You have been dead for over two years now.
I can’t say it has been easy learning to live without you. Heading into year three, I can say I have started to make real progress. I can talk about your death without crying. I can look people in the eye and tell them how you died. And now I finally feel like I can be honest with you. Okay, not with you per se, but I can be honest with myself about you.
I’ve come to terms with the fact that I will never see you again. It was incredibly difficult to reconcile my desire to see you again with my belief that there is no afterlife. I used to look for you everywhere, hoping that you were watching over me and sending me signs. But I don’t need you to linger anymore. I am finally at ease with your passing.
With this acceptance, I am also trying to let go of the guilt from the promises I made and subsequently broke in the wake of your death. I have come home without visiting your grave. I quit the Peace Corps application process. And I think we both know that any attempts I made to be vegan or even vegetarian in your honor were ill-fated. After much internal struggle, I now believe you never would have asked me to do those things in the first place.
Deeper than that, I have been trying to absolve the guilt attached to the things I did to you when you were alive. This includes but is not limited to, renouncing our mutual love of Sailor Moon, laughing at the suggestion we go to the 2003 Winter Formal together, and downplaying the closeness of our friendship. I am incredibly sorry that I was never as proud of you as you were of me.
It shouldn’t have been a secret that I loved you for being more than a friend and closer than family. While I was completely satisfied with what I thought was the ideal platonic male/female relationship, I know others thought that we could be perfect for each other. How serendipitous it would have been. In a rom-com, we would have come together after enduring a series of hilarious but heartbreaking miscommunications. Then, in the closing scene, we would have realized that it all started when we were babies in a bathtub together. Roll the credits.
It’s not to say that romantic love would have been better or worse than what we had. What I’m trying to say is that I will never have what we had together with anyone else. Even though one day I will have friendships that eclipse the duration of ours, no one else can precede my earliest memories like you do. I can relate to other people who grew up with divorced parents, but you and I went through that together. Losing you left me with a phantom limb of our shared childhood.
It pains me to admit that I think about you more now than I did when you were alive. I stare into your negative space and fear that one day I will go twenty-four hours without pausing to remember you. As the sound of your voice grows more distant, leaving parts of you behind seems inevitable. I no longer remember all the steps to our secret handshake. I let your tense slide from present to past and even past perfect, the one used for actions that have been completed before others take place.
Selfishly, one of the worst realizations is that you are only the first of the big losses I will face in my life. It’s not just our grandparents who look older these days: our parents no longer seem as invincible as they once did. I’ve also realized that you might not be the only friend who dies young or unexpectedly. And as cliché as it sounds, I’ve lost my sense of adolescent immortality. I know it could just as easily be me.
While it is frightening to think of what comes next, somehow, in your own way, you’ve prepared me for it. You were my first friend and my first eulogy. I think it would make you, the eternal optimist that you were, happy to know that your friendship keeps making me a better, stronger person. You showed me that I can function in the face of tragedy. You taught me the vocabulary of grief so I can comfort others when they need it. I never would have asked for it to be this way, but if this is what I can take from it, I will.
So, dearest friend, that’s all I have to share for now. I’ll raise a glass for your twenty-fifth birthday this summer, and, as always, I’ll keep you in my thoughts.