There was a girl once.

The funny thing is, I expected the call. And it went down almost exactly as I thought it would. “Have you heard yet?” said the message. I hadn’t. Then I keyed onto what must be going on and I clicked over to her brother’s page. There it is. It is real. I’d known it would come, of course I did. I’d known for at least fifteen years. I may have deluded myself into thinking it wouldn’t. Fifteen years is a long time and even after two attempts, she hadn’t managed to kill herself yet. It was always in the back of my mind. Good god, it was there in impact black, and I couldn't help but think I didn’t do enough.

Grief, in the rare times I’ve felt it, is never a constant thing. It comes in waves and between crests I always have the troubling thought that because I am doing fine in that instant I must lack some sort of component basic for human experience. But the wave will come back and I won’t be able to breath or think straight. I’ll talk at walls, I curse, and find myself laughing without humor, and trying different faces on to find one that is real.

The first wave didn’t come immediately. I think I sat maybe a minute or two before responding with something like, “I just did,” and then for a minute more while trying to think of what I was supposed to do.

I had a dinner recipe on my mind, I’d just logged into to check messages. Those ideas were all still there and slow to depart. Then I remembered a day, something like being on a street corner with her talking about something stupid while waiting for the light to change. That’s the first wave. It hit with full force and I was laughing. Not any sort of happy laughter. Not any sort of malicious laughter. Just meaningless laughter because my brain couldn’t let tears come. Then that wave subsided.

I was fine again, but only for a short while and then I was crying. It didn’t last long. Again, crests and troughs, but it passed and I needed water. I knew very shortly I’d have to leave the apartment. Being alone was suffocating. Awful, awful silence. I filled it by babbling. I spoke to myself, I said her name, I called her an idiot, I told her I loved her, I scolded myself for talking to myself, and I thought again of her-- a plastic memory; one I wasn’t sure was real. A Fourth of July ago in the apartment, the same apartment, and she was looking in my refrigerator, “Only you’d put the fucking beer behind the soda.” Maybe she said it like that. I don’t know.

And then: God, her wife. If I’m coping by talking to my refrigerator how is her wife dealing?

I sat down to write something, anything, to her brother, but each time I put something down I noticed I kept using the word “I” and I would delete the entire letter. Too selfish. Too selfish. You’re making it about you. Even now I hate these I’s. I put the idea aside as I sought out some liquor.

But, how does one understand somebody else except through themselves? My friend has had a profound impact on my understanding of the world. There were three of us against the world, and we had our adventures, some I hadn’t thought of in years, and they all crowded up as I drank the bottle. She wasn’t my best friend, but she wasn’t my second best either. She was simply herself and my understanding of her fluctuated in a weird in-between state where sometimes I considered her one or the other and often both at once.

How can I even describe her? I can describe myself reasonably well, but to paint a full picture of another person? I can’t do it. We’re all full of contradictions. We’re both light and dark. I can explain likes and interests and opinions until I too am gone, but it won’t encompass anything except myself and what I thought. There’s no canvas expansive enough, nor book long enough to put the totality of any person in perspective. I can’t do it accurately, and even if I could, there would not be room. So I uses I and she, and spell her name out in the tiny corners of my mind understanding that now she is gone I can never recapture any of her light except as a shadow of myself she casts upon the wall.

I may have racked up some thousands of conversation hours with her and have known her as well as anybody outside her immediate family could and yet I can’t comprehend her totality.

To say I don’t know why she did it would be untrue. There’s some talk about an aunt and a final straw, I don’t know the details-- it’s not my business. That she had serious depression, that half her family didn’t accept her, would misgender her, didn’t help. Her self-destructive tendencies have always made me uneasy. I once had to get some knives away from her when she’d gone bat-shit crazy on drugs. One incident, but emblematic of the problem, and in the back of my mind the thought if you keep trying to kill yourself, eventually you will succeed. So, you can recommend help, recommend counseling, be supportive, talk the talk and in the end, time and darkness win.

I do not know what conclusion I can draw or what lesson I can learn, if there is one to learn. I keep thinking about the violence in the world and how horrified I can become watching cellphone captures of shootings and murders. None of these were my friend however, and I can hardly wrap my head around a world where I can’t hop online and ask her opinion about something. The world seems as if it should have stopped with her. Ground to a halt. Acknowledged her in some way.

I had, after finishing a good video game two days before she left, considered recommending it. I wanted to know her opinion. I have a copy of Undertale I haven’t finished yet and she wanted to know my opinion on it.

There are a million things I want to talk about. I need to know her opinion on hundreds of books, thousands of movies, millions of pieces of music.

Here’s an memory of her playing her cello in a flood tunnel, surrounded by candles and cigarette smoke, and she looks so damn cool, the image sticks in my head and reverberates for years like one of her cello strings.

Here’s an image of her furious at some slight from the world. She declaims the evil unilaterally holding her dixie cup high in one hand as she reaches the denouncement of her rambling, drunken plan.

Here’s an image of her and another friend bickering like a married couple as they tried to get some video game characters to function like real humans. “Why the hell are you still playing that?” I ask. “It’s been five fuck’n hours.”

She turns away from the game and stares at me with her eyes pinwheeling and bloodshot, “Because my stupid Sim won’t stop pissing herself!”

Here’s an image. We’re sitting in front of a computer, trying to burn a disc one of her “Groove Chi on a CD” discs, and the computer makes a grinding noise right before it crashes forever. We open the disc drive and the disc comes out in tiny cubes. We stare at each other in gobsmacked surprise.

Here’s an image. We’re walking from downtown to the Northeast Heights. A four hour walk or more. It’s midnight and the moon is out. We’re walking up a street, when we notice a big dog walking along the fence near us. It immediately gets mean when it notices it has been spotted. She puts her cello case between us and the dog and we walk backwards up the entire block as the dog stalks us.

More images than I can count, and none really seem to encapsulate anything. It’s the whole picture I want.

It feels like unfinished business.

I used to joke with her that I wouldn’t go to her funeral if smoking killed her. They didn’t though and now I think back and worry at those words. I know too much about her end and I hate it.

If I send a missive out into the void, to ask a question, to start a conversation, I will never get a response. There are worlds spinning about my head that are more reachable. There’s no P.O. Box there, no zip code, the internet doesn’t reach. Give me a time machine, I’ll know the address, and I’ll say hi to my old friend.

These are all jumbled thoughts and I won’t reorder them. There’s the wave again, and I have to stop.

There was a girl once.

It's been months now since it happened. I figured that some distance would provide a more useful perspective on events rather than writing something while still in the fallout of the event. Who knows, arguably I'm in the perpetual fallout, the nuclear winter of our friendship. She would appreciate that line.

Flash back a month or so further, and I'm out of town on business. By pure chance I happen to be one town over from where she's living with her wife. The last time I saw her was before they moved. She drives over to meet me and we go out for a drink and laugh at the locals. Being surrounded by rich white liberals makes us feel out of place. We're from the desert, that makes a person a bit harder. "What's with all the suburau's and fuckin' kayaks?" I ask. She nearly dies laughing, having had this exact conversation with her wife when they'd first moved here.

We spend the evening having a great time chatting about AI and Go, astronomy and theoretical telescope design. It was a return to form for us. The kind of night chatting we used to have. I say used to because there was a gap in friendly relations for some time. There was a period of time where it seemed I was to be held accountable for the sins of every cis white hetero male in history. Of which there are countless. Our interactions became mostly her venomously harassing me for something. Any action that was in some way stereotypically male that I took was met with hatred and harassment from her. She dragged all of our conversations into bitter gender war battles. I was the devil, and so she treated me as such. This vexed me to no end as she'd known me more than long enough to not attribute the bigoted positions to me that she did. It became apparent that she was full of rage about a lot of things (rightly), and I fit the profile of her enemy in all physical ways so I became a target of said rage (wrongly). I tried to play nice and not let it bother me, but it did. I eventually blocked her on social media. I understood why she said the things she did (rage against others/society), but I was tired of being a punching bag for her. Months, maybe a year or so later she opened a group conversation with myself and Bookreader. Civil discourse resumed. At some point that night I expressed some opinion and she laughed and said "you really are a real life Ron Swanson, no it's cute". I'm not sure if this is how she mean it, but I took that as her apology to me for all the mistreatment. Maybe apology is the wrong word, it seemed that maybe she was comfortable enough with herself to be comfortable with who I was.

In highschool we used to joke that our group of three was structured around Freud's Id, Ego, Super Ego. There was a definite balance to us. She would provide the crazy plan, I would temper it, and Bookreader would bring us both back to center if we got too far out. Nights spent scrounging change to get dollar hamburgers, sleeping in drainage tunnels, sleeping in my van. Going to watch the symphony from the TV that was outside the bathroom at the concert hall since we couldn't afford tickets. It's strange and a little sad to think of all the moments we shared that exist now only in my head. In highschool my girlfriend at the time was forced to move many states away. I said to sarabandegreen "if I had the gas money I would go see her tomorrow". She said she had that money if she could come too. And so we ditched school for a week and drove halfway across the country. All the moments on that trip exist only in my head now, that doesn't seem right.

Music. The fucking band....and music. She and I played so much music together. If there's such a thing as a musical soul mate then we had that. I feel without a doubt that no one will ever understand me so musically intimately as she did. We spent hours playing together. We fed ourselves many a night busking downtown for change. We had our band that we worked on through so many iterations of surrounding people. But it was always us driving the music, working together. That is where I feel the ache, where I feel she left things unfinished with me. We weren't done musically...But here I am, and she's gone.

After it happened my wife and I ended up hosting a memorial for her at our house due to some familial discord. There was mixed crowd of people who knew her but perhaps hadn't seen each other since highschool, family, and friends of her wife who were mostly unknown to me. As those things are it was a mix of laughter and remembrance, as well as sadness and crying. Two days later we hosted an emergency wedding for a friend whose refugee visa was going to expire soon. It was somewhat strange to see her getting married holding her infant daughter in our backyard so soon after holding the memorial in the same spot.

It's funny and arbitrary the things we choose to bring up when remembering someone. I never felt the sadness that I think is traditional for this kind of life event. I respected her, and her choices. I believe one should be allowed to live the life they want. This is what she chose, and while I may not be happy about it, while it may have immeasurably hurt others, it was in the end her choice. I'm glad I got to see her on that business trip and...well...not makeup, but make peace.

It's the just the nature of getting older that you have less free time to spend with other people. There are so many things that need attention that one can't just go spend 72 hours just kind of hanging out with one's friends like was an option in highschool/early college. It's unlikely one will be able to make that kind of friend again.

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