Summer will always remind me of hot, sweltering nights, spent drinking sangria and looking through the dripping fairy lights of your bedroom window. A sticky, starry sky looked back at us, the glow of the moon almost golden in the heat. Fourteen meant we weren’t growing up fast enough and a liquor cabinet key seemed to hold the answer to that problem.
You taught me how to drink that night.
(You also showed me how beautiful it was to inhale and hold your breath till your head spins and reality seems like it is going to fade further and further away. And then exhale all your unhappiness in a single breath to feel brand new. Even if it was for just a little while.)
Eight summers ago I met a boy who told me how much like summer I was. He was big boned and thin skinned and the first time I told him he wasn’t mine and I wasn’t his yet, he left handprints in purple, yellow and red on my skin. When I told you, you made me take my shirt off so you could take care of them properly. You said they reminded you of a canvas covered in autumn leaves that you once saw in an art gallery. Then you proceeded to break every single window in his house (yes, even the one in the attic he loved so much.)
You taught me how to smile through heartbreak that night.
(You also showed me how to breathe through the broken pain that came from a pair of violent hands that didn’t know how to grow self respect in any other way but to use them on someone who loved them.)
The day they told you that you were sick, we took our easels up to the woods that stifling summer day seven summers ago, and didn’t speak until we were both finished our paintings. I just painted a face, badly as always. When you showed me what you had made, I saw angry slashes of red across a vacant canvas, a pair of scarlet lips open in its center, as though in a silent scream. I saw you and your face was shiny…not with sweat, but with tears. “What is it?” I had asked you, and you had looked at me in a way I had never seen before, your voice almost a whisper, “Me.”
You taught me how to paint that day.
(You also showed me how to breathe life into a thing even though the life inside you was beginning to flicker against the breeze.)
It has been six summers, seventeen days, and twelve hours since the most beautiful service I have ever seen. Your mother was pale and so quiet, but always graceful in her kindness, in her wisdom. She asked me to speak about you. She asked me to tell people who you were.
If she had given me a year, maybe I could do justice to you. After all, how do you define a person when they have transcended to being a feeling that exists in every corner inside you?
So instead, I told them about our favourite movie, where a man had been held without trial for a crime he never committed and forgotten on a prison island somewhere in the middle of the ocean. I told them about how deeply you felt for him when he slowly lost his powerful faith in God, and how one day…he escapes, almost drowning, to wake up on a beach with the sun in his eyes for the very first time in fourteen years. I told them about that moment, the incredible electricity, the unadulterated elation we had both felt in the second for him.
To me, you are the beach where I found my freedom. To me, you are the electricity I felt in that moment. To me, you are the elation one feels where their entire world, their life, their whole being changes for the better.
That is what you were to me. That is who you will always be.
In the end, you who taught me how to be so much more than a short summer’s read. In the end, you who taught me how to live a life that was full of a thousand stories.