photo courtesy of the author
My boss, Jessica, called out of work earlier. She sent a text, a simple one-liner reading:
I’m not coming in. I’ll be by later for a drink, though.
She kept her word and arrived around 10 PM. Her strength surprised me, no crying, no mourning. Not in public, anyways. I registered the redness of her eyes, the glisten of the salty trail left in the wake of tears shed earlier in private. Devastation carved deep lines into her face, caverns beneath her eyes.
I looked onward, unhelpful and reserved. No amount of apologies and condolences could quell the pain of her loss, so why try? A sister, her dearest friend, gone too soon, leaving her to face reality alone. So many rushed to her side, did their best to scale her walls.
“She was beautiful,” they assured her. “The best of women.”
As if she didn’t know this, as if she wasn’t her constant for ten years, ten short years. When speaking of time in such quantities, many refer to years or months as “long”. When someone is taken from you, someone that completed you, made you whole, the time is never long enough.
The doctor gave her a year to live, but the cancer took her in four months. She had celebrated her 45th birthday a few months prior to learning her expiration date.
I wondered then what would happen if I were to lose him, my own steadfast companion of twenty years. We are thirty-one now, getting older by the day. We both have vices that could later be detrimental to our health. Cancer and heart disease runs on both sides of my family. Adopted by loving parents as an infant, he is unsure of his own history.
Death is inevitable, and yet, I didn’t care to think of his loss before I saw the effect being left behind had on Jessica. Yes, we joke about it at times.
“One of us is going down first!” We say with a laugh.
More often then not, we discuss growing old together. We imagine ourselves as decrepit old biddies with purple hair and a fondness for bingo. We make up lavish back stories and ridiculous personas for our older selves.
The reality of Jessica’s situation humbled me though, helped me understand our silly dream may never come true. Not everyone is lucky enough to live a long life, and even if we did, one of us has to meet our end before the other.
I called him later that night after I returned home. I reflected for a few hours first, sitting in bed, doing my best to empathize with her situation.
“My boss’ best friend of ten years died today. Cancer.” I told him when he picked up the phone. I didn’t bother to greet him.
He waited a spell before answering, allowing me to stew in the silence.
“That’s awful, but it won’t happen to us.”
“Awful” was an understatement, but I understood the sentiment behind it. How could you express your thoughts on such a subject with mere words?
“It could, though.”
I wanted him to realize why I shared this information, the reason behind my call before we went on with our night. Though modern technology has allowed he and I to remain the strongest of friends, soul mates, the paths our lives took pulled us apart physically.
He is in California, I in North Dakota, life long mates separated by thousands of miles of road and country. We met each week to speak over the phone and play video games, but this is not the same as being together in the flesh.
The last time we had the opportunity to see each other, I visited my mother in Bakersfield. I drove hours for the chance to have a brief dinner with him before driving back. It had been five years since we had met in person again.
I often daydream about moving away to be by his side now that I have no attachments. California is expensive, so this must remain a fantasy for the time being. I wonder now if I’ll ever be close to him again. She and Jessica had lived in separate states as well. So many memories unmade.
“Why are we talking about this?” he asked. I could sense the discomfort in his voice.
“Because one of us is going to die first,” I answered, plowing through his unease. “We need to plan.”
“Alright,” he agreed. He didn’t protest, aware humoring me would be the best course of action to help me move on from the subject.
“If I die — -”
“If I die,” I pressed, “I want a roast, like the ones on Comedy Central.”
He laughed. “I thought we were saving that for our conjoined 30th birthday?”
“We’re thirty-one now, Michael.”
Silence fell. Time crept on, and we had so many unfulfilled plans.
“Okay,” he replied. “A roast. Got it.”
“I want the photo of us on Halloween displayed. A huge copy right at the front of the room.”
Our teachers had allowed us to cut class in order to choreograph our entrance for the contest held at lunch that day. We one first prize with our rendition of Mario and Luigi. He and I had been a shoe-in. I played hooky for days to get the costumes finished for the big reveal.
After school, we used his laundry hamper as a candy bag and went trick-or-treating. We skipped down the roads, one handle in each of our hands. Two sixteen-year-old idiots weaving one of the most precious memories I hold in my heart.
We have an abundance of them, countless hours of recollections from our lives together. This one, though, this one exudes the spirit, the true nature of our friendship.
“How about you?” I asked.
“I want a roast, too. I don’t want any tears from anyone. I want to be celebrated.”
“Also, cremate me. I don’t want a ton of money spent on a casket and a funeral.” He added after a beat, the nerves in his voice lifted. I could tell making these plans helped to alleviate a buried concern of his.
“What about the time in between?” I asked. The distance coupled with our maturity levels caused us to fall out of touch for a few years. Wasted time we both wanted back. What would have happened if one of us had passed on during this estrangement?
This situation happened to a dear friend of my mother’s. I didn’t want it for us. Not for us. Now, our relationship has grown to the point we can be apart for days or weeks, but we come back to each other in the end.
“We’ll just be together,” he said. “It’s all we can do. No more regrets.”
“No more regrets,” I echoed, picking up my PS4 controller and adjusting myself against the headboard.
“Now which game are we playing? I have a hankering to kick some serious butt.”