I smelled cedar when I heard you died. Immediately transported back to that summer my family was building bidarkas in your wood shop. How Marci and I would go down to the river and wade up to our thighs in glacial runoff. Try to catch tadpoles with our bare hands. When our feet froze through we’d climb back up that steep dirt trail and sneak back into the building. Over and under beams, around contraptions and tools we didn’t know the use for. You’d find us giggling between an old truck and a dresser, ask us what we were doing. “Oh, we just came in for hugs!” Our standard response. And you knew we were bullshitting you, but you wrapped us up in big bear arms regardless.
You made appearances at all important functions and every quiet night around a fire pit you could. Always in your trademark hat, you listened contently and laughed loud. Always one of the first people I wanted to introduce my new partners to. “You have to meet Mike and Pat.”
The day you died I talked with your daughter and she said, “Good dads are precious.” And I think about how lucky we all were to have you. How you helped raise all of us, just like your wife did. Does. Is doing. There aren’t words for that kind of loss. It is not a sadness that sweeps over us like waves crash. It is not a heart cracking like a branch in the wind. It a simple and sudden hollowing out. An emptiness in a space you didn’t even realize someone was occupying. A piece slid out of a Jenga game and we all just hope it doesn’t come crashing down now.
That is the thing with death, isn’t it? We always expect it to end us, too. As if experiencing the hurt of losing someone is not something we were built to do. But it doesn’t have to only ache, does it? We climb back into our memories and let you wrap us in your arms again. We remember that belly laugh, that wide grin. We mourn the loss, yes, but in turn we celebrate the living you did. And oh, how you did.
They crawl out of the woodwork. People with baked goods and checks in the mail. Text messages to remind me I’m loved and phone calls from old friends. I’m surrounded. Held.
I imagine them at my funeral. Lined up listening to a collection of songs someone decided represent me. Watching some cheesy slideshow that covers the various lives I’ve led. Each person in the crowd failing to recognize at least one of them.
But then again maybe not. Maybe the turnout is better when you stick around. Easy to send some money, a message, make a phone call. Harder to take a day off work and a long drive south.
Doesn’t really matter.
At some point in the last week I decided to live. Had to decide to continue forward despite the dull ache of existence. That’s what people ask when you are committed. “Where did this come from? What happened? This seems so sudden.” But it’s a slow chipping. An erosion of everything I think should make me want to keep on living.
No. That’s not it, either. It is not so simple as saying everything hurts all the time and it’s always been this way. That simply isn’t true.
There are joyous moments. When I lay in bed with my partner. When I see my sister and best friend’s bellies swelling with children. When I share a simple phone call with my father. When my mom hugs me. When I make my brother laugh. When the whole family (yes, Chuck, you, too) sits down to dinner. When Vinnie and I take a smoke break. Long walks in the rain. New rap songs on headphones. Old rap songs of crackling car speakers. A new friend teaching me origami. My coworkers all talking about how much we love our job. Board games. Pizza. Rummy. My roommate asking me to a kill a spider for her. Simple things. Little ones. Depression makes it easy to not notice them. Makes it hard to start noticing again.
They’re right when they call is an emptiness. But it’s really like a slow leak. A dribble. And one day you notice you’re all out of fuel again. When that happens you don’t just stop, though. You get out and you start walking to the next station.
She called my writing courageous
I tried to climb inside the word
Wear it like a second-hand jacket
which once held stories that were not mine
but now would only know the slope of my shoulders
and the place my elbows bend
Wanted desperately for it to fit
Turned it over in my hands
Traced all the stitches with my fingertips
sure I’d find it falling apart at the seams
But it was true enough
It fit well enough
No matter how well I know
it’s all about the things
still layered underneath