The People You Meet

Fridays now mark another week since Melinda’s husband died. It has been a month. Next weekend she and his family are going to spread his ashes in the Pacific.

I have spent more time with her in the last month than we’ve spent together in the last two or three years combined. It’s been hard for the obvious reasons, though we have also shared many laughs together. She and her husband had lived in that house for nearly six years and the two instances over the last month where I have stayed the night were the only times I did so. This is something I regret. All of my excuses for not doing so, not going out there more, are so stupid. I’m tired, it’s too far, traffic sucks, I’m enjoying stewing in my own misery. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Pointless, not real excuses, just bullshit. We didn’t see eye to eye on a number of things but he loved her; he treated her well and was a genuine, very funny guy. I should have spent more time with the both of them. Should have, should have, should have.

Last weekend was the memorial. It didn’t feel like one and I think that was the point.  I wish it had been a “real” funeral with a eulogy and an electronic organ because I needed the emotional release. We went to a park. She brought his ashes in a wooden box and every time I looked at it, I couldn’t believe he was in there. Melinda asked me, “Should I bring him?”

My counterpart, the other best friend, was so drunk he had to be driven back to the house. I suspect he may have been taking Xanax as well. I returned to the house early myself to lay down as I was completely drained, and found him passed out in the guest room where he had slid halfway off the bed and onto the floor. Prior to his consumption of half a bottle of whiskey, we talked extensively for the first time. We had met before, of course, but this was the only time we had reason to talk at length.

“I think he was tired of being responsible.  All his life, he had been the responsible one in his family.  He sent me that weird text a couple of weeks before he died.”

“He was supposed to go to my funeral. That was what I always imagined.”

“I should not be here. I should have died that night.”

“If you want to do something, do it. Whether that’s writing, making jewelry again, do it.”

“Instead of finding ten reasons not to do something, you should find ten reasons to do something.”

“You worry too much. You should worry less. I should probably worry more.”

The Other Best Friend, who takes photos of hot women for a living, figured me out in about two seconds and called me out. Impressive. He survived a ruptured aorta in a DUI car accident where he was the passenger.  It was a number of years ago now; I remember when it occurred and his survival was a question mark at the time. The more we talked, the more I recognized shades of survivor guilt and PTSD. Every time he stepped into my car, he did not want to put on the seat belt. He was wearing it when he was in the accident and it caused his ruptured aorta. Each time, “This is what nearly killed me!” I felt guilty pushing him to put it on anyway. When he was my passenger I drove very carefully, like he was bad luck.

Melinda did not like it when I drove him two blocks to the market and said that us together, “makes me very nervous.” I thought that perhaps she thinks he’s bad luck too, or, that the cancer survivor and the man who cheated death are just asking for trouble by sharing force fields. But she later told me he may have caused the accident himself by grabbing the steering wheel. That’s what the driver said happened. This exact thought crossed my mind at the time, but I wrote it off as my catastrophizing the situation. Clearly my instinct that he might be someone who would do something like that was accurate.

When I told him I’d had cancer, he didn’t say anything. He stared at me from across the dining room table.

“You had cancer?” he asked, as if he were checking to make sure he heard that correctly. I told him the abridged version of the story; I left out my own trauma and of course, Dr. Overinvolved. I mentioned that Melinda took me to my surgery; she was also the first person I called after I found out. He asked me multiple times if I was okay now, how many years it had been.  I skipped the vagaries of the tumor marker situation and told him that I am okay.  I believed it when I said it.  He asked me if it made me want to seize the day, to do everything, and of course it did not. It made me afraid of everything instead.

Being reckless, as he is, is not about “doing everything.” I need to find ten reasons to do something instead of ten reasons not to, but not because I have the same motivation. The Other Best Friend, because of his behavior, has more reason to think “this day might be my last” than I do, as did Melinda’s husband, who had ridden his bike home drunk before. I do not say that lightly, believe me. My takeaway from this conversation is that he is right; I should worry less.

 

A Death

When something terrible happens, something that surpasses my understanding of the world, I want to run to Dr. Overinvolved. I want to cry in his arms. I want him to touch me in all the ways I am not supposed to want him to touch me. He is darkness and death and infinity and trauma and every unanswered question I have about why terrible things happen. Why, and for what purpose?

***

“He was 41 for a month and three days.”

“I am not supposed to be looking for a place to bury my husband.”

“He’s been rejected from the body donation program because there’s too much trauma.”

“The Sheriff who knocked on my door at 4am was named Officer Grimm.”

“I can’t put him in the ground. He hates confined spaces.”

And so, it has been eight days, 15 hours, and 30 minutes since my best friend’s husband died in a terrible accident. I stayed with her the first two days. I gave everything I had physically and emotionally. I cleaned, sprinted down the street after wayward dogs, berated teenagers for smoking weed and drinking in full view of the neighbors, cleaned, cooked, shopped, cried, hugged, and opened her front door to a multitude of intimidating and articulate biker dudes in tears.

“I’ve done some bad things in my life, but I have been a good person overall.  I don’t understand why this happened.”

I said, “It’s not you. I know we like to think that if we are good people and try to treat people how we would like to be treated, things will be okay. But the world is chaotic; things happen that are far beyond our control and it’s so scary to realize that. You ARE a good, kind, loving person.”

She is.  She was the first person I called after I found out I had cancer. She drove me to my thyroidectomy. And so much more.  When you are kids in the neighborhood playing hide and seek, watching videos on MTV, and talking about the boys you have a crush on, you never imagine that 25 years later you will be holding that same friend as she screams in anguish over the loss of her husband.

On the two hour drive to her home, I stopped to get coffee. On my way out, a retirement-age woman handed me a flyer. It depicted Jesus wearing the crown of thorns and said, “When will the suffering end?”  We are not religious people. I nodded politely.

We go gingerly into day nine, with the date for his celebration of life set and his ashes cooling. We have photos, memories, and personal quirks to look back on and smile, and even amongst all those remembrances, it still doesn’t seem quite real.