I converse with my nocturnal comrades in tricks of the light and wisps of cool air. Sometimes the absence of replies is the most I can hope for, the greatest gift of all. I have learned to accept not knowing as a form of higher wisdom. To regard my half-conscious questions as stand-alone truths that need no further explanations disguised as easy, factual answers. Life is neither easy, nor weighty, in the dark. It merely is.
One can come to know many things in the gaps between living, while others remain quietly resigned to their daily deaths. Share secrets with the cool air in a single sigh, summon old ghosts to one’s side with a movement of the hand. Like the friend I call upon tonight.
You know who you are.
Come closer. An inch more. Closer still.
I won’t move, don’t worry, I won’t let your image dissipate.
Yes, I recognize you. You haven’t changed at all, let me tell you. All of these years and I still remember, in detail, the cartoon print on your hoodie, your crooked front teeth, hair like a chick’s soft feathers, the same yellow, too.
Yes, I know you thought I would’ve forgotten by now. To tell you the truth, so did I.
No, I never visit your grave.
Why? Who could say. Perhaps it is because I have no need of physical reminders or spatial cues to remember you. Even if I did, it would never be that horrid mound of dirt sprinkled with a few wind-swept flowers. Rather, I’d go to our old school where I last saw your embarrassingly wide grin, or the shop window in front of which you stole a kiss from me because the other boys were already teasing you for „not getting any.“ Then you bought me a rose on the way back home to say you were sorry for being foolish enough to succumb to peer pressure. We were kids, but you were infinitely wiser than any man I’ve met since. You knew how to make things right.
No, I don’t know why you had to die. I’m not going to ask it of the night, either.
Let’s just look at each other through this crack in the fabric of reality, I’ll tell you all about me, if you want, about how I’ve coped or how it sometimes even crossed my mind, in the years that followed, that you were actually lucky to have signed off from life when you did.
I’ll apologize for that particular train of thought because I can now see how self-centered it was to assume you would have chosen the easier way out, as I’ve wanted to on countless occasions. If I know anything about you, it’s that you would never have been a quitter. For this, at least, I have ample proof, one of which is the letter you sent to me in 6th grade to tell me you „loved me for myself alone“ and that you „always“ would.
Well. You didn’t lie. Some infinities are simply shorter than others, that’s all.
To be painfully honest – yes, I’m sad to hurt you – but no, I don’t think about you during the day anymore.
The world is a vast and demanding place, it does not suffer to be ignored. There are so many people here, I have so many friends – you would scarcely believe it.
No, none of them love me as much or as well as you used to, but I try to make up in quantity what I lack quality-wise.
It’s been years since I last scoured the dark for you in this way. I don’t know if you can tell. I’m older with a few new wrinkles on my face, though it probably seems like mere minutes to you – who now only live in my imagination, whose existence is at my beck and call.
Once, I was able to drag you along wherever I went.
More concentration is required to talk to you now.
Perhaps this is a sign of healing, of coming to terms. Perhaps it’s growing up and losing that part of me which resonated with you in such a perfect rhythm, my childhood.
If this is the case, I don’t know how long we have left before these late-night rendezvous’ become an impossibility.
Today, though, I can still conjure your image and mold you using that singular emptiness inside that you left behind. I can still shape you out of the air and reflections of a couple of streetlight lamps, and not feel foolish whilst talking to shadows.
Because of all that I’ve mentioned: life that refuses to pause, adulthood that negates magic, memory that wanes with age – I’ve called you to my side tonight to share with you a secret that came to me a few mornings ago, and I could scarcely breathe for having grasped the enormity of this single, most important fact.
It is a marvelously unexpected and beautiful thing: the human insistence to carry on.
It is a many-faceted and almost unbelievable strength we possess, as oblivious to it as most of us are.
When I talked to your mother, she said she was happy because she knew you were in the company of angels now and I smiled, nodded, shook her hands, even though I didn’t believe a word of the monologue she had practiced for when someone mentioned you.
No, it’s not that I didn’t want to. I couldn’t believe and I felt robbed in that moment because I, too, wished so desperately to be able to explain away the myriad of disappointments and hurts that were, according to my view of life, wasteful or unnecessarily cruel.
I struggled uselessly in my search for meaning, almost reduced myself to a crisp burning for some kind of an answer.
How do you live after so much loss?
How do you go to sleep with ghosts floating at the foot of your bed, the crackling of the furniture in your dead grandmother’s bedroom, the memory of a promise you never got the chance to keep?
Moreover, how do you justify the death of love when all odds seem to have been in your favor?
How do you live with knowing you weren’t brave or big enough to forgive?
Why should you blindly accept the unrelenting changefulness of the seasons? And if not blindly, then how?
Do you choose to forget in a single instant, or let it happen gradually, without a thought, without sparing a glance in the direction of all that you are leaving behind?
There is no answer to any of this, Jay.
Only beliefs, frail illusions that can turn to nothing in the blink of an eye.
Yes, that’s the secret.
You don’t live differently after loss, you live in spite of it and you do so by, well… breathing.
Maybe you imagine angels like your mother did, or talk to ghosts like me.
Maybe you don’t do any of it.
No death is justified. Metaphorical romantic one, nor physical.
Forgiveness is either consciously granted, or the deed itself forgotten.
Time erodes everything: pain, love and anger alike. In the end, it does not ask for permission – the world spins and twists on, regardless of your willingness to accept it. You can’t choose what you leave behind. Time can’t choose not to do the same with you. It’s automatic.
We are all transient.
That doesn’t mean we have to be lost, it doesn’t follow that we simply fall into a void with everything we’ve done sucked into it as though it never existed. As if we never existed.
What I’m trying to say is, Jay: you made your marks.
Even though the time that was allotted to you by unfavorable coincidences was short.
Even though the people who loved you were shell-shocked and confused by your departure, we struggled on and found ways to incorporate your memory into our days.
When sunlight got too violent for specters to survive, we hid you away into the night where we could still see and talk to you.
Your patient silence enabled us to voice our concerns and insecurities, you were the ever-present, loving guardian of hopes and fears, and so you became woven into the fabrics of all our lives, be it as an angel, or a listener, or a friend – and then, as we mourned and cleared the roads before us to move away from the insistence of pain that our parting had caused, you – a child – became our most valuable teacher.
This is why I remember you on the eve of every new year, in the morning of every new love.
Apart from being a fixed point in my adolescence which rooted all my uncertainty about life and my depression, or the first person to ever write me a Valentine’s day card and take me out on a date, you are also the reason why I learned to believe in second, and third, chances.
You are why I am strong.
Why I can fall in love time after time,
disregarding safety and consequences.
Why I know there is no insurmountable pain.
Your death is the why of how I survived.
It isn’t fair.
It certainly isn’t comforting.
It’s not bound to any greater scheme as far as I can tell, or justifiable.
It just is, like things tend to be in the night, a question that turned into a fact in its own right.
My darling boy.
No, I’ll never forget you.
Yes, we still have a few minutes left before dawn.
Quickly now. Say what you want me to do.
Okay. I won’t tell your mom I don’t believe in heaven.
I won’t give up on love.
No, I’ve said it before. I won’t forget. Don’t you trust me?
One, two, three,
and sunlight appears.
I promise, I won’t go searching for you again in this place and in this time, in which I can neither help nor resurrect you. What we had was a beautiful and marvelous surprise. You knew that at the time. Now so do I. Goodbye, my darling boy. Goodbye.