The Upside to Being Afraid

5 years ago, almost to the day, I was lying down on the deck of the house my now-ex grew up in. He was lying next to me playing “Demons” by Guster on his guitar. Despite the melody, we weren’t singing. We knew we were dying and neither of us wanted to admit it. The breakup would take a year to complete, neither of us wanting to sever the ties with someone we still loved very much.

And the breakup wasn’t even half of it. 6 months after the final ending, I lost my mother quite suddenly to a secret battle with cancer. Less than a year after that, I lost one of my best friends to a freak accident. 7 months later, I moved to Chicago with some savings, no job, and a temporary living arrangement.

That was 2 years ago, and I am just starting to feel content with the way things are and where they are going.

But someone very close to me is on the cusp of her journey. I’ve been talking to her regularly, sizing up her fears an insecurities trying to rationalize them with her. I remember being the same scared person 5 years ago. I know she thinks the journey to my own contentment was long, and in some ways it was, but it wasn’t without it’s joys and victories. It wasn’t all darkness. While I wish my mother and my friend were still around, the additional struggles were well worth getting here.

And trust me, I know that’s cheesy to say, especially to anyone who’s about to start something terrifying or is amidst all the crazy. I’m not saying contentment isn’t without its hardships. I’m not saying you’ll get there and everything will be perfect. It won’t be.

I will say, one day you will be able to look at someone you love who’s getting what you want and be genuinely happy for them. Someday you will find yourself associating with people who are not worth your time and know yourself well enough to sever ties before your heart gets too invested. Maybe you’ll be able to spend a lot of time in your head and have it be more like a vacation, and less like the worst day on the job ever.

And then you’ll have another multi-year period of struggle and growth, but you’ll be better equipped that time, and the next time, and the time after that.

But the first one shows you what you’re made of.

So when my good friend told me she was afraid, I told her it’s good to be afraid. It means she’s alive. It means you’re alive too.

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For Bill, On What Would Have Been His 38th Birthday

Bill,

I want to remember what your last living birthday was like, because it has been three years since that day, but honestly I was too consumed in some drama to be able to revel in it completely. I know I called you, like I had always done, and sent you a picture of the Narraganset I was drinking.

“In honor?”

In honor.

Like we never did anything without honor. We never fought without honor, or drank without nobility. We never could share a pint, either long distance or in person without having a story to back it. I have endless memories of you on George’s Island, in my passenger’s seat, and in your old kitchen at the apartment in Whitman, listening to anything from Bruce Springsteen to Jerry Reed, talking about anything from the girl you were trying to land or stories about the confederacy. You were the needle off the record, and the fart everyone on the bus heard except for the one that did it.  You made yourself known in such poetically uncomfortable way it is hard to picture any of my memories of you without you.

Even still it’s hard to picture you out of my life completely. That photo of you dancing in the rain sits in a frame on my desk and I often hope whomever finds themselves in my room asks about it. I post pictures of me wearing your Roenick jersey in strategic places on social media so someone can be a jerk about it and me have to say, “That jersey belongs to my dead friend, you asshole!”

I want you so desperately to be here, that I put you in places where you don’t belong so it forces your faux presence if only for a moment, and I feel incredibly cheated that life gave you your last call because even though I had only known you for a short six years, I feel like we were just getting started. There were more stretches of highway to drive with the windows rolled down but the AC blasting. There were so many more cans of Narraganset to drink and Motown Christmas albums to sing along to. There were different kitchens to be drunk in, and different sunsets to watch from places we had been to a thousand times before.

But the point is mute and listless like the sound of your voice I’m slowly starting to forget with time. I will find you in those moments with me, except I will either be alone or with people that will sense an emptiness about me that has momentarily made room for the place you should be. They will interpret my silence as distress, but in reality I will be catching up with a friend in the only plausible way I know how.

And when people try to explain their deep platonic relationship between two members of the opposite sex, defending their friendship, I will reply from the most empathetic and sensitive of places,

“He’s your Bill. I had a Bill, but I lost him a long time ago.”