Something you’ve lost can come back to you with such suddenness. Such power. Like a gift you’ve wanted, but somehow forgot to keep requesting.
Recently, I was looking through some old photographs and came across an image of someone I lost, long ago. He’s never far from my thoughts, but seeing him caught me off guard; I felt its impact all the more because it was unexpected.
He was familiar, all at once. The feel of him was against my skin, like he’d been hugging me only a moment before.
I wanted to hold on to the memory, but it was like trying to grasp water. The photograph, likewise, refuses to catch me again by surprise. It’s too soon; I’ve tried. If I could avoid seeing it for a long time–which I won’t do–the memory might return with the same force. The wait for that alone makes me sad.
This person, this man, this friend–he was hardly more than a boy in the photo. At the time it was taken, we were peers, partners. A couple. That worked for us for a while and then it didn’t. Later, we built a friendship upon old intimacies, which worked instead. We became close enough to talk and laugh and talk and, sometimes, to kiss–we weren’t always good at leaving the past where it was. Something I still haven’t learned. We became close enough that he once volunteered himself as a dad, if I ever found myself with a child who needed one. He might’ve changed his mind about that at some point, of course; he never said. Sometimes I ache with the wish that he could’ve been a dad, but to a child of his own.
The memory of our talks causes an ache, too. The deeper the talk, the sharper the pain. We shared so many of the same questions, but even though the end of his story was near, it was unseen; he wasn’t given the answers. He hadn’t transcended into some state of super-conscious readiness. There was no time for acceptance, when it happened, and no knowing, before.
That’s one kind of guilt. There are others. The guilt of living, of surviving when others have not. The guilt of knowing there are moments and hours and days that I waste, which he might have scooped together to form a whole. If I could, I would fasten all my lost time–and more–onto his. I would give him time to live and love and then time to say goodbye, before the end.
There’s the guilt, also, of the act itself: the losing of him. I was one of many to have experienced his loss, and others lost more in him than I did. Knowing this doesn’t stop me from remembering that phone call, that feeling of sinking, of coming up with only fistfuls of wet sand. How I wanted to go back to that morning, to warn him not to leave the house that day, or maybe any day after. I wanted to tell him we’d never be able to turn back from that moment–not one of us.
There’s another guilt, just as sharp, because I missed seeing him the last time he was close enough to visit. I hesitated about returning his phone call, waited too long, and now I never can. The last time I did see him, we’d been close again, fallen back into old patterns. We’d met in public, and talked for hours. We’d gone back to the house where he was staying, and talked more. In the middle of the talking, all that meaning seeking, he’d said he remembered when he could still kiss me. That kind of freedom had left us, but his words pulled at me just the same, the memories of our kisses traveling through me like a shock. The next time he visited, I waited to return his call. I didn’t see him. I was worried about the pulling, never imagining what it would cost, not to see him again.
There used to be an older guilt, among the others, but he was the one to push it back. In a dream, his energy filling the space around me, I told him I was sorry it hadn’t worked between us as a couple–not in the way we’d wanted. He laughed at me in the dream, his face tense. He told me to get over myself. It hurt–both in my sleeping and in my waking life–but he was right. The gift of him was always in our friendship.
A photograph brought him back to me and, today, I can’t stop trying to revisit the memory of a memory. I want to feel the warmth of his hug, the solidness of him. I keep wishing the lightness of his laugh wasn’t so far away.