Posted in Today's File

an Anniversary, without a Ribbon

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.

Al’s funeral (photo from Hawai’i’s

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.


I am... a writer, an explorer, a coffee-drinker, a recovering addict, a barefoot linguist, a book-dragon ("bookworm" doesn't cover it), a raconteur, a sailboat skipper, a research diver, a tattooed scholar, a pirate, a poet, a spiritual adventurer, a photographer, a few kinds-of-crazy, a joyful wife, a mom... a list-maker! :)

22 thoughts on “an Anniversary, without a Ribbon

  1. I hear you, sometimes you just need to write, without the perfect ending or the creative twist. Sometimes you just need to vent – on the keyboard, and perhaps what you wrote gives us glimpse enough into your world and who he was, so that we too can spend a moment thinking about Al and how life can never be predicted. Thanks for writing a post that that prompted me to stop and take a moment and jot a note to someone I haven’t kept up with like I would want to. x


  2. There doesn’t always need to be a reason or a point to writing something. Sometimes it just orders your thoughts or gives you an opportunity to have those thoughts.
    Thank you for sharing your writing about Al with us; it can’t possibly be easy.


  3. Happy Birthday Al. Thanks for letting us in. You know that annoying phrase “life sucks then you die”? Well I think it is backwards. You love people, they die and then the sucky part comes in. I’m happy that you have this outlet. That we all do!


  4. AL would have appreciated you remembrance of him. Your story is very compelling. Don’t feel bad because no one knows when god is going to call you home. AL sounds like a great companion. Feel better…..


  5. A celebration of Al’s life, that’s more than enough reason for this piece. I had a stepsister who died way too early. We weren’t close but I regret sometimes that I didn’t make more effort. But she’s gone and I can’t change that. Her funeral was a true celebration of her life.


  6. What a touching (and human) post. Thank you for sharing it with us. Life is messy. Life is complicated. And, thank the Lord, Life is good – even in the midst of chaos and heartache and grief, there is a kernel of joy waiting to burst forth.


  7. They say the internet is making the world a smaller place, but that can also make the lives of the people in it a little bit bigger. Sharing stories like this enriches us all. In many ways that’s meaning enough. Thank you.


  8. Your last sentence summed it up beautifully. That’s often the reason many of us write, isn’t it?

    I’m sure wherever he is Al’s spirit is shining on you.


  9. You know, I feel like none of my posts, well…few anyway…end up wrapped with a pretty little bow. As a matter of fact, I’m thinking about going through each one and at least cleaning them up a little. Thanks for adding me to your follow list!

    What do you think? Clean up old posts only for grammar and super strange trains of thought?

    Glad you were able to struggle through the words about your friend….hope it helped! ~ Kate


    1. Sometimes the strange trains of thought are the INTERESTING ones… ;)
      I confess to being an obsessive “twiddler” myself–every post on here has probably been opened a dozen times to edit… In my case it’s wording, rather than content, that I tend to fiddle with and “fine-tune”… I’ve usually said WHAT I wanted to say, but a word or phrase jumps at me when I re-read, and I want to say it better. Anyone who wants a good laugh at me could take a screen-shot of a post I’ve just published, and come back an hour later to see the evidence of my self-editing… ;) No OCD here, nope, none at all (cough)…


  10. This is heartbreaking, but I admire your strength to write about it… People say it gets easier with time… does it? I haven’t lost anyone as close to me and it must be so difficult to not being able to talk to them or see them anymore. And your last sentence is so true! Thanks for sharing!


    1. I’m beginning to think that in some respects it takes a little longer to accept when it’s someone for whom you cared deeply, but who wasn’t (anymore, at least) part of Daily Life… Maybe because I keep having to REMEMBER (with a new wave of “sad” each time) that instead of being 3,000 miles and a phone-call away, he’s… Away. Please God, let it be a long LONG time before I have any basis for comparison with a loss among the cast & crew of my Daily Life…


      1. I think you’re really onto something there. It may not be easier/harder, but it may take longer to accept or even process when that loss is not part of your everyday reality.


  11. I read this as a thank you because I can’t help but think missing that call, and why you missed that call, is also part of why you can write about being sober, no? Very touching tribute.


  12. Sometimes you do just need to write to get it out * Hugs * sooooo understand. And yes, emotions are quite frequently to messy to be easily wrapped up and presented prettily : )


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