Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Our Collage

I wanted to make us a collage. We’d had 31 years of experiences with the 3 of us. Dorm shenanigans, bonfires, 21st birthdays, weddings, baby showers, funerals of parents, and endless, endless concerts. I’ll put more thought to it later, but right now these are the ones I remember: Sade, Jesus Jones, Pearl Jam, Red Hot Chili Peppers, New Order, The Postal Service, The English Beat, Sarah McLachlan, Erykah Baku, Lenny Kravitz, Stevie Wonder, and the last show we saw together, the only band we saw twice, Death Cab for Cutie. There were always going to be more concerts, more getaways. We’re all still kinda young, and we had adventures ahead of us. We had empty nests and retirements and grandchildren and eating and sitting on the beach ahead of us. I believed that to be true, until I found out all those plans had been canceled a couple weeks ago. Because you decided to leave and now you’re gone. My plan was to make this collage for the three of us, frame it, and give it as a gift sometime soon. I’m thinking that I probably still will, but it will hurt my heart when I look at it now. My intention was for it to bring happiness, laughter and smiles to the three of us. Now it just marks an end. 

The last picture of the three of us was taken in Fairfield at the end of October. The Death Cab show was outside in Napa, having been postponed due to Covid. It was during the weekend of the big “atmospheric river” storm in Northern California. Nothing went well that weekend. You had actually tried to get out of coming because of the weather, but we talked you into it. I was sick, Beth was stressed out about stuff with her business, and you didn’t seem like yourself. Your hugs had gotten distant and kind of watery. The weather sucked, the parking sucked, the walk to the amphitheater sucked, the Home Depot rain ponchos sucked. I came very close to having my cell phone plummet into a porta potty. The band cut their set short by about 6-7 songs because of the weather. Everywhere in Napa was outrageously expensive, so we stayed in Fairfield, and the place wasn’t very nice. Things just didn’t come together as they usually did for the 3 of us. We had breakfast the next morning, and we all drove home in a monsoon. It was a scary drive home, I don’t think I drove over 40 because we Californians aren’t used to rain like that. We had some good moments, but it really wasn’t as fun as it usually was for us, and that bums me out since it was the last time. But I didn’t know it was the last time. 

So being the big planning freak I am, I made new plans. I found an incredible Airbnb in Mill Valley, a gorgeous mid-century home on the top of a mountain, with a view of San Francisco. I chose that place because I knew it was an aesthetic that you appreciated, I literally had you in mind. We agreed on the weekend in March. This is so sappy and dumb, but there is this VRBO commercial that shows people arriving at their rentals and Kermit the Frog is singing happily, “Now I’m here, now you’re here, nothing can go wrong because I’m right where I belong!” It’s so hopeful and cheerful and sweet and when I was anticipating our next trip, that stupid commercial made me so happy. But about a week before, our communications got odd. You were dealing with way more than what we knew at the time, but in a group text in which I thought we told each other everything, you lashed out at me. I was trying to talk you out of a bad decision as we always had for one another, and out of nowhere, you said F next weekend, and some other things that sounded NOTHING like you. I was beyond hurt but mostly shocked. A couple days later you apologized, but it still didn’t sound like you, you said you were sorry that you were rude. That wasn’t “rude”, it was irrational and hostile and I still didn’t understand. I told you I had spent most of the day before thinking that you might have hurt yourself. Soon after, you sent me an assurance that read in part “I want to put your mind at ease about the suicide issue”. As the days progressed, we tried to convince you to come on our trip, but you declined, or just didn’t directly respond. Beth and I went anyway, and bonded in a way we hadn’t in years, connected in our major concern for you and your bitterness that didn’t seem to have an end. We knew you’d had a tough second divorce and some other complications, but those were wrapping up and we thought there was a light at the end of that tunnel. We were wrong. But we ate and hiked and saw a beautiful waterfall, complete with a Bench in The Wild (Beth will understand). We kept trying, but it seemed you were in the depths, so we both gave you some space. I’d still check in from time to time and say I was worried and you’d say “Oh, no. Don’t be worried.” Even in text it sounded stilted and not anything like the person I knew. You reached out the Thursday before Easter, saying you missed talking. We both immediately responded, we loved you, we were worried about you, and that you needed to be honest with us and let us know what was up! We joked a little. When I told you I’d walked 92 miles on my new treadmill, you said “today??” and you made me laugh as you always did. 

I understand now that you couldn’t let us know what was going on with you. It was too painful for you to admit that you were in that bad of a place, and I KNOW you never wanted to worry us. I can’t imagine the darkness that must have permeated every part of your heart and mind. I can’t imagine it because you didn’t share it with us, and that hurts. The little bit that you did share alarmed the hell out of us, and I know that’s why you didn’t elaborate or go into the really desolate thoughts you were having. We would never judge you, we only wanted to love and help you. By the time you couldn’t hide it from us anymore, I think it might have been too late. The hole you were in was so deep that you couldn’t see the light at the top anymore and no amount of dedication, love, or logic was going to pull you out or make you change your mind. When I think about those final days of yours, my heart just cracks. I hate to think of you in pain, my beautiful friend who was so loyal, and SO incredibly funny. You were the one who introduced me to school psychology. You were the one of the ones I would tell everything to, and you gave the best advice. You made me laugh my ass off for 31 years, dude! Where did that person go, and when did that person leave? The tormented person wasn’t you…I don’t know when the shift happened, although I know the last two years were particularly hard. 

