I didn’t find out right away.
You’d think news that the boy you’d dated for like two years in high school had died would reach you the day of.
That there’d be a phone call from the family. Or that an old mutual friend would tell you about the funeral. Or that you’d just know. That you’d somehow feel it in your bones, or your soul, or your toes when someone you love that much dies.
But I didn’t find out until two weeks later.
My friend Donell and I were chatting on the phone, while I sat on my dorm bed, and he brought it up in the most nonchalant way you can picture. He brought it up like he was going to tell me what he ate for dinner.
“Did you hear about Bob?”
I will forever regret what I said next. The sentences sting my memory and leave a bitter taste in my mouth when I remember them. It’s a regret I can never repair.
“No. What? That’s he’s coming to visit or something? I don’t even care.”
It haunts me. And, it was the very next moment that I changed into who I am today. That I gained clarity about life, and death and pain.
But when I spoke those sentences, even though it was just seconds away, I was still too young to understand.
“Oh. You haven’t heard? Oh. Well, I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this Crystal, but, um Bob died.”
A shock like that feels like someone has taken a metal bat to the back of your knee caps and then dropped you in an ice tank.
I didn’t believe it. I called other friends, but they confirmed it was true. Thinking about it all now, remembering the details, makes my core ache.
On that day though, the wound was too fresh, too bloody, to ache. Instead, I just fell to the icy tile floor and lost it.
I had never before or since dropped to the ground with such force. It was as if an airplane had flown through my ceiling and actually pushed me to the earth. I was sick and sore and sad and in shock and losing my mind simultaneously.
And for some reason, I thought I’d get over it by Monday.
I thought it was a fleeting sadness.
I don’t know why I thought that, but I remember thinking it.
That death, of that person, who held that place in my heart, was not fleeting though. It consumed my thoughts for a long time after that day. I questioned why I was alive, but he wasn’t. I questioned why anybody anywhere was alive, but he wasn’t. I chastised myself for not trying harder for the ever elusive “us.” I begged God to let him into heaven.
And I couldn’t understand why other people couldn’t understand. Why they’d say the most awful things when I brought it up, like “Oh. I don’t get upset when people die” or “Oh, what a waste” or, just “Oh.”
I wanted to talk about it. And him. And death.
But people hate that kind of talk. They snuff it out like a house fire or baby’s cry.
I still don’t understand that.
And I’m still not over it. There may be days, or even weeks that align where I’m not sad. Where I can mention him in my nightly prayers without crying or when I can tell a story about him without my heart stopping for a second.
But other days. Other weeks.
I feel his spirit. And I miss him intensely.
This is one of those weeks I guess. Maybe it’s because Thanksgiving is looming – it was our first holiday – or maybe it’s because it’s been about six years since he died – 11/03/03.
Or maybe it’s just because.
But I miss him tonight.
I wonder what he’d think of who I became. I wonder if we’d still talk or be friends or even know of each other anymore. And I wonder if there was anything I could have done. Any way I could have altered his history. Or just moved it a little to the right.
It’s the unknowns that change you. They don’t just alter your heart or change your psyche – they take them out of your body and give you new ones.
And because he can never be here again, that place he held in my life I’ve dedicated to good. To living all my days like I could die, or worse, someone with a spot in my heart could die. To using my life to do as much as I can in the world while I’m here.
And to listening anytime someone wants to talk about it. or him. or death.
Bob and I, Thanksgiving, circa’ 1999.
My junior year turn-about dance.
- Robert E. Eaton. Oct. 27, 1981-Nov. 3, 2003. May his rest be filled with only peace.