Three years ago today, my parents picked me up from college. As if that were not proof enough that something had gone horribly wrong, my mother settled into the back seat with me, held me close, and whispered, tears in her eyes:
Honey, I’m so sorry. There’s been an accident—
and those few words brought my normal Monday crashing down (because, my friend, you died).
I wrapped myself in mother’s hugs and father’s prayers.
When I finally wiped off my cheeks and lifted my head from the dining room table, I had my parents take me back to school. I have chemistry in fifteen minutes, I told them. Please
take me back. My splintered psyche craved routine. They hesitated, wanted me to stay, told me I had every reason to skip class. I knew that. I did.
I went back anyway.
I arrived to class almost late. My friends had wandered the hall, searching for my consistently early presence. How unlike me to be late, they said. Are you alright?
I hugged them tight, tried not to cry on their shoulders as I explained.
We sat in the very back of the class, forsaking our spots in the third row for the anonymity of those dimly lit desks and chairs. Somehow, I think, I took notes. I don’t remember much from that class. My thoughts no longer distinguished themselves from this weight of unexpected, mind-numbing grief.
I shuffled down the stairs to talk to my professor after class. To my chagrin, the tears still had not stopped, merely paused: I won’t be here the rest of the week, I told him.
My friend died and—my voice caught in my throat. I breathed deep and tried to steady myself. And I’m going to Virginia for his funeral. Priya and Jo said they’ll take care of the notes—even in the midst of this mess, I tried to appear prepared, in control, on top of things. I wasn’t.
Priya waited for me, threw an arm around my shoulders, steadied me as we left the building.
I stumbled through the next few hours. I cried myself to sleep. When Wednesday found us driving south, I huddled in the backseat. Read. Wiped my eyes. Finished the book with a half-hearted sigh.
I recommend it to everyone, but I haven’t touched it since.
When Thursday rolled around, I couldn’t even sing. I stood there in that sacred building, leaning on my mother’s side, mouthing words to favorite hymns and wiping at my salt-stained cheeks, wishing I could do you justice with a semblance of joy and love of life. I wanted so badly to remember that boy I grew up with, the one I ran around this very church with, the one I read with, the one who woke up early when my family stayed over,
decided to make pancakes, and taught me how to use a griddle.
I think we were ten.
Instead, I watched people stand and share pieces of your eulogy. I hugged your family. We drove home. I didn’t even notice how shaken my brother was as we went through the motions of that week. Grief can be a selfish thing.
And as I stood in your own house just three short months ago and hugged your family again, I wondered what you’d think of how your mother and I cried our way down the highway, over the bridge, to the train station—all, of course, on what I call the wrong side of the road—and what, perhaps, you’d say if you could see the way this one girl became another sister to me, just as she had become yours.
I think you’d smile.
I stood in your kitchen and stared at the pictures on the shelves. Those words of blessing scripted on the frames around pictures of you and brothers and friends stick to my mind like blackened gum to city sidewalks. They haunt me on days like these, when I sit or cry or can only think of shaking my fist at the heavens and, as a friend once wrote, howling at the moon.
They comfort, somehow, those sweet words of blessing:
the tenderness of until we meet again, the hope that God holds us in the palm of his hand, even the tears that stung my eyes as I stared at those small words.
I miss you, but I’m doing well.