I’m at the end of another fun-filled, drama-infused parental visit. It actually went pretty well this time; everyone got along and was mostly civil, and I’ll take it. The alternative never bears thinking about.
The high (low?) point of the trip was just after my parents came to breakfast. I don’t stay with them when I’m home, because the finished basement where the guest bed is located is a teeny bit infested with rodents, and hantavirus is not on my list of life goals. When I mentioned that the basement could use a good disinfecting and de-woodmousing, my Dad told me “Well, we kind of think of them as pets.” So I stay at a b&b down the road about 5 minutes, and that works out just fine for everyone.
The b&b does a terrific full breakfast every morning at 9, so I always invite my parents down to join me for French toast casserole and ice cream. Yup, they have breakssert. Or Defast. Or something. We had a grand old time. My Dad’s pacemaker makes him feel tired sometimes, so after breakfast he decided to take the car home and take a little rest while my Mom and I went for a short hike at her favorite trail.
When we arrived back home, my Dad had inadvertently locked us out of the house. We knocked, rang the doorbell and yelled our hearts out, but he didn’t hear us. After about ten minutes of this, and checking to make sure that both my parents’ cars were there and that no one had inadvertently left a door or window open anywhere, I called the police.
I wasn’t really too worried that something had happened to him. My dad takes all kinds of interesting and colorful drugs, and I figured he took something to help him sleep. He’s also hard of hearing, and if he took his hearing aid out, he probably wouldn’t hear much of any commotion outside. But my mom was starting to freak out. She was repeating the same questions over and over, and alternately insisting that he had gone to the grocery store or was dead inside the house, as if those were the only two options.
So the cops came, and they brought the fire department’s ambulance just in case. This also attracted a nosy, police-scanner-listening, well-meaning but terminally annoying neighbor who kept butting in and wouldn’t shut up. Anyway, the cops busted a window on the side door to the garage, headed up stairs to find my bewildered and totally sleepy dad, and then came back down to give us the all clear.
So, now my parents have a busted window to fix (I called the glass company and they’re sending someone over today) and I’m at the Denver airport waiting for my flight home. My work here is done.
I visited a couple of friends while I was home, both six feet under. My friend Jim’s brother died more or less by his own hand back in 1995, and I said hello to him and thought about the last time I saw him at Jim’s wedding. We had a ton of fun that day. The guy was a real mess, but I adored him anyway. He was on the periphery of my friend group and lived far away, but I still wish there was something I could have done to help him.
A couple of hundred yards further on is the marker for my first real boyfriend. He died in 1993 from a head injury resulting from a skiing accident. He was 23. We dated in high school, when I was 16 and 17, and I don’t think I’ve ever been as completely smitten with anyone before or since. It’s hard to type his name here, so I won’t. He was smart and clever and funny and adorable and I loved him dearly and he broke my heart. Or rather, I broke my own heart because in the end I kissed someone else and he rightfully broke up with me.
We still talked after that, though. In college we wrote letters back and forth, back when mail was a thing and no one had cell phones. He broke my heart again when he died. I was not at his memorial. I couldn’t have handled it for a multitude of reasons. I have never visited his grave until two days ago.
It was raining.
A couple of days later I’m still working through how I felt standing there, looking down at his name on a wet marker set in the ground. Someone sucked all the air out of my lungs and there was a peculiar vertigo for a moment, I had to hunker down on my heels in the wet grass. It feels so unfair. I have been alive more than twice as long as he lived. It feels like I took up a disproportionate percentage, a bit less than 1/23, of his short life, which works out to less than 1/50th of mine. I have had loves since him. I have finished college, traveled, taken up new hobbies, read hundreds of books, moved about a dozen times, started and quit jobs, finished graduate school, had two careers. Two of my dogs and three of my cats have lived and died in the space between the end of his life and now. My last relationship lasted longer than he was ever alive. He ended 27 years ago.
He didn’t get the opportunity to help all of the people I know he wanted to. I think I remember he was studying to be a doctor, maybe had already started med school. He was home for Christmas break at the time of his accident. He had a heart at least 10 times the size of anyone around him. He could have done a world of good, and I know he would have.
The unfairness of it all creeps up on me over and over again. Who am I to have lived? Is my life a waste compared to what his could have been? The 33 years I drowned in self-loathing and alcohol seem like worthless dust, blown away next to the rubble of the rock-solid future he had ahead of him. I imagine the remains of him down there, and I know that isn’t him; he isn’t in there. It’s just what’s left of the part of him I got to touch, the always-warm hands, soft and wide, the surprisingly fit small frame that was always hidden under massively oversized 1980’s sweaters and baggy pants. But it’s not him. I wonder what he would think of my visit.
I think he was there with me. Something gripped my insides, twisted them so it was hard to breathe. I cried.
I remember things about us. I remember our first incredible kisses in his car at the base of my parent’s driveway, my heart leaping and crashing out of my chest. I remember falling asleep in my bed with his gum in my mouth that night. I remember passing notes in class, first to his best friend to hint that I liked him, and later just between us. We listened to music together, bands I’d never heard before like The Sparks and The Church and Leonard Cohen. He played guitar for me. He came to my swim meets, I went to his soccer games.
I remember junior prom. We didn’t go to the dance, went instead to his dad’s pediatric practice after hours and explored absolutely everything about each other in the darkened office in moonlight. Then we went to the after-prom party with the rest of our classmates, hair messed and faces flushed, our secrets between us. I remember his innate confidence, his talents, his kindness, his sly grin. Every time I saw him in the halls of high school, my heart stopped. My heart still stops, even now, when I see him in the halls of my mind.
I’m keenly aware that a reader might think I’m painting him with a rose-colored brush, that my teenage fantasies have overwhelmed my ability to see him as he was. I’m aware that some might think it was puppy love, that hormone-fueled teenage madness that precludes rational thought and action. Maybe there is some of that. Or maybe we only get to feel like that once in our lifetimes, and I was lucky enough to feel it with him. Maybe he wasn’t as brilliant a star and his future not as bright as it seemed, but I think it was.
He taught me some life lessons. He taught me a measure of responsibility and what it means to be trustworthy. He taught me that faith is personal, and that you can love someone who believes different things from you. He awakened in me an unprecedented depth of feeling for another human being. He taught me that some people, like him, are respected by everyone around them simply for doing the right thing most of the time and being kind.
I don’t feel like I deserved to have even the months I had with him. If there is a God, he was most assuredly looking the other way when I snuck in for a while, a silly wretch who got just a taste of that kind of grace. I’m so deeply sad that this earthly plane is without him. It is a better place, and I am definitely a better person, for having had him for a short time.