Strangely enough, even though this was my biggest fear, when I got the message from your sister to call her, I thought you’d just be in the hospital. I really did. I was in an IEP on Zoom when I got the message and I excused myself to call. She told me you’d died. And it is truly a trippy experience when you receive news like that…something so incomprehensible and unreal. I don’t remember a lot about the rest of the conversation…I asked about your dad and your daughter. I didn’t understand that you’d just been found that morning. I started to shake, I told my sweet coworker who hugged me, and I drove home to tell Mike. He was in the garage as I pulled in, and he asked why I was home early because he knew I had an afternoon meeting. “Lesli killed herself.” I don’t think I will ever forget the look on HIS face for the rest of my life. Just total shock and horror, and he said, “Oh BABE! Oh no.” and rushed to hug me. You were in my life longer than he has been, more than half my life. He knew who you were to me. Then I had to call Beth and tell her, and I have to admit that I’m going to have a hard time getting over having to do that. That was one of the hardest things I have ever done, and I’ve had to do some hard things. 

The next morning, I was doing the dishes and listening to music on shuffle, I have hundreds of songs. These were the four that came on in a row: Save it for Later by the English Beat…that was one of your favorite songs by them and we had seen them a few years back and it represents so much carefree fun we’d had over the years. The next was You’re My Best Friend by Queen. Self-explanatory. The next was Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd. By that time, I was crying at the sink and I remember saying out loud to the empty kitchen, “Really???” The last song was Surrender and Certainty by Sarah McLachlan, who we had also seen in Berkeley. A snippet of lyrics: “smooth stones down by the waterside, give in to ebb and flow. Collide in blindness, embrace and part, no fear of letting go. There’s no fight to get ahead, nowhere that they’d rather be. Safe in the arms of surrender and certainty, caught in a moment, and sure they’ll be carried. Take me back down to the water to feel that sure of anything.” I heard you dude. Loud and clear. We had so much fun together, we were best friends, you were going to miss us, but you truly felt like you had to let go. 

The day before your burial last week, Beth and I were getting ready to leave my house, but a little red headed finch (?) got into our garage and wouldn’t fly out. We opened all the garage doors and the side door, but he just flew around in circles and wouldn’t leave. Finally Mike told us to go, he’d take of it because he knew we had a long drive. Later I asked if he’d gotten the bird out and he said “yep, as soon as you guys drove away, he flew away.”  So that was you. You wanted to be present, and maybe delay our sad drive?   Once in Fresno, we helped your beautiful girl pick out something to wear, and I helped tie up the back. The service was really lovely, there were maybe 12 of us? We were asked for a couple songs to be played and we chose Angel by Jimi Hendrix and Transatlanticism by Death Cab. The pastor did a beautiful job, I was worried he would shy away from the reality of what had happened, but he didn’t. He spoke about mental health and depression and suicide. He assured us you had been suffering but you weren’t anymore, and that was very comforting. We all cried and most of us spoke. Before we left, I went up alone and touched your casket and said goodbye to you. I took a rose, I think we all did. I have a picture of your casket covered with those roses, but I won’t post that. I think I just needed to take it to remind myself that this is real. 

You were always supposed to be here but now you’re gone. No amount of reading back over texts or replaying conversations will change that. This kind of grief is really debilitating because it was your choice. While I hate that Beth has to experience this too, I am SO glad we have each other right now because there truly is no way to understand what this is like unless you’ve been through it. I can’t concentrate or focus on crap, I’m lucky in a sense that the school year is winding down. The physical part is NO joke, I feel like I have an anvil on my chest. Although I’m losing a little weight, my body feels about 50 pounds heavier. I have a perpetual headache. And while I know your pain was larger than anything I can imagine, I have to admit that I’m mad. While I do take comfort in the fact that you’re no longer hurting, the pain we’re all feeling isn’t fair. Could you have stuck around and gotten the right kind of help and gotten better? Could we have gotten our friend back? I will never know the answer to that. 

Back to the collage. I will still make it, one day. For today, I’ll simply include the pics of us the last time things were happy, or we thought they mostly were. Pics from last June, on our trip to belatedly celebrate our 50th birthdays that we all missed due to Covid. In our beautiful little haven in Marin County, we ate and talked and slept and listened to music. We drove through the redwoods, we took pics of deer in our courtyard and sat out by the fire table. It was a perfect trip. You told us both that you hadn’t laughed that hard or felt that cared for in a long time. That is how I will remember you.

 I love you and will always miss you. I wish things had been different, but your friendship was such a gift to me and when I can come out of this fog, I will write down every memory, every fit of laughter. Godspeed, dude. Feel free to haunt me on occasion.