I didn't find out until yesterday, even though it had been a week and a half. And on Facebook, of all places. I just happened to leave a comment on Lindsay's page, and she sent me a message: Have you heard about Ronald? And my heart seized up, a tiny panic right in the center of my chest. I don't know how we know these things about the people that we love, but we do. I clicked over to your page, and there was your picture, you smiling just as I remember you--olive skin and white teeth, kind dark eyes touched with mischief. And I began to read the comments, one after another, eulogies to a man who was well-loved, and a note from your sister to say thank you for the thoughts and prayers, and to say good night to you and not good bye, that you were home now. I couldn't imagine what had happened--a car accident maybe? I assumed that something tragic and unanticipated had taken you too soon.
Lindsay wrote back that she had few details besides that you died of liver disease on November 6. I didn't even know you were sick. I didn't even know you were dead. And here I was at work, where I couldn't cry, let alone think about it properly. A work buddy called on my office phone to say that his girlfriend of a year had broken up with him. I told him that I just found out a good friend from college had died. We pretended to be less sad than we were, mourning two separate but similar passings. We hung up quickly, maybe finding our own fronts flimsy and transparent, unwilling to seem vulnerable with one another. Later, at a meeting, I sat far from him, where we couldn't make eye contact, but all I could think of what you, and him, and each of our sadnesses.
I tried to put it to the back of my mind until I could go home and think about it, about you. But I avoided thoughts of you all evening, making dinner, watching TV, reading, readying for bed. Your ether permeated my dreams that night, and my first thought when I woke was of you. The alarm woke me at ten to six--I wanted to get up early to think and write about you and us. I hit the snooze until seven and finally woke, looking out my new bedroom's windows to a gray and orange dawn. I sat up--you. Put on my glasses--you. Padded to the kitchen and filled the coffeepot with water from the Brita. And I began to cry, silently, tears running slowly down my face, and I had the gradual and overwhelming feeling that you were standing behind me, watching me as I ground the beans and spooned them into the filter. It was the same feeling as when anyone is standing near you and you feel their presence before you see them. Unable to stand it any longer, and feeling rude for having my back to you, I finally turned, leaning against the counter, tears on my cheeks. I didn't see you, but I didn't need to--you embraced me, and I felt that you wanted me to know that you were okay. The moment passed, I turned on the coffeemaker and got in the shower. I didn't feel you there, or while I was getting ready for work--I hadn't tried to summon you, I hadn't expected you, I wasn't asking God for comfort. I wish I had said, while you were there with me, that I love you. I wish I had asked if you were okay. But I feel like you know and you are. I don't understand how this happened, but I'm not surprised that you found me, that you came to me, or that I knew it was you. I know it sounds unbelievable or like I somehow made myself believe that something happened that didn't, but the closest thing to what happened this morning is having a friend drop by unexpectedly--the only difference is that you didn't bring your body with you. I wish I could have seen you once more, said goodbye, kissed you one last time, heard your voice say that something, anything, was fabulous. But somehow, I also feel as though none of that really matters--that, in a way, we can still give and receive love even though you aren't here in the same way, and that somehow--is it possible?--we are closer now than we were before. And so, a standing invitation. Come whenever you like, you will always be welcome. And if you are not able to come, then good night, sweet friend, until we meet again.
(written November 18, 2008)