The Cruel and Untimely Demise of Bruster Yarbrough

Originally published on 3/31 and then hidden during the investigation. The case has been closed. This is my story.

The man’s name has been withheld so as not to defame his character.

***

On Thursday afternoon, at approximately 3:59 PM, I was at work, sitting in a classroom with my new hire (a teller). She had just finished taking her knowledge assessment, so we were celebrating her passing score and discussing plans for the following day (training at a branch) when my phone rang, unexpectedly, at 4:00.

I glanced down, checking the caller’s name, and felt surprised.

“I’m so sorry,” I apologized to my new hire. “It’s my roommate — he knows not to call me when I’m at work, and he never does. It was probably an accident,” I explained, declining his call and beginning to draft a simple text message that read: “You just called — I’m in class,” but I never got to finish or send the text, because his message arrived first: “Call me RIGHT NOW.”

The urgency of his words caused my pulse to quicken while dread seeped into my gut, heavy as lead and quickly expanding its reach.

I looked up at my new hire, desperately trying to mask my anxiety with a false sense of complete calm. “Our Loss Prevention Specialist will be joining you in just a moment,” I assured her in a smooth tone, and then I excused myself from the room, closing the door behind me. I took a few quick steps away from the door and then touched Charlie’s name on my phone.

“Jace…”

“Are you okay?” I asked quickly, my voice trembling; Charlie was crying. Why was he crying???

“Jace…” he repeated, sounding miserable.

“Is it Bruster? It’s not Bruster, right?…” silence. “CHARLIE, TELL ME IT’S NOT BRUSTER!”

“It’s Bruster,” he sobbed. “He’s dead.”

 

I don’t know how I knew it, but I did… intuitively. It was like I asked myself: What is the worst possible news that a crying Charlie could deliver? “Something bad happening to Bruster,” my most honest self answered.

 

The afternoon and evening curled together like smoke, replacing the clean air in my lungs with a life-stifling heat and burying my heart underneath a grimy sheet of tar.

 

I remember walking into my manager’s office, following the phone call, and saying: “I need to leave right now.” She took one look at me and then nodded, escorting me to my car, and holding an umbrella over our heads. The rain hitting the nylon made soft thumps. She asked if I needed a ride. No.

 

I remember beginning the drive home and calling my mother.

“Hi, sweetie!” she answered. She sounded so cheerful that it hurt me even more to tell her about this impossible happening.

“Oh Sierra,” I whispered into the phone. “I’m so, so sad right now…”

Panic seized her voice. “Rose —— what’s wrong? Are you okay? What’s going on?”

 

Too soon, I was pulling onto my road. The first thing I noticed was that Charlie’s car didn’t look right — it wasn’t lined up, neatly, against the edge of the concrete, like it usually was. It looked like he had parked it in a hurry. I was trying desperately to hang onto logic, and facts, as I edged the car forward. Up ahead and to my right, I saw people, three people, huddling over an object in my neighbor’s driveway. An object. A lumpy object. A white sheet, covering the object. An object. Oh god… oh god.

 

I couldn’t get my car up my driveway. I turned it off, and then Charlie helped me out of it. He escorted me over to the murderer’s house, where Bruster’s body lay, crumpled on the concrete driveway… a white sheet, obscuring everything but his black tail; blood, soaking and oozing out from underneath the cloth. I fell to the ground with a wail, holding my German Shepherd in my arms. I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry, I cried, over and over and over.

 

This continued for maybe half of an hour, but it felt like I spent centuries there on the ground, my shaking hand cupping Bruster’s elbow, over the sheet; my fingers tracing the fur on his neck, over the sheet; my hands resting gently on his back, over the sheet. How could this — this — be real?

 

Then, the neighbor who shot him — a tall man with strong arms and tattoos — was awkwardly giving me a side hug, apologizing, and I was apologizing back at him, and I asked myself, why are you apologizing to this murderer?

 

Then, the murderer and his companion were depositing Bruster’s big, fat, beautiful body into the back of Charlie’s trunk. I stood dumbly beside the car, dazed and watching his blood trickle down the back of the car; someone dabbed at it with a paper towel, I can’t remember who.

 

Then, Charlie, Bruster and I were at the vet’s office. I walked into the front and realized that I couldn’t speak. The receptionist’s eyes glazed over. “I’m so sorry. Do you want to pull your car up to the side?”

 

Then, they were taking him out of the car.

 

But first, when we were still in the car, when I still had a voice and knew words, I had turned to look at Charlie. “Charlie… I can’t do it… but please; before they take him, get his collar for me. I want to keep it, and his name tag.”

 

So now, with his car pulled up to the side of the building, Charlie ran over to where I was standing as they carried my hefty baby away; it took two strong men and a stretcher.

 

“Jace,” Charlie’s voice was edged with anger, “I got his collar, but look — his name tag and rabies tag are both missing. And they didn’t just fall off; they were CUT off.” He showed me the spliced metal. I just shook my head. Why?

 

I turned to look at the receptionist, who was awkwardly standing next to me, a familiar expression of grief on her face. I touched the pockets on either side of my leather jacket; my wallet wasn’t there. Where was it? At work, at home, in my backpack, in the car? At that moment, I honestly didn’t care.

 

“I… Charlie, do you–”

 

She understood. “We’ll take care of that later,” she whispered gently, nodding her head up and down.

 

I felt embarrassed, but I also felt like all of this was maybe just a horrible nightmare I’d wake up from soon and that I wouldn’t end up paying for my child’s cremation today after all, and that, when I did wake up, I would be crying grateful tears and hugging my dog until he began crying back at me in protest.

 

“I’ve… he’s… I have been bringing him here since he was a baby,” I croaked.

 

Then, we, Charlie and I, not Bruster, were back at home, sitting across from each other at the Dr. Pepper table. Sometimes, I cried; sometimes, I gazed at nothing for a while and then, when I looked up, I wondered how much time had passed. Charlie slowly filled me in on all of the details. He’d probably mentioned them to me earlier, on the phone, or in the car, but I hadn’t really processed them. So he repeated them, and the story goes like this.

 

3-4 months ago, Bruster was out in the front yard with Charlie when the neighbor’s daughters were in the car with their grandma — coming home, leaving home, who cares. Bruster saw the car, hauled his ass down to the street, and then barked at the car, scaring the children and grandmother inside of it. Charlie ran to retrieve Bruster and apologized profusely… and that was that.

And while Charlie and I were both at work yesterday, Bruster got out of the house, digging a hole and then squeezing his fat ass underneath the fence. And, according to the neighbor, Bruster then ran into his yard, and he shot him. “He came after my daughters before,” he had explained to Charlie (referencing the car “incident”), who was numb with shock. “I’m sorry… I had to put your dog down.”

“No you didn’t,” Charlie replied.

***

About 6 months ago, Bruster snuck out of the house and took off gallivanting down the road. Fortunately, my next door neighbor’s girlfriend spotted him, opened her car door, and he hopped right in. This was, I’ll mention, the first time they’d ever met. She kept him at her house until I was able to come retrieve him, and she remarked on how sweet and friendly a dog he was.

