When I was twenty years old, I lost my best friend.
It was unexpected. I won't call it an accident because people use that word too innocently. Calling something an accident gives it the justification of an excuse. In my book, his death should never be excused.
He always told me that his favorite sound in the world was hearing me laugh. Specifically when he was the cause of my laughter. I hated when he told me that. My favorite sound is the sound of my mother's car pulling into the driveway from when I was a child. His was so centered around me that I felt selfish admitting that my favorite sound had nothing to do with him. When he told me, I didn't believe him for a long time. He's just trying to be charming, I thought to myself. Until one day he said something...probably stupid...but made me laugh anyway. Once I reeled down from my laughter I looked at him to find him just staring at me. I had never been looked at that way before.
Someone told me that he will always survive through my memories. But I'm scared about forgetting. Nobody told me to remember those little moments because they were limited. It never dawned on me that those moments were numbered. If I knew, maybe I would have paid closer attention.
It's stupid and shouldn't matter, but I don't even remember the first moment we met. But then again I usually don't remember meeting most people. You don't know someone will be important in your life until later. First meetings are seldom notable until after the fact.
I do remember the first time we touched. It was just our hands. Palm to palm. Until our lips did what hands do.
We would go to fraternity parties and steal their alcohol to bring back to his dorm. While his roommate was at the library studying, we would chase the bottles of vodka with sloppy kisses and leftover cereal from the dining halls. He was never a good kisser, but I didn't care. And he knew it, but neither did he.
Today I graduated from college. I smiled in all the photos, but it felt wrong to do so. When everything was over, I sat in my bed, alone and looked through the photos. All of them had an empty space in them, just waiting for him to fill that spot. It was 3AM when I walked over to campus for the last time to the spot where we apparently first met. I was cold, still in my bra-less pajamas, my feet bare. I just laid down in the grass and closed my eyes. If you close your eyes and pretend hard enough, you can change your reality. So I did that. I pretended hard enough and he was there. He made me laugh and when I opened my eyes I wanted to find him looking back at me with that same look from years ago, but he was gone. The thing about pretending is that darkness becomes your crutch.
He didn't know what he wanted to do when he graduated. Does that make his death seem less tragic? That his future was never planned. That nothing was cut off? He didn't initiate something for his future for it to have ended before it was finished.
I don't know. Maybe it's naive, but maybe the tragedy lies in that I was supposed to be his future. Or rather we were supposed to be his future.
We never talked about it. You don't talk about that kind of stuff when you're twenty and in love. You just kind of roll with the punches. In reality our relationship would have probably ended at twenty-three as most do. Different cities perhaps. Different jobs. Different apartments. The world becomes so much more expansive when the bubble of higher education pops. The realistic part of me knows that we never would have survived it.
But that's not the reality that I have to deal with on a daily basis.
In my mind we were that forever couple. I imagine our first house together. Small and simple. I see the photo of us standing in front of the door, key in hand. His arm around my shoulders. We would have slept in a tent in the furniture-less living room the first night. Maybe make s'mores on the stove top and pretend that we were more adventurous then we really were.
His funeral was one of the worst days of my life. Shocker, I know. Maybe even worse than the day I found out that I had lost him. It was the first social event I had gone to without him since we started dating. It was instinct, but I kept turning my head to the right to communicate with him in some way. That was how it naturally was for us. Him on my right, me on his left. Don't know why. It just became our pattern.
That day was also the first day that I met his family. Divorced mother and father, his older brother and younger sister, and their dog, but the dog had to stay outside during the ceremony. I didn't cry during the funeral. I wish I did. Maybe it would have helped.
A week after his funeral I started going to one of those group therapy meetings. We all would go around in the circle and talk about the loss of our loved ones. I'm not even the youngest one in the group.
Last week, one woman turned forty. We had a meeting on her birthday and she actually came. We sang her happy birthday and got her a cake and everything. I still can't label the feeling of her choosing to spend her birthday with us. Part of me wants to cry from the loneliness of it all and part of me feels this insurmountable etching of hope. The day she found out I was graduating from college, she hugged me tight and told me that I had my entire life in front of me.
My entire life in front of me.
As if the past twenty-two years had meant nothing. As if the only two years I had with my best friend were non-existent. As if eternity only starts when the structure of education is taken away from you.
From the group I found out that she had never fallen in love until she was thirty-two. 32. Her and her husband got married two years later and he died six months into their marriage leaving her to spend her fortieth birthday with a group of grievers instead of her first and potentially only love.
32. Thirty-two years of not knowing what it's like to have someone hold you in their arms and for you to know that, that is what home feels like. Thirty-two years of going to bars with friends while always scanning the crowd for someone else. Thirty-two years of just wondering what love feels like. Holding on to that curiosity.
Yet I envy her.
Something happened to her between twenty-two and thirty-two that made her tell me that at twenty-two I have the entire life in front of me. I want to ask her what that is but I know she won't be able to tell me.
I hate going to events with other people.
My friends invite me to parties and dinners, but I decline. Never much of a social butterfly. Even in high school I only allowed myself to open up to a few people. It just felt better that way. Never had to force any conversation or laugh even though nothing funny was said.
Now I hate laughing when it isn't warranted.
He taught me that my laughter is worth something.
I still go out. To parties. To dinner. To events. I just do it alone.
It's part of the pretending. Taking photos alone. Distracting myself. Eventually closing my eyes and imagining what he would say. Where he would touch me. What he would pay attention to. What he would wear.
Probably that green shirt with his ripped jeans. He would bring his beige jacket, not for himself, but for me because he knew I would get cold at some point. It sounds sad, but I enjoy these manifested moments.
He didn't write a will because when you're twenty you don't think about that kind of stuff. You're on the cusp of the rest of your life, not the end of it. He did have a college bucket list. A lot of that list was for the both of us. He only shared it with me and he always used "we" when talking about fulfilling it.
It was cliche and silly, but he wanted to have sex in the back of the library bookstacks. After my last final I sat in the middle of the "Q" aisle. It was empty, no noise aside from some drunken cheers in the distance. I closed my eyes and pretended. Where his hands would roam. How we would whisper, giggle, kiss, touch...We were never that graceful as a couple and would probably get caught. I imagined pulling up my underwear in a haste to run through the aisles until we found the stairwell. It was an experience I wanted to look back on when I was older. I would wake up in the middle of the night, go to the kitchen to pour myself a glass of water and would just remember and smile. I would look out my window and imagine what he was doing in that very moment. Was he married and happy? Did he travel the world? Did he move back to his hometown? At that time, those fantasies never placed him in bed next to me.
I worry that one day I will convince myself that these fantasies are realities. That one day I will wake up in the middle of the night, go to the kitchen, pour myself a glass of water, and remember our passionate love-making in the bookstacks that never happened. But I'll still smile fondly on the false memory. I'll still look out at the window and pretend that he's sleeping in bed next to someone else. I'll pretend that he's alive and happy. That he found out what the entirety of his life in front of him would look like.
Tomorrow is apparently the first day of the rest of my life. The world in front of me. Endless possibilities. Well, I found out too early in life that possibilities do end. Entirety does not truly exist without a deadline.
I still laugh. When it is earned. My laughter is valuable. I know that now.
Those moments I have alone mean the world to me.
My experiences have taught me to grasp onto those memories that I never want to forget.
And I won't.
I promise him that.