When the preacher says he’s with God, you try your best to hide your lemon face. You don’t look anyone in the eyes, opting to instead make friends with your feet.
When the bagpipes play the closing hymn and his cousins carry out his casket, you tell yourself to bite the bullet instead of crying. You picture your teeth turning to dust. You picture him, a man you saw alive less than three days prior, turn to dust.
Your own heart becomes ashen. Rebel gray was his favorite color, but you don’t feel exalted. You crave the ocean, the place you met him. You crave the day six years ago. You replay everything he said to you since, trying hard to sustain his candor and not forget his voice.
You read the articles about his accident and how portrayed him as a drunken fool. You wonder if those people ever got news like that or had to make the call. You know the call where you pick up the phone and feel nothing only to take a deep breath when you speak.
“Are you sitting down? You should be sitting down for this.”
The line goes silent, followed by denial. You hang up before you hear that tone in their voice that belies bloodshot eyes, before the wave of panic that follows. You hold the phone like it were a baby, but you reason with it like it were a child.
You can’t reason with death or the people that report it.
A year after my one of my best friends died, all I can muster in response to sympathy is a frail and weak-hearted “It is what it is.”
But what it is is far more than that. His accident slammed the breaks on secrets he was going to teach me. It closed the door on how he knew the best Christmas music. It shut out the secret ingredient for his queso recipe, and future hours spent in his kitchen listening to Jerry Reed and talking about the Civil War. It cut the texts and phone calls but failed to sever the chord. Our connection is still there, even though he’s gone. It’s the skipped beat in my heart, my dragging feet on my way to work. It’s the deep understanding that few other people could ever love me as selflessly and as unconditionally as he did.
It’s a heartache that sings in a slow loop, layered between the white noise of my city. It’s “Amazing Grace,” and the high, shrill sound of bagpipes. When my friend Bill died, I started hearing it and I haven’t stopped since, the lines lingering like the empty air at his funeral,
“I once was lost, but now am found;
was blind, but now I see.”
Was blind, but now I see.