Around that same time (within a matter of weeks), Bruster escaped again, this time preferring to stay local. “He’s on your front porch, hanging out,” my other next door neighbor texted me. “He looked thirsty, though, so I brought him some water.”

And Bruster didn’t bite his hand off? Fascinating. Oh wait… NOT fascinating, because HE WAS NEVER A VICIOUS DOG.

 

Throughout his whole 6.5 years of life, believe it or not, he never, not even once, bit somebody. Ever. He would bark at strangers, and cars — like many dogs do — and what is absolutely infuriating to me is this: If a Pomeranian, or a Poodle, or even a Golden Fucking Retriever had gotten loose and walked up this dude’s driveway, he wouldn’t have been alarmed, but because it was a large, strapping, and drop-dead-gorgeous German Shepherd, he just went ahead and preemptively shot him. You know, for no goddamned reason. So he wouldn’t have to ever “worry” about the dog getting out. And you know what that’s called? Animal cruelty. And so is eating meat, but this is far, far, FAR worse. 

 

I called the police on the evening of the incident, as my shock began to wear off. Two officers came out to the house that night.

 

“I don’t want money, and I don’t want to get him in trouble,” I told them. “I just want there to be an official record of this happening so that he’s put in check and won’t feel like he has license to kill my OTHER German Shepherd if he happens to get out. It’s… insane,” I stammered.

 

“You need to press charges,” one of the officers replied, shaking his head. “This is animal cruelty. You don’t see a dog running around, go into your house, grab a gun and shoot it. If the dog seems dangerous, you call the authorities.”

 

“You look white,” Charlie whispered to me. “Please sit down.” I sat down and then vomited five minutes later.

I was given a case number, and then the officer said that he would be forwarding my information along to an Animal Cruelty Specialist. But here’s the devastating part: Regardless of what comes of the matter, I won’t be getting what I want out of it, because I want my baby back, and that cruel, evil, dirty bastard took something from me that I wouldn’t have sold for a million, billion dollars. He took a person, a best friend, and a beloved soul. I don’t know how or when I’ll ever be able to reconnect with Bruster’s soul, and the thought of how many years we won’t get to share together creates a somehow hollow-yet-heavy ache in my slowly decaying heart.

***

The morning of the incident, I woke up around 6:30 to get ready for work.

As I stretched my arms and legs and pried myself out of bed, I spotted Bruster, lazily sprawled out on the floor, the morning sun alighting on half of his body, and the other half cold in the shadows. I walked over, smiled at him, and reached my hands down to pet his cheeks and tummy.

I walked downstairs to feed both of the pups before hopping into the shower. I shoveled food into Bruster’s bowl first and then Silo’s, and after patting Silo on his back and beginning to walk away, I looked over at Bruce; he was chewing a mouthful of food, but had paused to look up at me. I walked over, hugged his hips affectionately (which caused his ears to go back), and then he happily returned his attention to his food bowl.

I showered, got dressed, and then shuffled the pups out into the side yard. I closed the door, grabbed my things, and then looked out the window to say goodbye to both of them, as I always do.

I said “goodbye; I love you; I’ll be home soon!” to Silo first, and then turned to Bruster. He was sitting by the gate, watching me, and looking very serious. My special boy. I mouthed “I love you” to my favorite dog in the world and then walked away.

***

The last two and a half days have been hell. People keep telling me this, and I know that things are going to get easier, as time progresses; I know this because I can finally share my memories of Bobby (my deceased brother) with people without tearing up, and I can hold a conversation with Christopher (my still-living ex-husband and best friend) without totally breaking down… but things are different when it comes to animals. When I dream about my old Holland Lop Rabbit, Hiro, for instance, I wake up to a distinctly somber and overcast day, where I cry on and off, missing his evil villain persona and worrying for his safety… wondering why the chick I gave him to never responds to my emails, where I’ve asked about him and his sister, Panda.

Things are different with animals. I’ll never love a dog the way I loved Bruster. He was my first child. I won’t rehash the whole story here, but he’s been my closest friend for the last six and a half years. He’s seen me through the very worst days of my life, and what kills me the most is, every few months, I would lean over the couch, wrap my arms around his big body, and whisper: “I’m going to take care of you until the day that you die, Brucey,” and then kiss his stupid floppy ear, but when he died Thursday afternoon, I was ten minutes down the road, entirely oblivious, and completely unable to protect him, or even be there. When Charlie pulled up to the scene, with paper bags full of groceries and three containers of motor oil, he ran over to Bruster and discovered that his body was still warm. Still warm. And when I finally arrived to the scene, grief-stricken and numb, I could have sworn that – without expecting to see it – Bruster raised his head just a little, from underneath the sheet, when I petted him, and Charlie told me that he saw the same thing, later on, before I even told him about what I’d witnessed. It was almost like he waited for me to get there before leaving.

We were just miles and minutes away from saving him. That’s what’s really killing me.

 

And now, with him gone, every room in the house whispers his name. I walk down the hallway, picturing him gazing at me from the top of the stairs. I peek into my bedroom, expecting to see his strikingly gorgeous form lying comfortably on the bed. I visit and revisit the kitchen, dining, and living rooms, searching for him in all of his favorite spots, and they are all vacant, because he’s never coming back to them.

 

I poured Silo’s food this morning, looked over to the right, and saw that Charlie had thoughtfully removed Bruster’s bowl from the garage. It broke my heart a little more. A tear here, a jab there… fractured fragments of my heart are lying around everywhere, in this house, in his driveway, in those cars, and in that classroom, and everywhere.

 

It’s like he’s still here, but he’s invisible, and I can’t figure out how to feel him anymore.

 

So what happens now?

The day Bruster died, I felt completely helpless. My dog was already irretrievably gone, so I didn’t know what to do or say… I felt like a previously perfectly-functioning robot that either was crucially low on batteries or had been insidiously deprogrammed and was now slowly breaking down.

“I don’t know what to do, Charlie,” I cried over and over, wringing my hands. I remember my eyes being so puffy that they hurt constantly, open or closed. “What do I do?!”

“This is what you do now,” he answered, holding me tightly. “You breathe.”

 

15626452_10209381333664162_5522291882908549558_o (1)

***

4/14 Update: A letter to my neighbor

 

Person’s Name (protecting his privacy),

I want to sincerely thank you for returning Bruster’s nametag. It brought me such comfort. The past two weeks have honestly been one of the most difficult and dark time periods of my life. Everyone around me – co-workers, friends, family – are pushing me to go to the magistrate and ask for your arrest, but I have decided not to, for a few reasons, and I’d like to share them with you.

 

  1. I’m not that kind of person. I don’t want you to go to jail, I don’t want money from you, and I don’t want your wife and children to have to be away from you. I am not unkind.
  2. You going to jail would be pointless. I don’t think you’re a cruel person, at heart… I think you did a terrible, cruel thing, but I hope (and believe) that you will find a way to become a better person because of it.
  3. You going to jail or paying me a million, billion dollars wouldn’t make me happy. The only thing that would make me happy would be having Bruster back, and that is impossible.

