I didn’t know you had died. I found out on my birthday of all days, while I was sucking chocolate icing from my teeth and revelling in the grace and sass of turning forty.
I loved you Michael. Loved you after thinking that my heart was nothing but gristle, too scarred to do anything but plod warily in my chest. Loved you for giving me fizz in my belly every time we talked, loved you for your huge and obvious love of your children, books, and intelligence. I loved you for a gorgeous sundae of reasons, garnished with your honest, wide eyed delight in my arguments, my love of words, the ginger zinger on top your delight in me as something special, spellbinding, spunky and rare.
I didn’t know you had died. I had always taken comfort in the thought that you were out there, somewhere, singing to your kids and whisking hollandaise sauce, making the world a more intelligent and funnier place, even if I wasn’t there to be part of it. You’ve not been a part of my world for some years now (I’d relegated you to a matchbox of memories and rib pang), but now you’re not sharing the same planet as me anymore I marvel, breathless, at how that pinches.
I wonder about you. In January – still not knowing you had died – I went to a fantastic art gallery. One exhibit hummed your name down my spine, to the point I was dreadful-hopeful that you were there. The room was dark, the roof disappearing in floating shadows, with little sanctuaries of light you could step into. Each pocket was walled by frosted glass, lined roof to floor with shelved envelopes. People were hushed, some reaching out to open envelopes addressed “To you” or “Open me” or “Kate”. Some were fully named and addressed, and would be sent on by the museum at the end of each week.
I didn’t know you had died, but I wanted to write you a letter. To join those, spines curled and questing, putting thoughts and scrawl and hope to paper, to those the moment evoked. I wanted to ask how you were, now in your 40s and five years after me, after “us”. If you’d read any brilliance, if you’d started to go grey, if you’d come to understand why I’d said goodbye.
I don’t want to say goodbye. I didn’t know you’d died, and now I find myself having a wake for one. One mourner, one dearly (unexpected) departed. It’s not a matchbox of memories, it’s a hugsfull, a bellyful of sighs, and ribcage full of aches. After all these years of deliberately not remembering I can see the colours in your eyes, the startled bellow of your laugh is playing in traffic, and the ribbons of your love letters knot and tangle my breath.
Are you haunting me? I wouldn’t put it past you, quite frankly. You were a teasing prankster (I don’t want you to be dead, but you are and that’s not funny, Michael, dammit) and that skill set and joy would certainly have gone with you. You’re a sacred and rude relic of my life, and you’re also a puzzle piece I’ve added to my thoughts of the After. I want to see a replay of you, a cheerful agnostic, when you met divinity at last (do we get instant replays, After?) Do you understand now why I chose God over you? Do you understand now how it was all about love? Is the replay in Omni-Sense 6D, so we completely appreciate the glory of break ups, kisses and water fights, lullabies, guitar solos and love?
Do you watch your loved ones, the ones who impacted your life, the ones who knew God? Do you find yourself beside us at the frozen peas, or drift in amid the steam of our showers, smudged homework, our midnight pillows, celestial time lines somehow miscalculated?
I didn’t know you had died. I hadn’t realised how much I missed you, still, years later, and the freshly unearthed memories and thoughts of you flare at inconvenient times. But really, is there ever a convenient haunting – does our delightful morning breath and hair colour haunt you all too?
I’ll ask you, next time I see you, my unexpected, departed and dear.
What do you wonder about the after, the gone-before, the wafting curtain edge between there and here?