I NEVER DID get your homemade burrito recipe or convince you to reconsider “30 Rock.” As I write this, my Pomeranian Thomas is sprawled alongside me, asleep on his back. I’ve had him three years and occasionally tell him stories about you and pretend he understands. I wonder what you’d think of him.
I wonder what you’d think about almost everything.
Shortly after the search and rescue team found your body, your accountant called and said she’d had her aromatherapist blend a special floral concoction for me. She said it calmed her when her father died. I couldn’t help but think, “Did you like your dad?” Nothing short of ether might have soothed me, but it’s unlikely your accountant’s aromatherapist had a batch on hand.
One of your friends emailed me to note the starlings were singing where your body was found. I was too devastated to explain why we didn’t want you conscious on impact, that if you could hear the starlings, it probably meant you were lucid and knew you were about to die. You and I had discussed at length all that raced through your mind ten years prior, when the grizzly mauled you nearly to death. I couldn’t stand that you might have undergone this horror twice. You fell one thousand feet this time and usually a person’s lungs collapse and he asphyxiates before impact, unaware of impending death. You’d always defied the odds, but this once, I wanted you to be the norm.
Was any of it worth it? What the hell were you and I thinking?
The worst fight we had that last year was when I said (okay, yelled), “You’re not Sir Edmund Hillary. You’re not going to discover anything new and you’re risking your life again and again for no valid reason.” And you replied, as you always did, that your climbing photos looked more dangerous to me because I wasn’t a climber. And while that last part was undoubtedly true, I’d retort you’d gotten used to being ten thousand feet above sea level and that I trusted your judgment implicitly, but that no amount of experience or salience could trump loose rock.
It was loose rock that killed you and I’ve never wanted to be more wrong about anything in my life.
You went missing and died four years ago this week. I hate the word “acceptance” because it sounds like still more aromatherapy, starling-singing bullshit, but I have gotten used to your absence. Out of necessity, more than anything. For a long time, I missed even the things I didn’t like about you. The way you’d say you were “just tired” when you were clearly depressed or how your fear of rejection kept you tethered to that crappy day job, despite your massive intellect. All of it was so frustrating when you were alive, but because it was part of you, it became almost sacred after you died. And I know you’d find that amusing, that you had to cast off this mortal coil to sway my views about things we’d rehashed so many times.
Mostly, though, I remember your wonderfulness and your complexity. How you kept Dad calm that last summer when Mom was in the hospital, never rolling your eyes at his groan-inducing jokes. How you made Mom laugh, despite the fact she was hooked up to an IV and her prognosis was then uncertain. How you always took down the garbage and recycling, whether I asked you to or not. How I’d say, “Arms!” and you’d wrap your arms around me and even if your physique hadn’t seemed etched from marble, I would’ve felt safe and loved. And I still laugh that we took a break from painting my living room and had sex on the drop cloths before we’d even hung the curtains, hoping the 2:00 a.m. darkness shielded us from the gaze of late night strollers or random pervs. (Though, I suppose, one could say we were the pervs here.)
I knew you were dead.
During the search, seemingly the entire planet called, emailed or texted me about you. All of us loved you so goddamned much that just the thought something had gone awry again set off tremors throughout your vast social circles. You told me that when you were hospitalized after the bear attack, you could feel everyone’s good wishes and prayers. So I urged everyone to think encouraging thoughts, to pray, light candles–whatever was in the scope of their beliefs–in the hope you might sense it. When I wrote about you publicly, I framed things in a resolutely positive light, because I knew if anyone thought–even subconsciously–they were looking for your body instead of for you, it would impede the search.
Then I would call Mom and cry, “I can’t hear him in my head. I can’t hear him in my head.” I could always hear you in my head. You yourself joked about it, that I could penetrate your skull but you never knew what the hell I was thinking. Both of us thought my CFIDS-compromised immune system would kill me first and that you would outlive me. I’ve kept a journal since I was ten and you wanted to inherit the boxes of notebooks perched in my bedroom closet. I agreed and you laughed and said you would finally crack my code, but only after I died.
Two weeks after your funeral, I started bleeding unabatedly. When I visited my OB-GYN, I realized I had to update my forms. What do you do when your “In Case of Emergency” person can no longer be contacted? Instead of giving a new name, I was tempted to leave it blank. Like, really, what was the worst that could happen? The emergency had already found us.
I wore the skull ring you gave me to my doctor’s appointment last week. There have been complications lately and I had to have more blood work and the ring made me feel safe and close to you. Which is a bit of a paradox, because it turned out the last thing you were was safe. I wear the garnet ring you gave me when I’m onstage at events. I wear it for luck, and that’s a paradox, too, because if you’d been lucky, you’d still be here.
I no longer peek furtively at the door when I do events. I’m glad the readings you attended were sold out, though you were always supportive no matter what. You would’ve gotten a kick out of last month’s show: we had a lively, full house and it was one of my best. But it wasn’t until I got home that I realized I hadn’t thought of you all night. I didn’t search for your blue eyes and blonde grey hair and afterwards I laughed with my friends while sipping my house-comped cranberry and soda.
And for the first time, I wasn’t sad I hadn’t thought of you. I’ve even been dating again and actually enjoying it. I think that would make you happy, though we both know that has to be beside the point now.
It’s 3:00 a.m. and in the morning, Mom, Dad and I will light candles for you as we do each year on the day your body was found. I keep looking at all our photos. We were so fucking young when we met and soon I’ll be five years older than you. Oh, sweetheart.
I don’t know if you hear any of this. Are you merely ash and bone now? Do you exist in a different realm? Is it true that matter converts to energy? And if so, why would an ethereal being still care what happens on earth?
It crushes me you might be gone. But while I’m here, part of you is, too.
Somehow we’ll figure out the rest.