The evening plan had been to finish up some chinese food left over from last night’s study session and then get back to the thesis and some other papers and projects that have kept me away from here for so long. The last few days had been a maddening bout of regression analyses on historic confidence levels of congress, interacting terms and sometimes even a quadratic, hoping to make sense of something in the data available.
As I started to sit up from the couch to head to my desk I saw an email come up on my phone, and just before the notification screen went dark it showed me the name. “Ben?” I thought, “haven’t seen him since high school…I wonder if he’s in town or something. That’d be nice…”
But Ben’s news was terrible. Our friend, Chris, had been killed in an Avalanche in Washington just a few hours before. Ben had found out about it while checking the weather report and looked in to it before contacting me and the rest of our old group from high school. We’d mostly drifted, the time and the distance coming between us, as is so common. Life I guess. But sometimes things really get smashed into perspective, don’t they? Shit, in the face of this, who cares about the weather?
Fuck, that was hard news to hear. It’s the closest death to me yet, and even though we hadn’t seen each other in a few years, I took it much harder than I ever would have guessed. It sucked the breath right out of me and I sat there, motionless on the couch, the TV screen I was about to turn off still flickering images of something that now seemed about as irrelevant as the macroeconomic class I have in the morning. I didn’t know which one of the thoughts in my head to focus on, which one to pull out of the tazmanian devil whirling around in my mind to start processing.
I spent the next few hours on the memories, the bike trails, the backroads, the views from the roads on which we drove. They help. The upswells in my chest heaved unexpectedly and unpredictably though, and each time the tears started to dry I wondered if there would be more.
The room was cold, but I wrote a letter to his parents, feeling disconnected, far away and empty. Nothing sounded right, everything seemed trite or cliché, and despite the slap I had just endured, I couldn’t imagine what his family was going through. I know the smiles will come again, but somehow that seems a long way off now the world has a little less in it. Dammit…
I called friends from high school for whom I had phone numbers, and we talked, reminded each other that though the years and the miles had had their way with us, the past is still safely tucked in the fondness of memories, and that, too, is as good a reason to cherish someone as any. I told them the things I’d thought of over the years that I always meant to say at the next reunion, or under whatever circumstances it was that we’d see each other again. I always thought I’d get to tell Chris those things someday, perhaps in a log cabin somewhere, over a Jameson 12-year, or maybe under it. As we talked we all realized we had other phone calls to make.
Facebook lit up with thoughts, feelings and reactions. Mostly we were united in our bewilderment, and I couldn’t help but notice something on his facebook page that put a twist of satisfaction on my lips. Of the hundreds of posts on Chris’s facebook wall, not a single one failed to contain some element of pure excitement for just having KNOWN the guy. Comments like, “The heart and the smile are your tools. Thank you for teaching us how to use them,” and “thank you for all the good times! We’ll keep the shred alive for you!” rang of stoke and celebration, of awe and the amazing contentment of meeting one of those people whose smile doesn’t fade. Somewhere in that, I knew, I would need to find solace.
Now I stare into the dark of the East River and think about some of the exchanges I’d had with Chris over the years. Lights reflect off the water but I can’t seem to figure out where they’re coming from. We talked a lot about who we were and who we are becoming. About how we can steer this boat, because we’re perfectly capable of seeing where we’re fucking up along the way, if we want. When I think about Chris I am keenly aware that I recognize and know perfectly well which friendships I’ve had a hand in messing up along the way, and that I’ve let some of them go, focusing my energy on how I can better my life without depending on others, who have so often fallen short of my expectations. Were they too high? Was I hypocritical? Was I too chicken shit to admit it and fix it? Maybe.
High time to revisit that little character flaw, I’d say.
And now that it comes to it, I’m reminded of what he used to say when things got foggy and thick: “it’s gonna turn blue any minute!”
Yeah. I hope he’s right. But maybe it’s got nothing to do with hope. And that seems like the right attitude about now.
I couldn’t get images out of my head of an icy roar, of a murderous wave nature uses to maintain equilibrium. That’s all that matters to nature, really — heat transfer, and maybe gravity.
And I bet that mountain is real quiet now. Serene and beautiful, even. What a contrast.