Tonight a band called The Church is playing the Aladdin Theater in Portland, Oregon. I had a ticket for this show, but I can’t go for a few reasons, not the least of which is that I think my dog may be nearing the end of her life and I want to stay close to her.
Deciding to buy a ticket to this show was a bittersweet choice. I last saw the band in 1987 in Denver with someone who has since passed on. The Church was one of his favorite bands, something we listened to often during our time together. Seeing them would mean reawakening a lot of feelings, so I bought the ticket intending to enjoy the show as a kind of tribute, in memoriam.
I gave the ticket away to a coworker, who does not know my connection to The Church. And then the most amazing thing happened: she told me that she wanted to see the band by herself tonight as a tribute to her sister who loved them and who died at the age of 19. So it turns out it will be a memorial concert for someone, and that makes my heart very glad.
Maybe my friend moved these pieces together from beyond the grave.
I wrote the following after a trip to Colorado a couple of years ago, when I visited the cemetery where he is buried for the first time since his death. I’m reposting in his honor.
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 deeply 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 looking down at his name on a rain-slick marker set in the ground. I didn’t know where the marker was so I wandered around awhile before I found it. When I did, something sucked all the air out of my lungs and there was a peculiar vertigo for a moment. I stared at his name, embossed for all time in metal. The trees dripped overhead, and I hunkered 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.
Who am I to have lived? Is my life a waste compared to what his could have been? The last 27 years that I’ve permeated with self-loathing and mediocrity 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, in his grave, 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, his always-warm hands, gentle and wide, his fit and gracile frame that was always hidden under massively oversized 1980’s sweaters and baggy pants.
But it’s not him.
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.
I wondered what he would think of my visit.
I felt, suddenly, that he might be there with me.
Something gripped my insides and twisted them, making it difficult to breathe. I cried.
I remember so many sweet 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, knowing it was gross but wanting a piece of him close. I remember passing notes in class, first to his best friend to hint that I liked him, and later just between us, notes I kept for decades after. 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 our high school, my heart stopped. My heart still stops, even now, when I see him in the recesses of my memory. He talks to me in dreams, even today.
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 his God actually exists, He was most assuredly looking the other way when I sneaked 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.