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Friendship and grief

Last updated on January 3, 2023

I lost a longtime friend last month. It sounds absurd to say “lost,” as if he he’s been misplaced like a thank-you note in the dark depths of the postal system. But I mean it in the truest sense of the word. This is a huge loss—not just for me, but for the world. It’s a loss for everyone who ever knew him, and maybe even more so for those he hadn’t yet met; they don’t even know what they’re missing.

Just a couple of dorks at the senior assembly.

He was one of the best humans I’ve ever known. He gave freely, laughed heartily, and loved deeply. It didn’t matter if a week or a year had passed; we picked up where we left off.

It was a friendship forged in the silliness and stupidity of high school. School dances. Movie nights. Bowling badly. Late nights at Denny’s. The senior talent show where I acted as his incompetent makeup artist applying lipstick to his bearded, prom-dressed “Lola” in Copacabana. Countless conversations during (and in lieu of) classes. The video voiceover assignment where he (an actor) tried to teach me to project my voice game-show-host style until our abs ached from laughing (I was hopeless). The shenanigans on the academic quiz team. Countless cards and letters sent back and forth during college, back in the dark ages when people still did such things. Lunch in Manhattan in the pre-pandemic Beforetimes. There was always laughter. Deep, soul-cleansing laughter, the kind that made neighboring tables turn and look. Flying to New York for his funeral, I kept encountering stories and scenarios that would have earned that laugh. I feel the silence so deeply.

For years, with the advantage of time zones, he had been the first person to text me in the morning for every birthday. We both marveled at how after all of this time, and all of the reliance on social media to keep track of major events, we always remembered each other’s birthdays. The text wasn’t waiting when I woke, and I planned to give him shit about finally forgetting me. When another classmate messaged me three hours later to share the news, I wanted to text him and say that this was an elaborate and unnecessary joke to avoid my “wrath” at having been forgotten. (This must be a terrible joke. Please, let it be a joke.)

I’m stunned by the depth of my grief. In an online yoga class yesterday, the instructor suggested that we take deep, cleansing breaths. I inhaled deeply, and my exhale brought a flood of tears that I didn’t even see coming. As with other major shocks in my life, I’ve spent the last few weeks looking around and marveling at how the world just goes on as if everything is normal. The horns still honked on 6th Avenue. The trains ran on time. There are still Zoom meetings and deadlines and schedules to plan. And yet everything is different.

I tend to be reserved when writing personal things. I struggle with putting feelings on paper. He did not. I went back to my high school yearbook (the inside front cover reserved for him) and sobbed when I read what he wrote when we were 17: “My memories of you and our friendship will always fill my heart with joy! …I am better for having you in my life.” I can only hope that he knew I felt the same way.

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