Brian and I met in June 2010, just after graduating high school. He was visiting family in Indonesia, where I had just graduated with the daughter of a family friend. It seems cliché, but within a few days of casual get-togethers and Facebook conversations, I don’t know how I ever got along without him. When he passed away a year ago, I knew I never would.
Can I tell you about him? I know many girlfriends gush about their loves, but really, Brian was the best. The three hundred people crying at his funeral would attest to that. He had the easiest and most genuine smile you’ll ever see, and an almost unnatural level of compassion. Despite being in constant pain, Brian would look up from his hospital bed and ask his friends, “So how was senior prom?” or “You just had exams, right? How was Calculus?” and you’d be so compelled to tell him all about your life that you’d miss the yearning in his eyes to go dancing, or to go to college.
He made it almost too easy to ignore how sick he really was.
In the years we were together, Brian’s illness was rarely the first thing on my mind. It featured as background music to our lives together. His diagnosis (Stage IV osteosarcoma) was easily muted by conversations like what he wanted me to bring home for dinner that night and what TV show we were going to watch while we ate. His trips to LA for clinical trials were minor intermissions in our days of playing PlayStation 3 and falling asleep together. His long list of medications was a string of funny, important-sounding words that popped up every 4-6 hours, even if those hours happened to set off my alarm in the middle of the night.
Here’s what I remember: the first meal he ever made me (pesto tortellini with garlic bread from Trader Joe’s and sparkling apple juice), the movie we were watching when he first kissed me (Avatar), what we were eating the night we first said we loved each other (P.F. Chang’s), and what we planned on naming our first daughter (Josephine, after my uncle Joseph).
His cancer wasn’t unimportant. It just wasn’t him.
And I like to think that’s how Brian would want me to remember him. He wouldn’t want me to remember him as someone who was sick for nearly sixteen years, but as a man that gave me a soul mate’s worth of love in three years. He wouldn’t want his friends to remember him as the boy who had to skip school a lot, but as the guy that was a beast at Call Of Duty and Need For Speed. Most of all, Brian would want everyone to remember him as someone who smiled when it was hard and laughed when it was impossible.
So here’s to you, B. Your parents couldn’t be prouder of the man you grew up to be, and I am so grateful to have been part of your life. I hope you are doing well and know that I am thinking of you every time I’m buying dinner and picking a show to watch. I hope you know that even though the alarm sounds a little hollower now, I still wake up every morning and go on. I know where you are. I remember you.