Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Goodbye

Before you read, I suggest that you click over here and here to get the back story of this post. In a nutshell, I had found out last August that a boy that I had been friends with since we were 6 years old had inoperable cancer. As kids growing up together, we were good friends in a brother/sisterly kind of way. We reconnected just long enough to reminisce about the days when we were children, to make each other laugh, and then, just months later, he passed away. He was, above all, my friend. I miss him terribly.



The finger poised over the keyboard beings to shake.

"I can't DO THIS," I tweet a friend, bursting into sobs. "It's like losing him all over again. I CAN'T."

Fat tears roll down my cheeks, dripping my shirt in a salty stream as I stare at the ceiling, unable to even look at my monitor. His page; the page that held photos of him smiling at the world, goofy messages that we had sent, that held HIM, stare back at me, unblinking.

Only the voice isn't him anymore, because he is dead.

I had known that he was dying months ago, and in a wild moment of throwing all reason to the wind, I had written that I wanted to be a support and a friend because while I knew I couldn't do anything else for him, if making him laugh from afar helped, then I would.

Boy, did we laugh. Full on belly laughs that had me gasping for air and fighting to type coherent responses on my iPod, as my teenager giggled in the next room.

Many people don't understand why his death has been so painful for me, but in those warm fall days, I confessed to him in our facebook messages a secret that none of our close friends knew; something that had left an indelible mark on me, after which I was never the same.

One warm June day in 1991, I received a call. One of THOSE calls.

A call that brought me to my knees.

In high school Roger and I had a mutual friend; a popular, talented, smart, funny boy who had become my after school sidekick. We sipped Pepsi and waited for our parents to finish up work to catch rides home, had many of the same classes, and left goofy notes for each other. For me, boys were so much easier to get along with than the girls. Don't get me wrong-we had known each other since we were little kids, and everything was completely platonic in a brother/sister type of way. Boys were just easier to be friends with because there was no competition, snide comments, or drama. A conversation would go like this,

Me: "Hey, I got contact lenses."
Him: "Cool. Now I can't call you four eyes. Wanna snack?"

With some of the girls it would be more like:

Me: "Hey I got contact lenses."
Her: "Oh, nice." (behind my back "she thinks she's so hot. I can't stand her. I'm going to get contacts and then you all make sure to compliment me. Let's invite her to meet us in the foyer at lunch but go downtown instead.")

Graduation came, we all went our separate ways, but Steven and I continued to write letters to each other. One day in the spring a letter arrived, in which he joked that his psychology major friend had analyzed him and came to one conclusion; he was crazy and needed to be shot. I laughed and thought he was being kind of silly.

He shot himself a month later.

I can't really describe the horror you feel once you realize that there was a sign, that a friend of yours was in so much pain that they wanted to end their life, and you missed it. Bit by bit, I fell apart. College classes were dropped because I couldn't concentrate. Depressed, I stuffed my feelings and stopped talking. I threw myself into work, trying to forget but the reality is, I never did. For weeks, months, years later, I blamed myself for his death. If I had just seen the sign, if I had known, perhaps I could have saved him.

I should've known. I should've saved him. He never even said goodbye.

I let him die.

The self loathing and guilt can consume you if you let it.

Instead, I have spent my entire adult life working with young, troubled boys as a foster parent and in schools. Perhaps in some way, even subconsciously, trying to vicariously save the soul that slipped through my fingers all those years ago.

When the email came with news of Roger's illness, I stared hard out the window. This time, I resolved, I'll be damned if I'd let another friend go without a goodbye.

A full month to the day after Roger died, I could finally make myself dig deep enough to write about childhood memories that I have always cherished, but had never really talked about. In my naivety I posted a link to his wall, thinking that others would enjoy my words and celebrate what a wonderful person and friend he was.

I was wrong. Oh, so horribly, deeply, wrong.

Instead, my words ignited a firestorm of anger and hate that threatened to engulf me in the midst of Christmas preparations. How DARE I? Stuff those feelings and those memories back where they belong, because you have no right to be sharing them, the words screamed. For a time, a virtual bulls-eye was painted on me, and this space.

This space I love, holds much that is precious to me, and is MINE.

My finger hovers over the button again. Blocking, and leaving, is the only way that I can see being able to attain the peace I deserve from the firestorm that has plagued my holiday thus far. I can't-no, I won't be in the line of fire, the target of a rage that isn't about me really, but that threatens to consume my thoughts on what is supposed to be the most peaceful time of year.

He never would have wanted this.

It's not him anymore Karen, he's dead.

He's gone.

GONE. Like Steven has been gone for 19 years.

The smooth plastic of the keyboard, a touch of the screen, whispered goodbye, the final click, and it is done.

Hands covering my face, I sit and sob quietly, lest someone hear and wonder what's wrong. I don't want to have to say it aloud. How do I explain how hard it is to leave a deceased friend's Facebook page, especially when for months that very page was your only link to them? How do I say that it feels as if bandages have been ripped off a wound, bloody and raw, that I had once thought was long healed over?

I know in my heart that deleting words doesn't really erase all traces of a friendship but as a writer, to whom words are her soul and breath and life, it feels utterly, breathtakingly, cruel.

A mountain of tissues grows beside me; a silent testament to my broken heart, when a small window pops up on the screen.

Another childhood friend, one whom I haven't talked to in almost 10 years, once my best friend in elementary school, is feeling her loss as keenly as I am and before I know it there we are; reminiscing about days gone by, comforting each other with stories and making each other smile through our tears.

"Love you," I type. There is no question. No hesitation. If she was in the room, I would throw my arms around her with wild abandon.

"Love you too, " is the reply.

Later on I step out on the back porch to look at the stars and take a deep breath. The lights of Nanaimo twinkle across the strait like a cluster of stars, winking merrily. As I raise my eyes to the heavens, a shooting star streaks across the sky, leaving a trail of light and at that moment, I realize something.

They may be gone, but Roger and Steven still live on in all the memories of the many childhood friends right on my Facebook page that are waiting, right there, for me to chat with. English classes, Friday night pizza and movies, laughter, love, friendship, crazy stunts, live on in every single one of them.

The night is cold and I shiver, wrapping a sweater around me before I turn back into the warm house. The Georgia Strait is calm, and now, finally, my heart is calm too. Peaceful.

Despite the pain, the re-visiting of that ugly wound, Roger gave me the most heartfelt gift of all.

He said goodbye.




STAR-STRUCK BOKEH

Photo credit: Neal Fowler

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