Death be not proud.
Today seems to be a day for introspection and reflection, so I guess I’m going to add my two cents on the topic.
All day I’ve been assaulted by memories of being in grade school. I remember the smell of the old building, the quirky places one could hide, the untouched places no one would dare trample, and the places we were not allowed to visit. I remember staining the tiles in the cafeteria with mustard and ketchup, being forced to eat all my food even after the ketchup lid fell off and dumped an entire bottle of the stuff over my entire plate. I remember how disgusting the trash cans became; I remember the lore of the food, the way the floor sloped. I remember how we jumped up to touch the bar of that old heater. I remember the checkered floor, the weird water fountains, the way the girls’ bathroom turned into an elevator when our imaginations were running wild.
Someone once told me that when you turn 25, you change. You begin to see things differently. It’s completely unexplainable and I didn’t quite understand it until one day, when I seemed to just wake up. I remember the moment very clearly: I was sitting on the roof over one of the downstairs units. The sun was setting and I was listening to Bap Kennedy’s Moonlight Kiss and suddenly, I felt old. Even though I hadn’t lived in Oklahoma in two years, just knowing that all the old landmarks were gone was devestating. There went one piece of my childhood. Elliott had been dead for about eight months or so, and he had embodied youth and vibrancy and so much of my past (and the past of just about everyone else I have ever known). Losing him was…there were no words then and there still are none. This is not something I have admitted to many people. In fact, I may have told exactly one person this, but I loved him. A lot. I feel silly admitting that since someone I have known since I was knee-high to a pig’s eye reads this. A few months before I went to Texas that year (2002), I had a conversation with some friends about love and boys and who our “back-ups” were. I said I didn’t have one but I still wanted it to be Elliott. He was, at the time, the only man I could feel safe around. And I hadn’t spoken to him in years.
But that aside, losing him became a large part of my entrance into adulthood. Everything is tainted by his death and shaded by Anthony’s. There are pictures of them in the ’94 yearbook. Pictures of them together. It is haunting and eerie and painful to see.
Death has always touched something in me. I find myself thinking about it. I write about it. The past four or five have been shadowed by death and loss and today was jarring. I never really knew JD, only knew of him through his mother and his sister, who was in my brother’s class. Life is fragile. All afternoon I have had hesitant moments of feeling out of control. Of feeling like everything was going to burst at the seams. Not from overwhelming grief but from the weight of death. Of course I am saddened. Of course I am concerned for his family, for his children. But it’s the weight of death in this that has grabbed me.
I still have those moments concerning Andrew. Here is a person I never met, never really knew anything about until his death, and yet sometimes I am so overwhelmed that I just cannot function. It is a groaning ache for his babies, who will never, ever have memories of their father. It is for his young, young fiancee. For his parents, his brothers. I lied to a lot of people when Andrew died because I couldn’t explain why I kept randomly bursting into tears. I told them that a brother of a friend died. I said it was a friend who lived “back east.”
Death is never easy. It is never fully understood. But there is beauty and life and knowledge in the passing of a loved one. We find strength in ourselves that we didn’t know existed. We find solace and comfort in the embrace of strangers and family alike. We find ourselves, in a strange way, when the grief numbs us enough to see beyond the blinders of day-to-day life.
And now that it’s six o’clock and the building is empty, I’m going to go home.