 

I have spoken with Deputy Sloan and understand that you claimed that Bruster tried to attack you. I am not going to call you, or your wife, liars, but I will tell you that I know the truth. Bruster escaped the fence multiple times – a neighbor brought him water when they found him camping out on my front porch, and one neighbor’s girlfriend even invited Bruster into her car one day when he was walking down the street… she kept him safe at her house until I was able to leave work and retrieve him. He was never vicious. He barked, like most dogs do, but he never – NOT ONCE – bit a person, or even another animal. He was the sweetest, smartest, most precious dog I’ve ever known. He was my best friend and my child… with you being a father, I’m sure you can understand the kind of love I have for him. I honestly would have done anything to protect him. If I could have been there that afternoon that you shot him, I would have gladly taken the bullet to keep him safe. Whether I sustained injuries or died wouldn’t have mattered. I loved him that much.

 

I also know what you intended to do with him.

 

I know why he was positioned the way he was in your driveway.

Why the pickup truck arrived suddenly.

Why you chopped his nametag off.

 

And realizing all of this added a fresh layer of anger to my already horrific grief. I am spending time, every single day, meditating, crying, and pouring over old pictures and memories of Bruce, trying to feel my love for him instead of my anger for you.

I am writing this letter to tell you three things:

  1. I am not pressing charges.
  2. I forgive you, and I hope that you become a better person.
  3. I am sending a copy of this letter to Deputy Sloan and keeping one on file for myself. Let me be clear: Do not come near me or my family – including Silo, my other German Shepherd – ever again. I do not want to see you or talk with you. This whole event rattled me so much that I actually considered moving, but then I remembered that I’m a kind person, that I’ve lived in this quiet old home and – heretofore – safe neighborhood for years, and that I belong here. If you want to arrange for your daughters to meet Silo, I want to stress that I would be happy to introduce them and let them play with him. Bruster wasn’t dangerous, and neither is Silo. You and your wife misunderstood him and the situation, and instead of taking his life into your hands and foolishly and cruelly killing him, you should have contacted me. There were so many other, better ways to handle the situation. Don’t make the same mistake again… with my pets, or anyone else’s.

 

Wishing you and your family the honest best,

Jace

***

In memory of Germany/ Lush/ Gorgeous Handsome/ Sheppy/ Sharkface/ Fishy/ Barracuda/ Chug/ Bruce/ Prada/ Bestest Friend in America…

Aun Aqui

“Just keep asking questions.”

“Am I a person?” I asked.

“No,” they answered in unison.

 

“Good… those are the worst. What about a place?”

“Nope.”

 

“A THING?!”

“Yes!”

 

“Hmmm,” I pondered over my next question. “Am I an animal?” I asked hopefully.

“No, you are not,” Jarrod answered sadly.

 

“Well fuck. That’s a bummer.”

***

On Friday evening, I was driving down Patton Chapel road with two friends: my roommate, Charlie, and my visiting friend, Jarrod. We were on our way to look at a piano. My parents gave mine – a thousand-year-old Kimball – away six years ago when I moved away from Florida, and I’ve been without one since.

We were all making small talk when I decided to pose a question.

“If you could hop into a rocketship and go up into outer space right now, but the catch was that, if you did, you could never come back, would you do it?” I already knew my own answer, and I thought I knew theirs, too.

“No way,” Charlie and Jarrod both answered.

 

“Are you kidding me?” I asked them again, shocked.

“It would be beautiful,” Jarrod reassured me, “and I’ve been to a lot of beautiful places, but as interesting as they can be, nothing is as unique as an individual. And I love people more than places.”

 

His response has been sitting with me for days.

******

“Just keep asking questions,” Jarrod prodded me.

“Okayyyyyy,” I exhaled, feeling exasperated. It was New Years Eve, around 11:30 in the evening, and we were all huddling in the living room together — a fire burning beside us, and plates holding pizza crust lying on the floor in front of us. We were taking turns throwing crusts over at Bruster, and since discovering that I wasn’t an animal, I’d continued to ask questions for ten minutes, questions that got me nowhere, and my patience was running out.

“Am I heavy?”

“Mmmmmm, that’s kinda relative,” he responded.

“Okay, am I as heavy as a refrigerator?”

“No.”

“As Silo?”

“Mmmm… less than that.”

“Am I… in this house?”

“I don’t know…” Jarrod squinted his eyes, looking over at Charlie.

Charlie considered the question for a few seconds. “Yes!” he answered cheerfully. “You are, actually.”

My hope revived. “Okay… am I in this room?”

“No,” Charlie answered.

“The kitchen?”

“No.”

“MY ROOM?”

“YES,” he smiled.

 

“Great,” I grumbled. “I’m in my room. There are like a thousand million things in my room, and I’m a thing that weighs less than Silo.”

Jarrod shrugged. “Keep asking questions.”

*********

I was standing in the kitchen Saturday afternoon, preparing lunch, when Jarrod walked into the room, leaned against the counter, and asked: “How are you feeling?”

I looked over at him, a little surprised by the question. “I’m good…” I answered slowly.

His gaze was gentle. “You just seem a little sad.”

I was surprised, again, by his perceptiveness. “Honestly Jarrod, I am a little sad. Talking with you about Chris earlier this morning, when we were at Urban Standard, just made me feel a little down.”

“Why?”

I stirred the elbow noodles inside of the pot slowly, cautious to position my hand safely above the rolling, boiling surface of the water.

“I just miss him.”

 

I’d spoken with Chris on the phone the week before, unexpectedly. During the conversation, I told him – while struggling to control the emotion in my voice – that I “just” missed him.

“I know,” he responded.

But do you know how it feels — to tell somebody that you love them, that you miss them, that you would rip your heart out and hand it over to them in a heartbeat if they needed it, and then to have them respond, I know? 

It feels like you’re at a restaurant, sitting across from your very best friend, spilling your deepest secrets and sharing your wildest dreams while they’re staring down at their phone.

It feels like you’re standing beside them in a line somewhere, talking about how excited you are to see this new movie or how thrilling it’s going to be to hop into this rocketship, and when you look over at them, their eyes are glazed, like they’re wishing you were someone else, like they’re dreaming that they were there with someone else.

It’s like taking both of your arms and wrapping them around this person, telling them that they are so special, so exceptional, so important, while their hands and arms just hang there, lifeless, at their sides.

It’s like telling a wall, I really wish you could just love me a little, and watching it as it doesn’t blink, doesn’t speak, doesn’t budge. And you know, in your heart, it’s a wall — it will never love me at all, because it can’t.

 

“Don’t think that Chris doesn’t miss you,” Jarrod offered quietly, interrupting my inner downward spiral. “He’s just dealing with things in his own way. With how long you guys were together, there’s no way he couldn’t miss you.” He paused. “Nobody could meet you and not love you, Jace.”

************

“I honestly just want to give up,” I pleaded. “Just tell me what it is so we can be done.”

“You can’t give up!” Jarrod exclaimed. “You’re going to be SO mad at yourself when you find out what this is… you can definitely guess it!”

I looked at him, and then at Charlie, skeptically. The fire in the room was crackling lightly, the log now half of its original size; I just couldn’t think of what to ask next.

“Here,” Jarrod offered encouragingly, “let me give you a few clues.”

“Okay,” I leaned forward, clearing my mind and fighting to stay awake.

“You’re one of a kind; no one else in the world is you. You chose you.

