by John. John’s oldest & coolest friend died by suicide in 2010.
I have brief visions of a future that never happened. My subconscious named them shards: tiny, fractured, twinkling pieces of it, and sharp. Unlike a real memory, or even a daydream, I can’t access the larger scene. If I consciously imagine more, things evaporate. I’m stuck with just the bursts, bright as they are.
One of my grandfathers lived well and past ninety. My family spent the days around his funeral marveling more than anything. We had memories of his love and dedication, kernels of wisdom, and so many stories we had to purchase extra columns for his obituary. At some point, it occurred to me that this funeral celebrates the story of a completed person.
We never get to perform that rite with our People. We had unfinished business (and pleasure!) with them and their incomplete lives. You wanted your dad to see your graduation, walk you down the aisle, be submerged in grandkids, and offer insight over too-early coffee. You wanted to grow up and grow old with your husband; everything couples do in those damn insurance ads is a little papercut when you know you’ll never again get to partner with him in midnight plumbing battles. He was a great dad — a gentle driving instructor and a careful listener to every teen-crush-meltdown — or would have been one. Your brother won’t cleverly reroute political talk this Christmas, won’t text about weird overheard subway conversations, won’t remind you you’re sane the next time you get dumped and get drunk. Your life with your child would have been an infinity only you could imagine… Shards.
Considering what may have been
I get a different call from the one I did, and my A is tripping over her words, furiously, nervously purring that she’s only crashing for a few weeks. I reassure her with some goofy joke to break her tension, and she laughs those notes she always did.
She’s cooking something wonderful and berating my college-sophomore-grade cookware at unreasonable volume.
My middleschoolage nieces are taken aback by her sophistication. She is chirping in delight to my sister.
She and my friend Matty fall immediately in love. They disappear together four hours after meeting.
The three of us do some gardening.
Matty and I are reading National Geographics in the waiting room while the ER stitches up her gardening injury.
She visits my dying father and makes him laugh so hard he starts choking. She is a tornado of apologies as she produces thirtyish handkerchiefs.
She’s cussing out an ex of mine to divine perfection. No one could cuss out anyone more thoroughly or catastrophically. She consoles/apologizes to me over Bloody Marys.
We’re a lot older and slouching with her someday-husband at a restaurant, hatching plans over something I certainly didn’t order.
We live happily ever after. Well, we live ever after, and sometimes are even happy.
I see her in scenes as a mom, a professional, an artist, and my increasingly wise veteran friend and mischief partner.
But they’re only slivers.
When you reach the edge — nothing. And it cuts into you, saying there is no rest of the scene, because it didn’t happen and the main character is gone and your hopes with them are gone, too.
These shards feel like they’re coming from a Medieval cathedral’s stained glass window, beautiful beyond reason, intricate, one of one. They shine differently as you turn them over. The same one might remind me of her generosity and leave me feeling grim about her vulnerability. These shards help your memory, because you know where they came from and what a treasure they made up.
But that beautiful thing is completely and forever gone and talking about the life that you imagined and lost is like trying to use a piece of that shattered glass to explain the grandeur of the window that was there. No matter how excited your gestures are, no one can really get it. No matter how empathetic your listener is, the unique and magnificent Person and that life you should have had with them are just too grand and complex. They were shattered, they are no more, and that’s how that story ended.