“On the death of a friend, we should consider that the fates through confidence have devolved on us the task of a double living, that we have henceforth to fulfill the promise of our friend’s life also, in our own, to the world.” – Henry David Thoreau
“Closed eyes, heart not beating, but a living love.” – Avis Corea
Monday, November 17th
I’ve been thinking about my friend Winston lately – thinking specifically of how it has been almost as long since he passed away that he was alive. And it presses that pain button, one which was so violently pushed when he fell off a cliff to his death. I cling to the years of sweet and awkward teenage memories I have of him for comfort.
Winston was that sweet guy we all knew in high school. He wasn’t tethered to a quest for popularity. He wore jeans and a t-shirt and drove a lowered Chevy S10 with a stereo so loud that he regularly got tickets for noise violations. He loved to show me how a quarter would bounce on the upholstery when the volume was turned way up. He worked at the local building supply store, trading in his S10 keys for the keys to the forklift. He was trying to kiss me the night I first kissed my first high school boyfriend Jeff. He dated my friend and then cried in his truck as Wilson Phillips sang “Release Me” and he nursed a broken heart. He was my best friend in the way that only an extraordinary adolescent boy can be to an adolescent girl.
We lost touch after I moved away and went to college. He stayed in our hometown and started dating high school girls. I felt like he was becoming a small town cliché while I was learning to spread my wings. I always tried to meet up with him when I came home for the holidays, but the divide was there. We weren’t confidantes anymore.
Years later (and after Winston had passed), I would see his father on the long city transit slog from the nearest big city to our hometown. We’d sit together and he’d tell me about his ongoing legal battles to keep his boat shed from being torn down. I’d talk about my family and my misadventures trying to finish my degree, and it was always bittersweet. I loved this man’s tremendous energy to be present and open to talking about life without his son, but there was always that foul detail between us. The absence. The life unlived.
I did something ridiculous recently and I Googled his name. The Internet was a whispering promise of change at the time of his death, so there really wasn’t a reason for him to be documented on there. Yet there it was – a small mention of 7-year-old Winston, the winner of a kids’ contest at the annual summer festival. This touched me deeply. I was probably at the same park on that day, watching the firemen play a game of soccer with ball’n’hoses and loggers scale telephone poles and there he was winning a ball toss.
How do you commemorate the lives of those you have loved and lost?