I raised my eyebrows.

“I know,” Jarrod smiled, “that doesn’t really make sense.”

“Nope.”

“I’ve seen you move things,” Jarrod continued, “and light fires. I’ve seen you comfort people; I’ve watched you destroy things.” He was quiet. I held my breath. “You are tangible, concrete, but you represent something that only exists in a fictional world.”

I felt sad upon hearing this, like I’d lost something that I loved — something crucially important that I’d never even seen. “What? You mean I’m not real?

Jarrod, who had drank at least two bottles of Blue Moon, looked at me with sad eyes. “People wish you were real. Wouldn’t it be wonderful,” he turned to Charlie, “if it was real?”

Charlie nodded solemnly.

And even with all of these hints, I was still absolutely clueless.

***************

I was walking in the rain today. I knew exactly where the umbrella was — lying on top of my leather jacket, on the floor of the passenger’s side of my car – but I didn’t care to retrieve or use it; the raindrops — cold, small, and sick of trying to hang with the clouds — felt wonderful on my skin, felt perfect, making my hoodie heavier, my lips quiver, my hands shake.

I sat down on a bench that was at the edge of the park and watched a train go by, remembering two weeks before, when I’d been watching a train pass with Ryder.

We had been standing on a bridge, looking down as railway car after railway car hurtled along beneath us. We talked about jumping onto a moving train; how to do it safely, how long to stay on, how we could safely get off…

I squealed with delight a few times, imagining doing something so brave and dangerous and uncharacteristic; jumping off of a bridge and landing onto a train. I wished I had the guts to do it, but my mind was too concerned — there were too many questions I couldn’t answer, like: lying on top of the train, would I have enough clearance to make it safely underneath the next bridge, several hundred yards ahead? How would I get from the top of a box car to the bottom of the train? And then, once I did, how would I safely jump off? What technique would I need to use — what speed could I do it at? And if I jumped off, would I land on glass — get cut, get infected, get some kind of disease? If I was unable to jump off and got stuck on the train for as long as it was in motion, where would it take me? How would I get back to my car, and my dogs, or report to work on time the next day?

 

Today, sitting alone and watching another train move slowly by, I cried. The tears were hot, and they made my whole face feel hot, emanating a warmth against the rain. I was wearing earbuds and listening to one of the last original songs Chris and I ever recorded together (you can listen to it here, if you’d like), and I was mourning losing yet another best friend.

It took you seven years to stop pining after Melissa, I reminded myself. How long until you get over this one? 

I love him more than I loved her, I answered, so I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. 

******************
I just don’t know,” I whispered, feeling truly desperate. And not knowing made me feel bad; I wished, so badly, that I had the depth, the imagination, the intelligence and the determination to discover what I was in this game. But it just wouldn’t come to me, and I felt tired of trying to lure it in.

“Come onnnnnnn,” Jarrod cheered me on. “You’ve learned a lot so far — you know that you’re a thing, that you’re powerful, that you are unique to your owner, that–”

 

“Wait,” I sat up quickly, feeling dangerously hopeful. “Am I a PATRONUS?”

 

Jarrod looked confused. “A what?”

 

“Oh, you knowwwww… the Harry Potter thing…”

 

His eyes widened. “Oh — no, not that, but that was a VERY good guess. A very, VERY good guess. Back up just a little, Jace.”

 

I thought about it, beginning to feel despondent again, but then I looked up.

“Am I a wand?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“….yes?”

 

“Yes,” he repeated.

 

“Like, ‘I’m on the right track’ yes, or yes, that’s what I am?”

 

“That’s what you are,” he smiled.

 

I couldn’t believe it! I took my headband off and read the word he’d scribbled across the card. I was a wand.

20170101_094332

 

I’ve seen this thing move things, light fires… comfort people and destroy things… and everyone wishes this was real; wouldn’t it be wonderful if it was?

***

I dried my eyes and raised myself off of the bench. I looked at the people walking around the park; there were only a few today: a couple in workout clothes; a little girl with her father, who was running along ahead of her, trying desperately to make a kite work; a security officer; an old man with a limp.

 

I had noticed the old man earlier — not because of his limp, but because of how well he was dressed; wearing shiny brown shoes, a corduroy cap, khaki pants, a green scarf, and two other, layered shades of green, he looked very handsome. And I was actually approaching him, because of the direction I was walking in, and as I began to pass him, we both looked over at each other and smiled.

 

I whispered hi, and I thought I heard him ask me a question — it sounded like: “You enjoying the day?”

 

So I unplugged one of my earbuds and offered: “Beautiful day! I don’t mind this rain at all.”

 

“Me neither,” he nodded in agreement, leaning heavily onto his right hand, which held the cane. “I used to work in it a good bit.”

 

“Oh really? Where did you work?”

 

“US Steel,” he responded, “and one day, I was working out on the tracks — trying to reattach an engine that had derailed itself — when I felt the rain coming, not in drops, but in waves.” He stopped walking and placed his left hand on a telephone pole, stabilizing himself. “Turns out, I was working in a tornado! But I had no idea,” he continued, shaking his head. “No idea until I turned the news on later that evening.”

“That’s insane,” I whispered. “I guess it would be hard to tell if you were right in the middle of it.”

He nodded.

We continued chatting, and then he said: “My name is Elijah.”

I smiled. “My name is Jace; it’s nice to meet you, Elijah.”

*

I was leaving an Indian restaurant Friday night when the waitress – someone who I can only describe as looking intrinsically magical – came by the table to drop off our checks. “2017,” she whispered excitedly, smiling and shaking her head softly. “What year would you go back to?”

Jarrod and Charlie both responded, and the waitress shared her answer, too, murmuring that she’d return to 2013 because something very special had happened that year. I couldn’t help but wonder what it was, and if she hadn’t had so many other tables to tend to, I would have asked. I listened to all of them as they responded and then I gave my own answer.

“2010,” I said out loud, thinking to myself, I would go back in time and not get married. 

But that didn’t sound right.

“Actually, 2015,” I corrected myself. I’d go back in time and not get divorced, so that Chris and I would still be best friends right now. But that didn’t really sound like what I wanted either; if I hadn’t got divorced and given myself a whole lot of space, I would have never come to the realizations I have and developed into the more real and more sane person that I am now…

“I… I honestly just wouldn’t go back at all,” I answered for the third time — but this time, silently. “I don’t want to change anything. I just want to keep going.”

I scribbled a tip and a quick note onto the receipt before she grabbed it.

“I hope that 2017 is as magical for you as 2013 was.”

 

Jace

Aun Aqui

Still Here

Remember me?

I was walking through Big Spring Park last Thursday night. It was nearing dusk. I realized, as I was crossing the street, quickly edging my way past cars that were waiting on the turn of a light, that wearing knee-length shorts with these wild, hairy legs no longer makes me feel self-conscious. I rarely even consciously think about it, but when I do, it makes me feel.. confident. I smiled a little at the small victory; of relinquishing some of the shame I once felt for my body. Then, I touched my left hand to the back of my neck and gently ran it up the back of my head, relishing the scratchy feeling that hangs on for a solid two weeks after AP has buzzed my scalp, and when I did this, it made me feel warm. I recognized that I was comfortable. As I continued walking, acutely aware of the sensation of skin stretched tightly against my rib cage, I thought about the tattoos etched into my wrist, forearms, bicep, back shoulder blade, and ankle soaking up sunlight, and I felt whole. I felt right. Feeling and thinking about all of these things made this body feel a little more like home.

