And so it comes around again, the 31st of January.
On January 31st, 2009, my friend died. His name was Eric.
It is said that time heals all. That seems, to me, a kind of horrible thing to say, in a way — that time dulls the pain, that time makes us forget — that the passing of time can ease the heartbreak. And yet it can, in a way. Perhaps it’s because we weren’t personally especially close: we were friends through theatre during high school — he was two years younger than I was, and though we did shows together for several years, we had different circles of close friends. Still, we were VISTA, and that meant that we were family, and I loved him.
The pain seems more distant this year. Two years ago, I was a wreck. I blamed myself for not having done something. I couldn’t forgive myself for not having gotten to know him better. I couldn’t believe that he was really gone, that I would never to get to know him as an adult, not just as the little (well, young — he was always taller than I was) high school sophomore of my memories. I just didn’t know how to even begin to process what had happened. My studies began to falter, and my life felt like it was spiralling out of control. I eventually dealt with it, I believe, by not thinking about it — Eric had been away at college, and I had been away at college for over two years, and part of me wanted to hold on to the idea that he was still away at college, that that was why I hadn’t seen him.
A year ago today, I was a mess once more. I had spent much of the previous year in some form of denial, and the anniversary made my tenuous grasp on that denial vanish. It wasn’t that I had truly believed he was still away at college; it just made it easier to keep the grief at bay, and the anniversary made me have to face the fact that he wasn’t coming back. The pain was back, so raw and so present. I blamed myself once again, and I felt so guilty about my grief because I knew that others had known and loved him better than I had. It wasn’t until a friend essentially told me that my grief was okay — that I wasn’t being selfish or self-centered to grieve over him so greatly — and allowed me to talk about Eric as long as I needed that I began to heal once more.
It has now been two years, and I’m at a better place than I was either of the previous two years. I try not to torture myself with what-if’s. I can listen to the Seussical the Musical soundtrack again, including the parts with General Genghis Khan Schmitz — after Eric died, I couldn’t make myself listen to it because he played that part in our high school production of it. Thinking about Eric makes me smile. I can treasure the memories I do have of him without the guilt and grief that there will be no more.
I will always remember Eric. But I think, at long last, I will be able to do so with a smile. I will be able to remember who he was first and foremost, instead of getting trapped in thoughts of how he left us.
So, Eric, listen to “You Can Call Me Al” and dance as you watch over us. I’m listening to jazz and thinking of you.