One of Ours
You should be here, now, and I should be telling you this to your face. But it’s too late for that now. And knowing how we both are, doing so probably would have made us both, well, let’s just say it probably would have been a little awkward. We joked around, and we had some interesting conversations, but we both know that given our strong personalities, a serious moment like that? Neither one of us would have probably known what to say. I imagine there’d have been a fair amount of looking around, at the floor, some uncomfortable jokes and probably some nervous smoking. I wish you were here so I could tell you, but I’ll have to write it, and hope my words will reach you. I believe you’ll hear them.
We didn’t know each other very well, and it’s not like we were great friends, or spent Quality Time together confiding our secrets to each other. Hell, there were times we saw each other and didn’t even say hello. I remember you passing me by once, and not turning around after I’d said hello. Maybe you didn’t hear me. But I am stubborn and take everything way too personally, and didn’t consider that possibility. Instead I silently called you names and let insecurities fill my mind with those same nagging questions most insecure people know. What did I do? Why is he mad at me? Sometimes I assumed you didn’t like me, so instinctively copped a defensive attitude toward you. I can’t remember, but we must have annoyed each other, or had a strained moment at some point.
One night you made a point to come through the crowd and tell me you were sorry about my dad. I have to admit that surprised me. I didn’t think you cared. Later, when the fog of grief started to clear a little, I calmed down and could see more clearly. I realize now, as I did then, that I wasn’t giving you any credit. Wasn’t looking past the surface, or acknowledging your humanity. I wasn’t looking behind your immediate actions to try and understand you at all. And I felt guilty. I still feel guilty.
Remember going out back with S. for a smoke, and the hard times we gave him? We had some good conversations back then, especially teasing S. about being so young and not having had his first Life Event yet. (We were having too much fun to come up with a better name at the time.) I can see you telling him something would happen in the next couple years that would hit him like he never expected, throw his world into disarray and make him doubt most of what he ever believed or reevaluate his life, like it does to all of us. He hadn’t experienced anything like that yet. Then, Monday night, the call came. Everyone was just finding out and would be headed down if they weren’t already there, all of us going to absorb the shock together, as though that would ease the sadness, the loss we all felt. As though anything ever does. Or ever could.
I was thinking about those conversations on the way down, trying not to cry, wondering why I didn’t want to cry in front of anyone. I imagined everyone there, how we’d all be affected, and it occurred to me that your death could be that first Life Event for him. I told him that – and that I thought you’d like that, or at least get a kick out of it. It made us both smile, at least for a minute.
No, I didn’t know you very well, but I saw a lot more in you that I ever let on. I thought about talking to you – really talking to you, not just dancing on surfaces or joking around – but didn’t know how you’d respond, if you’d laugh or look at me like I was crazy. I keep a lot of people at a safe distance away so I don’t get hurt if they don’t like me – you were one of those people. When you seemed indifferent to me or anyone, I wondered if maybe you were like me in that regard. You had a big heart, and a sometimes tough exterior, and that intrigued me. I wanted to talk to you, see what you were about, what was behind that. But I couldn’t get past this need for acceptance, and the fear of rejection, and just kept my distance as usual. There’s so much about others we just don’t know, even those close to us. So often we don’t look past the obvious, what’s right in front of us, and try to really understand what is going on in a person’s life. It is easier to be quick to judge or to dismiss someone than to look deep enough in to understand, to empathize. And we fail to recognize all the good in others, or simply don’t take time to compliment someone.
I saw so much in you and am sorry I never said anything to you. So I’ll tell you know, and hope that wherever you are, you’ll know.
You did take time to compliment others, and to encourage others. And when you encouraged me to do karaoke without the backup vocals, I knew you meant it. You wouldn’t say something like that to me that you didn’t mean. You had your opinions and were your own person and didn’t hide who you were because you didn’t care if anyone didn’t like it. I always admired that in you. Frankly, I envied you for it. You always sang positive, upbeat, encouraging songs at karaoke. Songs about respect, about love, and patriotic songs. And when I’d hear your voice singing those words, I believe that was your true self, your heart, the sensitive side of you that you often kept to yourself. But I think we all saw that part of you anyway. You were always trying to bring people together, planning some outing or another, just trying to get everyone together to have a good time. And you were also always the one organizing a benefit, or doing a fundraiser for some charity. I really admired that in you, and will always regret that I never took the time to tell you that.
When E. got the call Monday night and told me, tears rushed to my eyes, and they’ve kept coming, off and on all week, as they do. I don’t recall ever being rude or flat out bitchy to you (and if I ever was, I’m truly sorry), and sure, I was nice to you, we got along and all, but I regret that I wasn’t nicer to you. Nice is good and fine and yada yada, but how much of an effort does it take to give a little extra, to say something nice to someone, rather than just thinking it to yourself?
You knew so many people and had a ton of friends, that was obvious, but I guess I never really knew just how much you meant to people until now. You see people every day, or every week, and you just expect that they’ll always be there. You know the inevitable could happen, know that we all take people for granted, but imagine that it won’t happen, at least not now. Not today. And then it does. I’ve seen this week more than ever what you were, what we will all miss now that you’re gone. You were so many things to so many people, and touched everyone in some way or another. I heard an old favorite song yesterday that made me think of you, and of what you were to everyone. Natalie Merchant wrote it in memory of River Phoenix after his sudden death years ago, and though part of expresses her anger at the media for picking apart his life as they do, with no respect to those mourning their loss, it is also a tribute to him and who he was. When I heard it this week I thought of all the people who miss you already, and it just kept playing in my head, because it says it so well. I’ll say goodbye to you with that now, and wish that you rest in peace, my friend. You will be missed.
With candles, with flowers, you were
One of ours