I was wearing earbuds; listening to music, at first, and then talking on the phone with my grandparents. It had been a long time since I’d called them.. at least two months. We needed to catch up.

“So you’re training a bunch of people up there right now, huh Rosebud?” Grammy’s animated and soothing voice smiled into the phone. So familiar. She always sounds like magic, I thought to myself.

“Yes, Gram,” I responded, smiling back at her and watching a girl slip her hand into a boy’s.. seeing, quickly thereafter, a child running towards a flock of geese and terrifying the ever-living shit out of them.

“And what are you eating while you’re up there?” she inquired cheerfully.

“I’ve been dropping into Whole Foods and buying fresh produce on Mondays. I brought a bowl, a cutting board, a knife and a fork with me from home, so I’ve been making salads in the evening,” I answered her.

“My my!” she exclaimed, sounding impressed. “You’ve always made the PRETTIEST salads, Rose. You used to make ME want to eat them.”

I grinned and thanked her.

“I’m glad you’ve started posting on Facebook again, Grammy,” I began. “You disappeared for a while there. YOUR status updates are always SOOOO hilarious, and they’re so attention-grabbing!”

She started laughing, sounding pleased but skeptical. “Ha.. yeah RIGHT!”

“YES!” my voice took on a higher pitch. “I mean it! THEY REALLY ARE! And I’m not the only one who notices them. You’ve seen the likes and hearts and comments they get. I swear; when I’m reading those short and descriptive stories, in my mind, you take on the tone and drawl and speaking voice of a classic, southern writer. It feels like something I would have read in AP English back in high school. Seriously. It’s really cool.”

 

“Now don’t lie to her, Rose,” Grampy’s voice interrupted our conversation suddenly.
“OHHHHH! IS THAT YOU ON THERE, RUSSELL?” Grammy demanded, feigning irritation.

 

“Yes, Diane.”

 

“Grampy, SHE IS a good writer!” I protested playfully, laughing into the mic. I listened as my voice took on a more feminine tone and I cursed myself for it. Why? Why do I always do that?

 

We all continued chatting while I walked laps.. laps around the park, laps around the pond, and laps around the fountain. I paused for a few minutes and sat down on the edge of the concrete, staring into the rippling surface of the smelly pond water and watching fish of all colors and sizes drawing near the surface. I made a comment about the fish out loud.

 

“What kind of fish are those, Rosebud?”

“Oh, I have no clue, Gram. I’m not a big fish person. They..” I peered down a little closer and squinted my eyes at the water, “just look like really fat, over-sized goldfish.”

“Huh! Heard you say earlier that some of ’em were orange.. what kind of fish do you reckon those are, grandpa?”

“Hmmm..” I could hear Grampy mulling possibilities over in his mind. I pictured him slowly rocking back and forth in his green recliner, parked in front of the television set in his bedroom.. partially present in our conversation and partially engrossed in some muted, 60s sci-fi show. “Sounds like a grenil fish to me.”

 

Then he began talking about the History channel — about a show he’d watched recently that exposed how Christopher Columbus hadn’t actually been the first one to discover America — and then he brought up something he’d seen on the Discovery channel; a documentary about creatures that could do amazing things, like bury themselves under the ground for seven years and then return to the surface to breed once and then die.

 

“Wow.. that’s intense,” I remarked quietly.

 

“There’s one living organism,” he continued, and I could hear Grammy chuckling to herself in the background, “that will protectively hide itself under the ground when it’s flooding.”

 

I realized that my mind had wandered.

 

“I’m sorry, Grampy; can you please repeat that? What’s the name of the creature that hides underground when it’s flooding?”

 

He backtracked and then resumed describing the phenomena, but he couldn’t seem to recall the name of the creature. My mind had wandered again, anyways.

*******

I wrote an off-the-cuff song about Melissa this past weekend; you know, the girl that I loved. The girl that I’m still stupidly pining after, six stupid years later.

 

I made the mistake of sifting through old Facebook albums on Saturday morning, scavenging for pictures of me as a young skater that I could use in my previous blog post. I ran across old pictures of us in the process, of course; pictures of best friends, best friends forever, adventuring the world and enjoying life together. It was nauseating.

 

The worst thing I came across was a video. I’ve watched it.. so many times this evening.

 

And I’ve sent her so many letters. I rode my motorcycle to the CVS down the road just last year, on my lunch break, and picked out a birthday card for her. I addressed it to her grandmother’s house, where I presume she’s still staying. I’ve tried emailing her, and I’ve tried, every six months or so, typing her name in on Facebook again to confirm that I’m still blocked. I tried again tonight, honestly. Still am. I sound like a real stalker, don’t I? How pathetic. How creepy. I’m really NOT a stalker though.

 

I’ve made all of these efforts to reconnect and reconcile, andddddddd not a word. Not a single, motherfucking word.

 

But I am, of course, a bad person now. An agnostic, gay, sailor-mouthed heathen. It’s not like we’re AT ALL compatible on ANY kind of level, and I plainly realize that. That is no longer the source of my pain. What hurts far worse than her not reciprocating my undying love is the fact that she won’t even condescend to recognize my humanity, to validate my feelings, or to acknowledge the eight years of friendship that we shared. It’s like it never happened. It’s like I never even existed in her world. God help her, she’s going to keep the freaking Sabbath from sunset Friday night to sunset Saturday night, and she’s going to be a goddamn vegan and wear shirts with sleeves that are long enough to cover her elbows, because Jesus wants her to do those things, but fuck tossing a few kind lines (like “I’m glad you’re still alive; I’m not comfortable being friends with you anymore, but I DO appreciate the special time we spent together as children”) to a worthless and unremarkable, piece of shit, hell-bent stranger. Nah. Jesus ain’t worried ’bout all that, cuh. 

 

If I sound angry, it’s because I am angry. I’m devastated. Truly.. devastated. It’s been six years since she cut me off and the wounds are still as raw as if she’d just cut into me yesterday. I wish I had some semblance of emotional control over the matter. I reason with myself all of the time (ie GET THE FUCK OVER HER; ARE YOU DONE NOW?), but the problem is that I don’t give up on people.

 

She could land herself in prison for the worst charges imaginable and I would still go visit her. I’d buy the plane ticket tonight, bring her whatever books she wanted, and spend every visitation hour allowed there with her. So she’d know, without a single doubt, that she was loved unconditionally and that she wasn’t alone. And guess what? I’d do that for freaking anyone. Any friend, any family member.

 

My family can look down on me for being gay for the rest of my life — I’m sure they will — and I’ll still love them. Despite being viewed as an intolerably immoral and indecent human being (simply for my gender identity and sexual preference), I’ll still try to be a good person for the simple fact that I want to be a good person, because I don’t believe that morals are merely your ticket to paradise. Goodness is intrinsic. Your motivation for being moral can’t be chasing after some reward, or it doesn’t count. Not in my book, anyways. But maybe it’ll count in Jesus’ book. Who knows.

