It’s been about eleven years since I knew you. You went to my family’s church, and my siblings and I loved to talk and laugh with you. I was just a teenager then, and I haven’t even been in touch with you since then, so I guess it’s a little strange that this is hitting me so hard. The first time I found out, I was evidently so upset that my mind simply couldn’t comprehend or retain that information. After the second time I heard that you had died, I was physically ill for several days; it took me about thirty-six hours just to get to the point where I could stay awake for more than a few minutes without passing out again. Now that it’s been several weeks, I’m more or less functional, but it’s taken me this long to get to the point that I’m capable of putting any of this into words.
One reason that this was so traumatic for me was that I found out online, (that second time, it was a news article, which was painfully concise and impersonal) and a bigger part was the particularly tragic circumstances. But more than anything else, it was because I had liked and admired you so much. I didn’t see you either as a peer or an authority figure, but something between the two and more cool than either. To me, you were the epitome of grown-up coolness. (It’s weird to realize that you were younger then than I am now) You were such a special person that you were important not only to those who knew you best or for the longest time, but also to that gawky early-teenage girl you used to quiz about Beatles lyrics. (If I recall correctly, you never did come up with a line that my sister and I couldn’t identify.)
A week or two after I heard you were gone, I searched through a couple boxes and found two of my old diaries that covered the time frame from when I was twelve to when I was almost fourteen. I was curious to see at what point my siblings and I got to know you. I don’t actually remember meeting you, I just remember a couple years’ worth of conversations and laughter over church meals and during youth group when you were the youth group leader. I’m pretty sure that the initial reason that my siblings and I liked you so much was your appreciation for our rambling cat stories. You were the kind of person who not only listened, but who remembered the names and personality quirks of other people’s cats. You were also one of the few people who understood why we named our cat Heidegger. (Because it’s fun to say, obviously)
Twelve-year old me didn’t think to document the first few times we talked to you, but your name did make regular appearances in those diaries. Usually, it was just a sentence or two quoting something funny you said or mentioning those pre-youth-group games of pool. (I’m still kind of embarrassed about that time I accidentally threw a pool ball at you. Usually, though, you were the one who would accidentally make the balls go flying off the table.) There was one passage about that time you came to my house. Technically, you were there to babysit, but we were thrilled about the opportunity to introduce you to our kitten and to play Legos with you. After my youngest siblings were in bed, the older ones of us sat around the living room and talked about cats for a couple hours until my parents came home.
Those kinds of conversations were actually some of the only positive things described in my diaries from that time frame. Overall, that was really not a high point in my life. (Not that being in that twelveish-to-fourteenish age range is a very enjoyable experience for many people) In retrospect, I think that those good times with you were even more important to me than I realized at the time. You made me laugh and you made me look forward to the Wednesday evenings and Sunday mornings when we’d have a chance to hang out with you. You understood that my siblings and I were distinct individuals at a time when we were accustomed to being treated as a single unit. You gave me opportunities to take a break from the everyday things that made me unhappy and a reason to keep track of the perfectly normal experiences that would make funny stories later.
If my writing sounds disjointed or unorganized, it’s because it’s taken me about a month to write this. There is so much that I’ve written and then deleted, and then re-written and re-deleted, several times in some cases. There are so many things I’d like to say, and probably would say if I was actually writing a letter that you would read instead of a blog post about you. Or maybe I wouldn’t say any of that because that wasn’t the sort of thing we ever talked about. Maybe I would just want to share all those years’ worth of cat anecdotes. I can clearly picture how you’d laugh at the story about Melchizedek’s potato, or the one about when he stole all of my brother’s socks and hid them in my closet. And you’d be duly appreciative of Romana’s great beauty and sweet personality. I’d also want to let you know that I now have a greater appreciation of Led Zeppelin and quite like three of their songs, but I still don’t understand how you can think they’re even comparable to the Beatles.
But there’s one thing in particular that I’d really like to say to you, and that’s “thank you”. And maybe it’s best to end this blot post on that note. It isn’t a satisfying ending. It doesn’t make me feel better about missing your funeral or about never getting around to getting back in touch with you. It certainly doesn’t make me feel better about your death, but I don’t even want to feel okay about that because it’s not okay. It’s horrible, and there’s absolutely nothing I can do, unless thinking of you counts for something. But for what it’s worth, I will always remember you with appreciation. And maybe someday, I’ll name a cat after you or something. I think you’d like being commemorated that way.
Until we meet again,