"He's not well, Sherri. He is dying."
Those words are the only ones I can hear now. Dying. He's dying. I hate to even type that horrible, horrible word. Even as I do, I pray to God it isn't true... that it's a mistake.
I haven't seen him in years, but I can close my eyes and he is standing in front of me. His curly, wild, brown hair. His piercing eyes and Kirk Douglas chin. The reddish birthmark on his hand that he delighted in saying was his devil bite. Handsome. Incredibly handsome.
I don't think he knew.
I loved him from the moment I laid eyes on him and daily I thought of him. The instant my eyes flew open in the morning until I slept at night, he was with me... and even in sleep, my dreams were filled with him. Every song was about him and every smell was his cologne. I was quietly consumed.
He had no idea.
"I love you," he said. "I'll always love you." I believed him. When I couldn't believe anyone could love me, I knew he meant it. It felt like truth to me. He loved who I was in a way that only a very few people we meet in life will love us.
I loved him too but the person I was couldn't say those words. For me they meant weakness and loss of control and powerlessness and so I held onto them, never even writing them down. He never once heard me say, "I love you".
I hope he knew.
At a time when my life was filled with ugliness and drama and I lived day to day in constant and absolute fear, his far away support sustained me. Letters from my beautiful boy, each one a diary of life without me came regularly… forty and fifty and one-hundred pages long, each page filled with, "I miss you," and always signed with love and "wishing you were here."
I read each one again and again and again through the years and kept them hidden away in the bottom of an old chest until they were found out and I was forced to destroy them. I cried that day because I knew no more letters would come. I cried because I knew no one would ever again fill pages with words of love just for me.
He didn't know.
Somehow I managed to save a few cards, a lock of his hair, a poem he wrote, a guitar pick. Last night I found the dust covered chest and dug through years and years of memories until at last I found them. "Whatever becomes of us," he wrote, "I hope that you will be happy. I will always, always be here for you. I promise."
I believed him. He promised always, but life refuses to give us an always. We should never use that word because it's a lie. There is no always.
How could he know?
I've cried and I've cried and I've cried for my friend. My husband, reminding me again that he truly does understand the woman he married, told me to write him a letter. "Say what you need to say," he told me. "Write as many letters as you need to." He understands that for me love is not something that ends with the mere passage of time. Love endures. Anything that doesn't was never love to begin with.
And so I did compose a letter. "If I were to tell you how many times I've thought of you over the years, I'm sure you wouldn't believe me," I wrote. It's true. I think of him so, so many times and always have. Time hasn't changed that. I remember his laugh, the music he loved… most of which I hated, the secret things we'd say to each other that no one else could know. Purple haze, LRB and chalk dust are words whose double meaning only he would understand.
I try to live my life without indulging in the "what if's" because I know how utterly painful those can be. The news of his illness though has left me riddled with what if's.
When last I saw him so many years ago now, I was hurting horribly because I was suffering a marriage I knew was destined to end. "You shouldn't let anyone treat you that way," he told me. He handed me an old notebook and said I could read it if I wanted. It was another of his diaries, this one filled with his pain in losing me: page after page of his hurting, his love and his hope that someday it would be different for us.
He had no idea how close I was during our last visit to begging him to take me with him wherever he went. He had no idea how much I loved him and how often I had allowed myself to wonder what my life would have been like had I possessed any courage at all.
The last time I hugged him, I wanted to hang on for dear life, but at the time I thought I couldn't. There were too many things in the way and I couldn't handle the mess I knew I'd have to walk through to stay with him. Somehow I always believed there would be another time for us. Deep in my heart I believed that I'd see him again… that he'd always be out there somewhere.
I didn't know.
I have begged God not to allow this thing to be true. Even the possibility that there will never again be the chance for me to run into him, for me to have the opportunity to hug him,for me to say all the things I should have said years ago, I can't bear that. I simply cannot stomach it. He can't go. I don't want him to go.
I'm fond of telling people that things are always as they should be. That to everything there is a purpose and that everyone who crosses our path has a lesson to teach us. But, I can find no purpose in losing someone as precious as him. This can't be as it should be. Even with years and miles between us now, I don't want to let him go. I don't want him to leave.
Why didn't I work to keep him in my life? Why in God's name didn't I do whatever I had to do to see that we remained friends? Why did I close that door with such force that neither of us thought we had the power to open it again? I should have called him, written him...anything to let him know that his friendship was valuable to me. I should know him now. I should know his life. I should know who he loves, what his day to day world is like and what makes him laugh.
But, I don't know.
As his friend, I should have been there during his hard times and I should have sent a card for every birthday, every Christmas and for all those "just because" times. Among the list of things I regret in this life, I find at this moment, I most regret that I couldn't see past the black and white of our relationship to appreciate the importance of simply being his friend. Not because he missed something by not having me as a friend, but because I missed something by not having him.
I wish I had known.
What lesson then am I to learn from him? I don’t know. I don't want to learn a lesson. I just want him to be okay. I want him to call me when he gets my letter and tell me that he's not sick and that it was all a crazy mistake and that he is happy that now after all these years we can finally be friends again. I want him to call me when he's happy, when he is angry, when he's had a bad day or a bad date. I want the chance to be what I should have been all these years. His friend.
Please, please let that be the way this story ends.
Copyright © 2004-2005, Sherri Bailey
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