 

My best friend in the whole entire world may never say the words “I love you” out loud to me again, and I won’t fault him for it.

 

And I may never get to pet my sweet, strange, feral little rabbits again, but they’ll always have my heart like no one and nothing else does.

 

I had a real meltdown on the staircase last week.. pertaining to all of this. I was doing something in the kitchen when a song came on my Spotify station, and when it did, I instantly recalled this memory of my ex-husband.. my best friend.. Chris dancing around in the kitchen, like an idiot.. laughing and smiling and calling it his song.

 

I don’t miss being in a relationship with him. But I miss getting to see and talk with him every day. I miss my best friend. He’s the second one I’ve lost.

 

I emailed the woman who rehomed my rabbits three weeks ago. My train of thought was this: I didn’t know what my living arrangements would be 5 months ago, but now, I’m closing on the house on FRIDAY. I’ve got this BIG backyard and the energy and mental stamina needed to build a fabulous, outdoor bunny town.. and maybe she isn’t totally in love with them yet and would love to get them off of her hands!

 

I was feeling excited, incredibly excited, but I didn’t disclose all of these secret plans in my email. I just said: “Hey! How are the buns doing? I’ve been thinking about them!”

 

“Oh, they’re wonderful!” she responded quickly, within minutes. “Girl (that’s what they’re calling Princess Panda now) is shy but sweet, and my daughter’s renamed Hiro Dumbledore! He’s a barn favorite.”

 

Hiro.. Dumbledore? My heart ached. But don’t they know that he’s a villain? An evil, mad scientist? A brilliant, sneaky and conniving rabbit whose only goal is taking over the world? He must hate being called Dumbledore!

 

So I cried. And I dreamt about Hiro a few nights later — in my dream, he was sitting on a ledge that was high up in my bedroom closet and I was laughing at him, reaching my hands up to grab him so that I could pull him close to me, and then I woke up.

 

I’ve lost so many people. I’ve lost so many things that I’ve loved. Melissa, Chris, the buns.. Bobby. I can’t even begin to process Bobby. Maybe in another four years.

*******

Suddenly, I was back in the park, blindly shuffling up a flight of stairs. I didn’t know where I was going; literally. I’m not familiar with this town. I just knew that I wasn’t ready to head back to the hotel yet, so I didn’t mind getting lost. Grammy was talking about us meeting half-way in Tennessee next month.. somewhere in Chattanooga. Suddenly, my ears tuned in to the sound of live music.

 

Live music? I was confused.

 

So I quickly took the remaining stairs to the top, rounded the corner, and there it was: a farmers market.

On a Thursday night? How random! I was delighted.

 

“What on earth is that noise?” Grammy’s bright voice chimed into the phone.

 

I smiled. “Hey guys, I’m going to let you go for right now — there’s some live music happening on the street and there are a whole bunch of interesting booths set up. I’m going to explore for a little while.”

 

I could hear the smile in Gram’s voice. “Oh, that sounds fun! Have a good time, Rosebud. Be safe.”

 

“I will. I love you guys. I’ll see you soon.”

 

I turned Spotify back on and meandered down the street.. noticing the girls, noticing the boys; noticing them noticing each other and wondering who and what I was, exactly. I discovered that I was content with the answers “human; alive.” I looked over at heavy baskets full of produce; at paintings hanging on cloth backdrops; at candles and lotions and soaps made from goats’ milk. One particular booth really caught my eye, and when I stopped in to chat with the artist, I discovered that she shared my love of bunny rabbits and outer space.

 

And now this incredible, original piece of her artwork is hanging on a blue wall in my bedroom.

 

20160521_090746

 

“This is how I see it,” I was explaining to my best friend, Chris, on the phone yesterday morning. “Panda SOMEHOW got IN to the rocket ship and doesn’t know WHAT the hell she’s doing in there. Doesn’t know where she’s going, how to fly the thing.. etc. It’s awful.”

 

“Riiiiiiiight,” he murmured, encouraging me to go on.

 

“And HIRO,” I continued, “is staring at the whole scene and just can’t believe it. Panda’s in the rocket shipand he isn’t. How unfair! How ironic! Life. It’s so funny.”

 

“It’s a strange, beautiful life,” he agreed.

 

me and mel

us

Mel: The sun was shining on our faces Me: I hope it always does.
A Day in December, 2009
Mel: The sun was shining on our faces
Me: I hope it always does.

 

 

I’m still here, but where the fuck are you?

Aun Aqui

When People Just Disappear

I did it.

I did it again today.

 

I always know that I shouldn’t.. that it won’t help anything; that it will only bring to life old feelings, tear open old wounds and ruin my mood for the day, or the next few days, or the week.

But I couldn’t help myself.

I googled her name, and a picture from Facebook came up.

I’m blocked on Facebook, or I would have just typed her name in there.

 

Have you ever lost a best friend? Did they die, or did they just disappear?

Here’s the sad story that I’ve carried in my heart for years.  I’m hoping that by telling it, some of its weight will subside.  My sympathy goes out to anyone who can relate.

Aun Aqui

(PS, three names have been changed, as denoted by ensuing asterisks)

 

 

I was turning eleven years old when I met *Jane.  It was in the late spring, and right after the 9/11 incident, so that’s always been my time-marker.  From today, it would be around 11 years ago.

At the time, my mom had begun to attend the local Seventh-day Adventist church on a weekly basis, so, bright and early every Saturday morning, she would head off to the main sanctuary while I made my way down the long, carpeted hallway to the Sabbath School room.

I loved my Sabbath School teacher; she was an old and crazy white woman whose hair bolted outward from the top and sides of her head in a massive, pale-blonde poof. The classroom had a felt board with attachable Jesus characters, a green chalkboard that we used for word games, and a utility closet stuffed full of crayon boxes and crayola markers, thick stacks of plain white paper, non-toxic sticks of glue and rolls of invisible tape. Our doting teacher always kept snacks nearby: goldfish, potato chips, fruit roll-ups, chocolate chip cookies and, occasionally, vegan cookies that she had baked especially for me (my mom had made me tell her that I was on a “vegan diet”).

The lessons were simple and easy to understand, and my hand was usually the first to fly up when the teacher either presented a question or asked for a volunteer to do something, like pass out papers or come up to the board.  Occasionally, our class would sing a song for the adults out in the sanctuary or put on a play, but we usually just kept to ourselves in our quiet, colorful and cozy school room, saying short prayers, reading kiddie versions of old Bible stories and eating our snacks off of white styrofoam plates.

 

One Sabbath morning, a little girl and small boy walked into our class.  They were a little too late to really catch that day’s lesson, but our teacher still welcomed them in and motioned for them to take a seat at the table where the rest of us were mostly coloring and half-listening to the teacher read out of the book.  I eyed the boy for a second once he had entered and then the girl for much longer: both of the kids had dark features — thick eyebrows, brown hair, brown eyes and olive-colored skin.  They had straight noses, square faces with angular jaw lines and athletic builds. I was too young to recognize  it at the time, but they were obviously of Greek descent.

The girl took a seat at the table across from where I was sitting and placed her hands in her lap.  The boy sat at the other end of the table and kept his eyes on the table.  The teacher had picked up with her reading and the other students had resumed their coloring, so I returned my attention to the girl.  She must have felt my gaze, because she looked up at me inquiringly.  I smiled at her and then quickly looked back down at my work, but I lowered my head slow enough to have seen her lips stretch into a smile before my eyes had even reached my paper.

 

It was like two magnets that had been moving and acting independently of each other were just placed into the same room that day, and that fatal, desperate attraction between the two that had been set in motion since birth finally acted out its will in locking us, heart to heart and hand in hand, for the rest of our days.  That clasping of human souls could only be broken by the most painful, excruciating means.. and eventually, it would happen, and we’d both feel the tear.

 

Her name was Jane.

Our friendship began innocently and simply enough.  We walked down the church hall together that day, our elbows no more than an inch part, and sat beside each other in the sanctuary.  We passed notes back and forth (penciling in questions that kids like to ask, what’s your favorite color and where were you born, and drawing cartoons) and begged our parents, after the service, to let us meet at the beach.  My mother, one of the shyest people I’ve ever known and a true hermit, magically (miraculously, even) agreed for us to meet, and the following Sabbath, our families drove down to Pine Island.  It was a sunny, cool evening when we arrived; my mom and grandma, along with Jane’s mom and dad, lugged Tupperware and plastic bags from the cars and picked out a picnic table by the water.  We grilled vegetarian big franks and ate baked beans, potato salad, watermelon and a casserole that Jane’s mom had brought from home.

After the meal, Jane, *Peter and I ran over to the car and hid ourselves inside of it, spending the last hour of sunlight decorating plain white t-shirts with fabric paint.  As a side note, I still have the shirt.  It’s stuffed into a corner in my closet.

 

And that’s how it started.  As the weeks and months went on, I learned more about Jane; she and her family lived in Connecticut and drove down to Florida during the summers (where they had a second house).  While this was bad news (she would be spending half of the year away from me), it was also an exciting prospect: our parents talked it over, and it was decided that I would take a plane and come visit during the winters.

Thus the years progressed.  Jane and I talked every single day; in person, or over the phone, through AIM, or over MySpace, on Facebook, and even over Skype.  We had Bible studies together and talked about every facet of life together.  I helped her with math over the phone (she and her brother were homeschooled) and she listened to the exciting stories I brought home from public school; what the girls were like, what the boys were like, and what everyone said and did and wore and listened to.  She was my confidant in all things; she felt closer than a sister to me.

 

I quickly learned, though, that my best friend had one great flaw: jealousy.  It creeps into all relationships, really.  When I was born, my brother was so jealous of the attention that I took away from him that he suggested to my grandma one day that she should just throw me into a ditch.  Siblings get jealous.

Girlfriends get jealous.  I personally know girlfriends who get upset with their boyfriends simply because they work with other females.  As in.. the guy works at a Sprint store and a female human being also happens to work at that store. …

Wives get jealous, husbands get jealous, mothers get jealous, people in general get jealous.. and sometimes, for good reason.  But friends, in particular, possess this certain breed of jealousy that branches into a possessiveness that views every other smiling, handshaking person as a threat.  And that was a trait that my dear best friend possessed.

 

Around the same time that I met Jane, I met a girl named *Veronica.  She and I were similar in terms of ages, and her mom and dad took a liking to me right away.  We met at a Bible study one day, and her mom invited me to come spend the afternoon with them.  My mother agreed (which was, again, surprising) and Veronica and I quickly became good friends.  We’d go out in the family’s boat with her dad and camp out at an island or by a river; we’d ride around in her big driveway on our scooters, singing songs from “The Lion King,” and we’d explore the treehouse in her backyard, the one that her dad had built and that always had scary flying insects stationed all along the insides of it.

Jane eventually found out about Veronica and how fond I was of her, and when she did, she made no attempt to hide her displeasure.  We’re best friends, Rose.  Why are you hanging out with her?

 

Jane and I were both preteens — nervous, insecure, and simple-minded.  To her, a thousand miles away in Connecticut, the thought of me hanging out with another girl and having fun with her was the same as disowning Jane as my best friend and replacing her with someone else.  I was forced to make a decision.

I spent the next ten years of my life pushing people away.  I still hung out with people on occasion, but I didn’t allow any other girl the kind of intimacy in my life that I shared with Jane.  I didn’t confide in girls, I didn’t trust girls, and I didn’t grow attached to any of my other female friends; in Jane and I’s daily conversations, I’d do my best to avoid mentioning any outings or activities I had had with my school friends, but it was difficult, and sometimes, she just downright asked who I had hung out with, what we had done, and if I really liked them.  I always downplayed it: “Yeah, mom let me go to the rollerblading place Thursday night, but I mostly kept to myself.  I wish you’d been there.”

The truth is, during this time, it seemed worth it.  Cutting people off and verbally negating how much I enjoyed other friendships seemed like a small sacrifice in comparison to how beautiful of a friendship Jane and I shared together.  Jane was the best friend that I could ever ask for; she wasn’t like other girls (dramatic, catty, untrustworthy, superficial).  The only problem was that she lived on the other side of the country during half of the year, and then, when my family relocated to Alabama, she lived in another state every day of the year.  My annual trips became twice-annual trips, as we planned and looked forward to summer and winter vacations together.  My trips to Jane’s house (whether in Florida or Connecticut) usually lasted anywhere from 1-2 weeks long, and those times that I spent with Jane and her brother were the happiest times of my childhood life.  I didn’t need other friends.  I had her.. and she was the best.

 

But then, we hit another road block.

As often as Jane and I talked and hung out, I was forced to see and spend time with her brother, too; I was a natural tomboy, so it was a perfect situation when we were kids.  We were the three musketeers, riding bikes, hiking, goofing off and exploring the world together.  We all bonded.. and while we were kids, that’s all it was between us: a three-way best-friendship.

But then, we turned fifteen and then sixteen, and we had to ask ourselves the question: is dating an option for us?

What you have to understand is that, growing up in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and believing that you are to marry in your own faith, makes the suitor options out there pretty slim.  I remember, as an early teen, visiting SDA churches in the area with my mom and grandma and quickly scanning the length and width of the sanctuary for any signs of teenage boys.  Occasionally, there’d be a gentleman in his thirties somewhere in the congregation or I’d spot an obese twelve-year-old boy in a back pew, his chubby hands holding a Nintendo gameboy conspicuously in his lap. I’d note my findings and sigh to myself.  There are Adventist dating websites out there, I’d console myself, and they hold conventions every once in a while.. maybe I can go to one of those when I’m like nineteen.. or twenty.. and maybe, just maybe, I’ll find a single guy then.

(It’s not like I was even allowed to date when I was fifteen; I just liked the idea that, if I was allowed to date, there was an ample supply of suitable boys out there and not just one or two single, compatible and sought-after males in the entire Southern region)

 

And so, my future as a wife seemed relatively doomed, which really wasn’t that big of a deal, considering that I was only fourteen years old.  But when age fifteen rolled around and I recognized Jane’s brother, my second best friend, as a potential suitor, the idea fascinated me.

How perfect would that be! I thought to myself, excited and confident for the first time ever.  “And they do say that you’re supposed to marry a guy you consider a friend..”

 

At first, I kept my ideas and feelings to myself.  Peter, who had once appeared geeky and extremely awkward to me, suddenly looked quite handsome in the pictures he shared on MySpace and Facebook.  I noticed muscles (in reality, the size of walnuts) in his arms, the hint of facial hair above his lip, and a deepening in his voice on the family’s answering machine, and all of this signaled to me that he should soon be showing an interest in dating.

Jane, always perceptive and discerning, confronted me about it on the phone one evening.  I had no idea where she had drawn her suspicions from, but I didn’t ask; all at once, the truth of my feelings and ideas spilled out, and, surprisingly, she supported the idea of Peter and I dating.  She thought it was a marvelous idea; we could be real sisters!  She was actually cool with it.

And so, in just a few months time, we began our 2 and 1/2 year relationship of distance-dating.  This essentially changed nothing about how life had been in the past; only that, where in the past, Jane had always answered the phone, Peter would now sometimes answer the phone and talk with me for a few brief and fleeting minutes before passing the phone off to his sister.  And instead of just receiving emails from Jane, Peter began messaging me goofy animal pictures with captions and one liners with smiley faces.  There were a few “special” moments; Jane sacrified two hours of vacation time with me one winter so that Peter and I could go ice skating alone.  We called it dating, but to be honest, what we shared was more like a loving friendship.  I think I kissed the guy on the cheek once.

In a nutshell, our relationship was cute; we were young.. and it continued, like I said, for two and a half years.  Then.. Christopher came along.

 

To make a long story short, Peter and I had a falling out.  It was over the phone one afternoon, over something trivial, but it signaled the end of our relationship.  He yelled at me, hung up the phone, and never called back.  Jane and I had just spoken that morning (and the day before, and every day before that day for the past 363 days).  I shot her an email over Facebook that afternoon, asking her to tell her brother that I wanted all of my stuff back.  She responded that she would tell him, but that she thought it would be good if I spoke to him myself.

 

I didn’t call her that evening because of how upset I was.

I didn’t call her for a few days, actually, and the phone wasn’t ringing on my end, either..

 

and slowly, it dawned on me.  As each day passed and our silence continued unbroken, I realized what had happened: when Peter and I had broken up, Jane and I had broken up, too.  She was put into a situation where she felt that she needed to choose a side.. and blood was thicker than water.

The story of my 11 year “best-friendship” with Jane pretty much ends there.

 

There was no huge fight between us or some climactic moment of separation or a teary, emotional departure.  She just sort of faded from my arms.. like a ghost.  She just.. disappeared.

I sent emails.  I hand-wrote a letter and mailed it to her grandma’s house, where I knew she would be staying all summer.  I sent her another handwritten letter on Thanksgiving.  I waited a year, and wrote an email.. I waited six months, and sent another email.

 

It’s just a few days short of being 3 years since I’ve heard a word, a syllable, a sigh, a breath from my best friend — the one female that I chose to trust, invest myself in, and devote myself to.  During the past three years, I’ve experienced a lot of different emotions about her disappearance; the first year, when my dog Zoie died, I felt a sadness, a loss, that I couldn’t call my best friend and cry into the phone about it.  When my brother died the next year, I felt an anger towards Jane; she didn’t care.. and all of those years – those eleven years – that I spent obsessing over her and our friendship I could have spent bonding with my dead, irretrievable brother..

And now, this year, I just feel a hole.  It’s empty.  I’m not angry anymore.. but I’ll admit that I’m still sad.  I understand that she made a decision that she thought was necessary; loyalty to her brother overruled her love and affection for me.  While I can understand why she made that decision, I don’t think that it was situation where she needed to take one side.  We were only teenagers, experimenting with love.. and truly, had I known, at the tender age of sixteen, that dating Peter would ultimately take my best friend away from me forever, I would have shunned him.  I would have never taken the first step.. given the first smile.. posted the “change in relationship” status on Facebook or bought the “I ❤ my boyfriend” t-shirt.

For the past three years, I’ve tried to find a friend.. a good female friend.  A few times, I thought that I’d struck gold; I found someone I connected with, someone cool and fun and interesting and mature like me, and I was convinced that this would be my best friend.. this person would love me for the rest of my life.  I’ve been disappointed, every single time.

And I’ve realized: it’s not them.. it’s me.  What I experienced with Jane was unique; we were truly the best of friends – completely in love with each other and devoted to each other – almost to a fault.  And we were best friends during one of the most interesting and beautiful periods of life: childhood and young adulthood.  No future friendship will (or could) ever possess that magical, nostalgic, special nature.. it’s not the kind of thing you can duplicate or create. I’ll never again find or be able to forge that special, spiritual bond, and that’s what I’ve been trying to do.  The expectations that I’ve had for the people that I’ve met and the friends that I’ve made have been unrealistic.  What Jane and I had was a gift.. and I’m constantly, forever quieting myself, telling myself that I should just be grateful that I was fortunate enough to have ever had, loved and treasured that kind of friend at one point in my life.

I’ve also come to the sad realization that I’ll never experience that degree of intimacy with a friend again.  I’m an adult now; the friendships we strike as adults are just completely different from the friendships we form during childhood.  It’s a sad fact.. but that ship has sailed for me.

Then again, my husband is my absolute best friend; what more do I need? The friendship and companionship that I’ve shared with him in the past three years is the most wonderful that I’ve ever known.  It is unlike anything I have ever known.  He has promised to love me unconditionally, and I know that he does, because he’s proven it.  He’s loved me as a Christian, as an atheist, at my worst, and at my best.  He’s supported and sympathized with me in my losses and he has also witnessed my greatest successes.  He is my one true confidant, my permanent and eternal companion, and I treasure him more than anything in the world.

 

Ultimately, my rollercoaster friendship with Jane has provided me with three things:

one, a collection of bright happy memories of Florida sunshine, Connecticut snow, long brown hair, warm smiles, high-pitched laughs, late night conversations, Disney channel movies, burnt soy cheese pizzas, sweet friendship and a sense of belonging.

two, universal world tip#37: don’t date your best friend’s brother.  Ever.

three, I’ve learned the cliché of a lesson that good things don’t last forever.   Sometimes, they aren’t meant to.  They last for a while and then sputter, quitting suddenly, or they last for a short amount of time and then end, or people die, or people walk away for a while.

And then sometimes, people just disappear.

 

All we can really expect, in this life, is for good and bad things to come and go from our lives.. continually.  Embrace the good things; embrace them, feel them, smell them, taste them and hold them, but don’t hold them so tightly that when it’s time for them to leave, it takes a part of you with them.  Brace yourself for the bad times; brace yourself, turn your focus inward, and stay strong, but don’t stand so rigidly that you break with the wind; be willing to bend.  Be flexible.

Lastly, enjoy friendship and companionship.  It’s special.  Enjoy the love that others share with you.  It’s a gift.  But never be afraid to stand alone.

Eventually, you’ll be standing by yourself.  You might even, at the end of your life, be in the middle of a screaming, crying, laughing crowd, but you’ll still be alone.

 

Aun Aqui