Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Dear Colin

I had this on my computer and no one has read it really. It's probably the most personal thing I've put on this little blog, and I didn't make any changes to it really. This letter is a time capsule--of how a college freshman learned about another college freshman who had died, stupidly, accidentally, unnecessarily. I wrote it the day I found out, the day it happened, in Butler Library at Columbia on my little Dell laptop. It was the same day that Pope John Paul II died, and it was daylight savings (spring forward). The last time I'd seen him was, eerily enough, at a restaurant called the Tombs in Georgetown with his sister and dad.

I reread it today because I occasionally think about grief and its manifestations--about why certain things affect me very deeply, for unexpectedly long periods of time. I mean, I hadn't seen this kid in years, and we were never close. But I felt his loss profoundly. It makes me wonder how I will survive if someone I know and love and need very much dies someday.

Grief, it's amazing, never really goes away once you've really experienced it. At least I don't think so. For me, it's always there, often just below the surface, waiting to be taken out--like an old book--skimmed or savored, or just handled and flipped through, and then placed carefully back for the next visit.

This time when I read the letter, I realized how much I've grown, how much better I can think and express myself now than before (I'm growing up!). But the feelings I felt were so real that day, that I didn't dare edit my clumsy prose in any way. I'm also not sure whether the language of grief really lends itself fully to translation; the intensity of grief is always reduced to the generic. Words don't cut it, in other words, I forgive you, Lizzy of yore!

So. To respect to my former self, I will swallow my present self's pride (as I'm sure I'll do when reading this shit in the next ten years...). I'm sharing it with you now, because it's special to me.

April 4, 2005

Dear Colin,

I know you remember me. I saw you when you were touring colleges at Georgetown with Louisa and your dad at the Tombs. The time before that I saw you at Squirrel Hill bowling arena. I don’t know who I was with, I hate bowling. I was struck by you, your height. Your face had thinned out a bit, revealing unusually high, angular cheekbones that seemed incongruous with your laughing eyes. Your face, however, still showed little signs of hair growth. Made me smile.
The Colin that had almost fully congealed in my mind was still a boy of about 13 or 14. Still shorter than me. Cried in play practice once because the play sucked. And made fun of me occasionally and liked my drawings always.

The Colin that had fully congealed was much smaller.

Seven years old.

Second grade chasing me and being chased around the green at recess. Making fun of me. Liked my drawings. Cried when somebody bullied him.

That was the Colin I thought about when I heard. The Colin whose behavior Sara F and Tess G and Helen D and Lara B and I discussed on the steps by the side entrance to school during recess. Maybe he has a crush on you. What’s a crush? I don’t think so.

I still don’t. Or I'm not sure at least...

We were never close friends. I wasn’t nearly mature enough for a male – female friendship (are we ever?) and you, you made fun of me and I can only guess that you were a little behind me developmentally. Or at the same level.
But even though I never said it, I know we made a connection. A connection. I don’t even know what made me say that. How generic, first-date-post-discussion-y does that sound? But you know. I don’t know.

Let me tell you what I remember about you all the time.

First: Mrs. Weiss’ classroom, I was drawing something across the table from you and you saw and came and sat next to me and told everyone else to stop what they were doing and come and look.

You acted like I was fucking Michelangelo.

I liked it, even though I acted embarrassed.

Second: at an art show at school we made masks and they were all up on a wall and you showed yours to Louisa (who seemed Gargantuan at that point) and I saw you in my peripheral vision you saw me and then you took Louisa (the ninth-grade Gargantuan) by the hand and showed her my mask and looked back at me and smiled.

I remember that too.

And then there was the time we must have been in sixth grade when I was going back to the math room after class and you and Dan S (Dan, whose name I chose out of Mrs. Henke’s hat which meant I had to pray for him during one lent) came up behind me and whispered is it still there and I heard you and I said what and you said just look and I did and there was toilet paper sticking on my pants and you and Dan laughed and I laughed even though my temperature escalated about a hundred degrees and then you asked how did it get there and I said I dunno.
And I still don’t. I listed that as one of my most mortifying experiences on a survey.
But I can still laugh about it. Even though I am not sure your intentions were wholly sympathetic.

Remember: in the play you cried when the barbershop quartet, that you were in, sounded so bad and you insulted Thomas and I laughed but still felt bad and then you insulted Cliff (who came to one of the Ellis dances and I avoided him and who sat in front of me in math class and I raised my hand and asked if I could move forward because Cliff’s head was too big and didn’t mean to be mean but everybody laughed and he blushed and then I moved) and I laughed harder but didn’t feel bad.

I liked you a lot Colin but I never told you. Because in grade school people don’t say these things. Or really ever come to think of it. You made me smile and feel good about myself and you made fun of me and I laughed because I didn’t really care.

And still don’t.

The laugh: That Coughy, Little Boy, Head Flung Back Uncontrollable Chuckle that was cynical and goofy at once, and your weird teeth that still had a few gaps hard to notice (did you ever have braces?) (that short hair that was so short as long as I can remember, while I am on the subject of appearance, and that rich perpetual tan that you boasted was because of your Filipino heritage). But the laugh stays with me and I hope I don’t forget it. I might. Though.

The sky is still clear and blue and it is 6:48 pm on April 4th. Daylight savings can be weird like that. As I walked here (I’m in the Library) I was mad because the sky was blue and people with pope buttons are walking around like they’re gonna live forever and the pope dying is so, so sad.

It might be sad.
But I am not sad because the pope died.
But because you did.

Saturday I told my friend Phoebe that I had grappled with death. She said she grappled with boys and metaphysics.

