How was I the last to know?
I must have been so engulfed in the sleepless nights of a two month old that I missed the memorial Facebook posts and mournful tributes to your life.
There were thousands of miles and year’s worth of living between us, but after hearing of your passing almost a year to the day later, I was overwhelmed with emotion. The forceful tears that followed were the kind I would have expected in grieving the loss of a close friend or relative rather than an old high school acquaintance I hardly knew. I’d gather my composure and hours later I’d lose it all over again.
It continued this way for days and I kept asking myself why I felt so strongly. Was it simply because you were far too young to leave this world? Was I grieving the loss of what your brilliant mind would have gifted society had you stayed? Maybe it was just too poignant a reminder of the impermanence of life — how could you be just fine one month, and gone the next? I was devastated for the grief of your family and loved ones.
But then I realized that maybe it was OK for me to simply mourn the loss of you. That maybe some people just touch our lives in ways we may never fully comprehend.
We met on the first day of sixth grade where the four separate area elementary schools combined into one middle school — an unfamiliar place surrounded by strange faces. You sat down at my table in art class along with a friend of yours and introduced yourself. I remember feeling comforted by your confidence and your friendly freckled face. You had cartoon-like jet black hair combed to one side, a chipmunk-cheeked grin revealing a perfect row of bright white teeth, and you spoke with a baritone eloquence that was far beyond your years. I remember this in detail because you were different — you were kind to me when many others weren’t. You didn’t bury yourself in your familiar world and you seemed unfazed by the negative opinions of others. An old soul; a free spirit, perhaps.
I immediately admired you for these qualities that were completely uncharacteristic of me. I wished I could brave the cruel world of adolescence with the same fearlessness you seemed to possess.
A poem you wrote and read aloud in eighth grade English was my first glimpse into your creative exploits. The lyrical fluidity of your words evoked such powerful emotion and sparked in me a desire to tackle the art of prose, though I never really attempted until much later in life.
You were a walking oxymoron. It was as if any darkness you carried you released through your art and your morose sense of humor, leaving you light and free. You exuded an honesty that was often mistaken for arrogance, but anyone paying attention could see the difference. I pitied those who dared enter into a debate with you. Your strong convictions and calm, quick-witted comebacks were a deadly combination, leading many to explode in their own frustration and left standing speechless. You didn’t filter your contempt for ignorance or apathy. You were judgmental, but in a way that a lack of hypocrisy makes judgement acceptable. What you expected from everyone else, you demanded from yourself tenfold.
Before graduation we each submitted quotes that were to appear beneath our senior yearbook photos, and I still find it amusing that the editorial staff let yours slip in:
“Have fun pumping gas Class of 2004.”
I think the only people that were upset by it were the ones who feared you were right. The rest of us took it as a challenge that we’d better make something of our lives and prove you wrong.
We had no contact the first few years following graduation, but then, by the grace of social media, high-school classmates around the world were connected once again and calling each other “friends”.
One day, an abstract digital illustration of my face appeared on my timeline with the caption “But, I don’t dance like you dance.” You said you had been playing around with a drawing app on your computer and pulled a few random profile pictures to experiment with. It was an outside view of my likeness I’d never seen before, and I cherished it in a way.
We struck up a conversation when you wrote a post about the TV show Gilmore Girls and how the writing was so underrated. I was ecstatic that there was someone out there who appreciated the script as much as I did, and who also rejected the notion that it was just a cheesy 90s sitcom about a teen girl and her mom. How could they not see that it was so much more than that? How could the wordsmithing and the clever literary references be lost on so many? I gained even more admiration for you through this ridiculous commonality.
You sent me some YouTube videos of songs you’d written and a PDF of one of your books, but it wasn’t one you ended up publishing. I tried reading it but I couldn’t get through it. It was far too explicit and violent for me to stomach, which speaks both to my own fears and limitations as well as your imagination and elaborately descriptive writing.
We occasionally kept up with each other’s random musings on Facebook and I enjoyed reading your religious and political commentary with others. Though I often disagreed with your viewpoints, it was clear that you held society to a high moral standard and were all-too-often disappointed. I appreciated that you remained as steadfast and unwavering in your convictions as you’d always been, and I purposefully (sheepishly maybe) avoided the self-sabotage of openly countering one of your positions.
And then one day, you faded away — from my news feed; from this world — and I didn’t even know.
Because we all have our own lives with people and places and things that are so in-our-face that we become temporarily blind to everything outside of our immediate reach. There are jobs and there are kids and bills and housework and we’re all just trudging along trying to stay sane while still maintaining some control of our own lives and our own self-worth.
But how hard your absence hit me showed me something.
We aren’t all just moving through this life like ants marching. We make stops at various intervals; we share space with one another to different degrees and learn from each other, making marks and planting seeds. From your presence in my life I gathered small insights into my own creative desires, proof of concept that opposing ideas can and should respectfully coexist, and a basic foundation of the importance of being true to yourself, making the most of your life, experimenting, and always trying to be better. From your absence, I discovered a profound truth about the interconnectedness of humanity, and that it’s possible to take comfort in one’s existence on earth even if they aren’t directly in sight, or part of our everyday world.
You didn’t believe in God — you made that clear in many of your ramblings — and the part of me that refuses to believe in a Godless Universe struggles to understand what that means for you, and desperately hopes you were wrong. I choose to believe that your spirit is still out there, being a smart-ass, playing guitar and writing poetry and sending inspiration down to all who cared for you.
“But, I don’t dance like you dance.”
I’ll never know what it meant because I never took the time to ask.
But you were right — I don’t dance like you danced, and I doubt that many do. You were truly one of a kind.
May you Rest in Peace, B.M.S.