Not until a small figure with kind eyes emerged from urgent care and handed me a tissue. She put her hand on top of my hand and prayed to Jesus to keep me safe and I stood up, walked to school, and gave a group presentation on maternal morbidity.
We drove South that night, the sky bruised purple and orange, to the tomb that is my childhood home. The house my mother will not leave. It is a ghost town. She has filled it with her colorful photographs of flowers and bees and I can still hear my father’s keys hitting the counter when he got home long after we were in bed. I felt my stare harden as we wound up the hill next to the field and the community garden and the old white country house that tells us we haven’t gone too far.
Pulling up this hill is the same road I used to climb in my beige Toyota Camry singing at the top of my lungs, come on fucker, don’t be shy. Driving dad’s Explorer to the high school parking lot to practice parallel parking. I have been in the city so long that I forget how much of 16 happens in a car.
At 16 we drove around just to listen to Method Man. We drove with nowhere to go, we crashed your neighbors’ parties, you snuck us into Merriweather Post Pavilion. You hit on my friends. We danced our faces off. I came out to you and I wasn’t scared. You didn’t care. We tried to walk through the drive-through and failed. We drained our parents’ vodka bottles and filled them with water. We ate bad suburban Chinese food. We smoked Parliament Lights inside the Silver Diner before it was banned. I threw a party when my parents were away. My dad found a lingering cigar wrapper. I blamed you. I didn’t get in trouble. You played with the paper mache fruit in my kitchen. My dad came home and watched Seinfeld with us. We were camp counselors at rival establishments. We wrote letters, you wrote me raps. You and the girl who would officiate your funeral sent my brother an 8-page letter written in marker. You wore big chains and sideways visors and I laughed at you until my sides hurt. Everyone loved you. We got high in my parents’ basement. Your brother got weird. You got a girlfriend. To raise money for breast cancer, you ate a stick of butter in under a minute. You went away to college. We texted three word-messages on our flip phones. You came back. I didn’t know who I was. You came to see me in “The Vagina Monologues.” I got weird. I got a girlfriend. We stopped talking every day. You quit smoking. My father died. Your father called. I packed your letters when I moved to New York. My entire apartment fit into one of your bathrooms in Baltimore. You said the three best inventions in life were: air conditioning, iPhone, birth control. I quit my job. You got promoted. You met the love of your life. You roasted a Turducken, you pickled everything. You officiated my wedding. I went to grad school for the second time. We put your Save the Date on our fridge, we shopped for silver dresses. The phone rang.
I keep my sad wrapped in velvet. It’s easier to be angry, to burn red, run hot. That is something we humans understand. But I’m not angry. You know this. I see you everywhere. I stopped calling your phone. Part of me knows you are watching. Part of me laughs at the myths we create to beat on. That I have to let your light live, even if I don’t forgive you for leaving. You would tell me to let it go. We would fall down laughing and I’d remember you left this earth better than you found it.