Saturday night was daylight savings time. Couldn’t figure out how to set my phone clock so I set the alarm an hour early just in case. I had to babysit at 8 am the next morning so I needed to go to bed. So I did. It didn’t take long to get to sleep. But then my friend Miranda woke me up asking if I wanted to come over but I said no I had to sleep. And so I fell asleep and I remember my arms were really heavy and I was rather bewildered and it felt kind of good that I really couldn’t move. I slept for about another forty minutes and woke up again when my friend Dan (not Stafura) called. And he was drunk. He told me that he had to tell me two things. One (1) that he was coming to New York next weekend and Two (2) that he was coming to New York next weekend and he could visit on Saturday night from 8 pm on and oh did I remember a Fred from GW no well he remembers you you introduced yourself as Stella to him and he remembers you as Stella and me as me but you don’t remember him either good because I don’t either. Good night, Dan. No I’m not crying, it’s late you woke me up that’s all. See you next Saturday. Well then after that, I got back to sleep but woke up all of a sudden like it was morning but it wasn’t. I looked at my phone clock and it had changed time and so I switched my alarm. My room mate was asleep too. I don’t know what came over me, but I couldn’t get to sleep. And then I kept thinking these thoughts. About college. About my future. About peace corps grad school grades study abroad money parents boyfriends family siblings. It all seemed so urgent. (unusual for a happyasaclown decidedly undecided major with not a care in the world for the next ten years let alone the next day.) But I had to organize my life then then then. Then. Then. Now. Now. Then.

We know what you were doing on Saturday daylight savings time time. Lauren H’s friend saw you around 3 am (when I got my second phone call, or 2 am not daylight savings). You were high (and judging by your facebook picture it must have been the norm). But not that out of it. Allegedly. Reportedly. Lauren H was lying in bed, she probably never thought about you all that much. Saw you around. Smiled. She hated Carlow (I did too some days. But loved the people there.) Lauren H was warm in her bed a few hundred meters from where you found your bed.
And then the next morning (“just before 9 am this morning”) (daylight savings time? Or 8 am normal time?) somebody or other found you alone lying cold in a field. They probably didn’t know your name. Or even if they did, did they know you cried about the barbershop quartet?
Declared dead on the spot. (You didn’t see the light you were saving.)

They make Daylight Savings a Saturday night so that everybody can miss church the next day because of the switch and still go to Heaven. Or return their library books an hour late. Or wake up and feel gross because the day is half over.

The confused calculating ambiguity of the day of your death was so fitting. No one immediately knew when, how. How. How. Everybody was in a flurry about the Pope. And complaining about being daylight-lagged. I went to babysitting and then to the Met. I didn’t think about you. But I wasn’t tired. Not lagged, in any way. Wondering why I had had such a strange time of it last night.

You were being taken from one place to another. Your parents had long since gotten the call. The Call. What could the president of Kenyon possibly say? Mr and Mrs B*: We (I) regret to inform you that your son died (son, dead, your son) and we might know how but we don’t know when and we found him just before 9 am. (daylight savings time) Would you like a Refund? Have you set your Clocks Back yet?

I am sure their clocks were set way back. To the moment you entered this world the moment they let you go to preschool kindergarten first second third fourth fifth sixth seventh eighth, the moment you stepped into high school graduation, Kenyon he chose Kenyon we are so proud of him we are concerned he might be partying too much. School was over in four weeks.
Too bad memories don’t work like daylight savings. Lives.

A few hundred miles away I called my friend Andrea to tell her that a boy finally asked me out that I (sorta) liked and she asked if I knew the B’s and Libby and who Libby was and she said their son Colin (don’t say it don’t say it don’t say it) died today.

I know him, Andrea. I know him, I know him.
I went to school with him.
For ten years.
I thought he had a crush on me. (My friends did, actually, but who cares)

Oh my God. (generic again, sorry) I was too shocked to cry immediately so I pretended to on the phone to sound human. And then I said oh and Andrea I hate the pope and I am not sorry he is dead. And she (rightfully) said Liz I can’t deal with you right now, I am going to have coffee with Mike Day, his best friend from high school. I am the only one he has in Pittsburgh.

About half an hour later I broke down. Memories and people were crudely exhumed from my past as calls flooded in and memories vomited out of me in the form of tears and what sounded like coos but were crying sounds (what happens when I cry really hard). It was cold and rainy. Your family. Your poor family. Mike Day. Katie. Libby. A countless number of other people that were affected by your refusal of daylight savings.
(bet you wouldn’t have thought I would write something like this)
(This must be a Tom Sawyer moment for you I bet.)
(I just wish you’d fall through the roof right about now.)
(But you won’t.)

You were the first, Colin. The first son. The first compliment. The first gone. It had to happen, you just couldn’t wait I guess. (I still just wish you’d fall through the roof right now.) You left the world cleanly, quietly. No supreme court battle. No tubes, no pilgrims. But alone. And that really kills me. Quietly but alone. (did you even know it would be your last breath?)

You (like the rest of us, eventually) will soon be a statistic. You = +.00001% (or something) of College alcohol-related fatalities.
You have entered into the realm of an elite aristocracy. (Monroe Dean Ramsey)
You have instantaneously gained the sort of wisdom Man searches for all his Days.
You are an echo. And a jarring reality.
You are Forever Young.
You. Are. Loved. Missed and Remembered.
Laugh gaps cries skin hair height. And Person. (with a capital P)
And I don’t think they can genericize you in a million years. (You are not a mere connection, condolence)
Not in a Million Years.

Well, Colin.
You must have already considered these things by now, but I am still trying to figure them out. I doubt I ever will. Figure. Them. Out.

(And you must know that some roofs are built stronger than others. And these and other vain, shriveled worlds only help to elevate and buttress.)

But. Right now I wish you peace. And hope that in all their days your family can find the same.
Glad to talk, hope you don’t think I am too weird, and see you around.

Respect and Admiration,

Lizzie D

No comments: