“What’s the matter?”
“Nick died,” she said.
I stopped. Faces scrolled through my thoughts – a rolodex of people I hadn’t seen in a long while. My mind tried to figure it out. I narrowed it down.
“Which Nick?” I asked.
She told me.
I couldn’t believe it, but at the same time, I could. Even thinking of it now my jaw drops and my eyes trace the room for answers. I don’t know how to comprehend it. I have dealt with the grief. I have traversed the confusion and rage. I have written him a letter and kept it mostly to myself. I talk of him more often than I would have expected.
It is not the same as when my grandparents passed. With that I understood it – I felt the grief, and the loss, but I understood it. It felt like a softer fade; it felt natural and expected. There is a difference between someone who has lived a long life, and someone who has had their life cut short (if even by their own decisions); there is a difference between expiration, gradually turning for the worse, and a sudden, unnatural end to breathing. One almost feels like relief; the other feels like a shock you don’t want to accept, even though you feel it. And the pulses of that shock ring out whenever the circumstances are thought of.
That sting has become lighter, of course, though still present. Emotional capacity for tragedy diminishes with time. When I tell stories of Nick, I laugh, because I mostly tell the funny ones, because that’s how I remember him best. I tell the stories where he was being a dick about something. I speak highly of our music. I often leave out details and trail off. I smile to myself. People understand and are good enough to be patient. They smile when I tell his stories. In a way it makes the memories more tangible. Time not only diminishes emotional returns, it warps and obscures memory. When I tell stories about Linus Lowery it is for my own good. When I play our old music to new friends, or total strangers, it is for my own good. When I sit in Pat’s living room in the afternoon, and we listen to Johnny Cash on vinyl singing “Hurt,” it is for our own good. I repeat those memories aloud, maybe, so they will not be lost, so they will not be reconstructed falsely due to unexercised remembrance. It is not for the good of the world, or an ill-fated legacy, but for myself. When a person exists only in your mind and heart, a ghost from your past, a once-tangible part of who you used to be (who you can’t ever be again), you remember that person in desperation – softly and bittersweet.
Time, unfortunately, doesn’t stop. And it shouldn’t, because without passing days there is no challenge to do better than yesterday. We have to keep up with it. It is a good gauge of how far we have come. In the grand pursuit of not only living in the present, but in surpassing the moment in the name of progress, education, knowledge, success, happiness… we leave behind the past. We have to. But, that doesn’t change that we once experienced the love and camaraderie of other human beings who have shaped us in some way.
And so we continue forward while we tell their stories and allow ourselves the luxury of feeling loss – for our own good.
Here is my original article.