“People go to cemeteries to be with the souls of the departed and build private altars…” ~Wikipedia, Day of the Dead
Today isn’t (quite) el Dia de Los Muertos, but it’s my day to miss someone. To consider a life that ended unexpectedly a year ago today. Al had a small altar in my heart already before he died, this flawed, fierce friend whose companionship helped me shape myself in a time of changes. I’m sad today that I’ll never hear his “Hey, Mama!” when he answered my phone calls, and I’m sad that the laugh I can still hear in my head only plays in my head anymore.
I sent him a text on his birthday last October, but I didn’t pick up when he called me back. I was coming down from my alcoholic relapse and detox (frankly, it amazes me that his birthday even crossed my mind, as deeply dug into my own shit as I was that week) and wasn’t ready to have a conversation. I responded to his voicemail with another text, saying I would call him soon when my head was in a better place. A few days later a traffic accident killed him. I don’t know whether to kick myself bloody for declining that conversation, or tip God a thank-you note for whatever nudge helped me (improbably) to remember his birthday at all. I guess since there’s nothing else to be done about it, I’ll go with the latter.
[I don’t know what my face has been doing these last ten minutes, but my husband just observed that I’m pausing at the keyboard more often than I usually do, and asked if I’m okay. Told him what I’m writing about, or trying to. He and Al never met, but they approved of one another…]
Al lived three thousand miles away–we met at a conference and struck up an email-and-phone companionship in which I wrote him a novel’s-worth of words, and we often spent a couple hours a day on the phone (he’s the reason I invested in an earpiece–I’m generally the most phone-phobic person I know). He was the only person with whom I shared that I was drinking like an alcoholic, long before friends or family or coworkers knew. He was a companion–and on a couple occasions, when we met up in different cities, a lover. I’d been with my first husband since I was nineteen–with that marriage ended, Al was the first person I entrusted with a mid-thirties post-pregnancies view of me.
I don’t have any particularly strong “claim” to grief–I wasn’t among the hundreds of people who gathered at Waikiki to scatter his ashes on the waves where he’d raced outrigger canoes. His death didn’t leave a hole in my daily life, though it still feels “wrong” somehow that I can’t text him with something he’d laugh about…
I’ve written this much, and I’m still trying to think what it is I want to say… about Al? about death? I’m trying to dig out of my heart the reason why it means something to me that today is October 30, and WHAT it means to me. (There’s the “obvious go-to thought” that Al’s age and my husband’s differed by only a few weeks–that’s still a generation older than I am, but far too young to disappear from people’s lives. But that doesn’t seem to be what my mind is dwelling on.) As much as I’d like to tie up my thoughts in tidy little packages with a blog-bow on the top, this isn’t one of those days. Maybe the reason I’m writing about him today… is nothing more complicated than the fact that I needed to write about him. And maybe that’s my own lesson for today: human emotions don’t come packaged in cute little ribbons.