Saturday, January 16, 2016

Goodbye John

I wrote this in December when an old friend died. I was raw. I edited it today. I'm still really sad and in search of meaning...

My old friend, John died yesterday. The friendship was old. Not him. He was only 47. I'm sad beyond words, but I have to try to put some together anyway to make some sense of my grief.

My friends will be shocked by this but there are times when I miss my ex husband even though he is kind of a tool. Well, I don't miss him now, but I miss who he was, when I was who I was. I miss us...back then. We loved each other once and had enough hope and faith in our relationship to make babies together. Two of them and they're pretty awesome, even on the hormonal days...theirs and mine. I wish my ex and I stayed in love. I wish we grew together. I wish my kids had two parents who lived and loved together for their childhood and beyond. But that isn't our story.

I thought it was Cindy and John's story. My friend Cindy was John's wife and, more importantly I think, life partner and love of his life.  But now he's dead. What. The. Fuck.

John and Cindy weren't really part of my life in recent years. We were friends in Jamaica Plain back in the day. I think it's been at least 10 years since I've seen Cindy or John. Their youngest is in 4th grade now according to a Warren, Vermont school bulletin I found online. I vaguely remember Cindy having a baby in tow when I saw her last. Or was that me? I'm pretty sure it was her. A young, nursing baby in a stroller if memory serves. I think it was at a Starbucks in Lexington where they lived before moving to Vermont. Or did she come to my annual Gingerbread Women in Pants party with a toddler daughter after that? Either way, John wasn't there. No boys are allowed at my Gingerbread Women party. Although, I think John would have enjoyed putting gum drop boobs with chocolate chip nipples on the nude cookies and deciding whether the carpet would match the drapes once I explained what that meant. Or would he have known? Either way he would have found it funny and laughed.

John had a booming really people at the next table would turn and look, and then smile because he was obviously so happy. He had a funny, ape-like walk dance thing that he would do that made me laugh until I snorted. I think he even got my ex to do it with him once which was kind of crazy since my ex was not the kind of guy who liked to look silly. But John loved to be silly and made you want to be silly with him.

John loved having fun with his friends. One year he brought a bunch of us to the small Vermont town where he grew up to the best 4th of July party I have ever attended. Maybe Ponkapaug's festivities including a 3-legged race and fireworks from a rowboat in the middle of the lake are a close second for me. I think John would have liked Ponkapaug. He loved the outdoors and, although he lived in Boston when we met, I always thought of him as "of Vermont." And at the end, he was. Cindy and John moved back there a few years ago. From what I heard about his Vermont memorial service and heard at his Lexington one, he was well loved in Vermont. I would expect nothing less.

I remember John's hugs. They crushed you. When I was pregnant with Ruby but wasn't telling anyone yet, he gave me one of his bear hugs at a party and I almost passed out from the pressure of his barrel chest against my first trimester breasts. I remember that I was wearing overalls with a belt which I thought was incredibly hip and the medal clasps dug into my swollen flesh. I literally saw stars.

John adored Cindy. I met him when she invited him to join us at Doyle's for what was supposed to be a women-only brunch. Or was I the only one who thought that? I think there were five of us women there. Knowing me, I was probably a bit peeved because that's the way I was. I think I remember Cindy saying she met a guy the night before at a bar or a party or something and that he might stop by. He did. I think he was dressed like an LL Bean ad and I was probably a little judgy in my head, until I found out he was from Vermont and then it made sense. I didn't want to like him but I did. We all did. People who didn't like each other liked John. He was a common denominator.

I vaguely remember Cindy and John's wedding. Did a bunch of us stayed in a condo together in Vermont? Did they get married or have a reception in a barn? It's all a little blurry. Was I really there? I was unhappily married by then so I probably spent too much time bickering with my ex and missing out on the fun. Maybe someone will post wedding pictures so I can confirm that I was actually there. I suspect I was chubby. And sad.

Since he passed, I've seen pictures of John with Cindy and their kids. Everyone is smiling and they are all sort of draped over each other. He looks like a fun dad who loved his kids the way he loved Cindy and life--loudly and without limits. I met those kids at the memorial service and they are all beautiful, very protective and loving toward Cindy, and seem to still somehow enjoy life. How is that possible? Do they have such a good foundation of love that translates into resilience?

I don't know how to understand this death. I wasn't close to John, but I feel incredibly sad about his passing. I've known many, many people who've died too young, usually due to their alcoholism or addiction. It's heartbreaking for sure but I GET that. They have a disease and, unfortunately, tragically, not everyone gets or sustains recovery. But as far as I know, John didn't have the disease of addiction. He had a rare, genetic disease called pulmonary fibrosis. I guess he found out he had this awful thing, this thing that ultimately killed him, just a week before he died but was already too sick for a lung transplant. What. The. Fuck.

As another friend of John eloquently put it: "It's just ridiculous." She's right. It is. It's not understandable. I can't make sense of it anymore than I can make sense of why automatic weapons are legal after so many mass shootings; why children drown while fleeing Syria; why women are being raped then blamed for "asking for it;" why racist cops kill unarmed black men; why homophobic parents reject their own kids; why religious nuts convince people that God wants them to blow themselves up on a beautiful Paris street; or why any sentient human being with even basic intelligence thinks Donald Trump would make a good President. Why is not a question with an answer. So, I'm asking how.

How is Cindy going to live without John?

Maybe I'm wrong and the pictures are lies but I don't think so. I think they were happy. I think they loved each other. More importantly, I think they LIKED each other. I think they were one of the lucky couples who have stayed in love. I think they had babies together and that love multiplied. I think they had dreams for their children and themselves. And I'm guessing those dreams involved John living beyond his 40s.

Like me, Cindy is now a single mom. But all similarity stops there. She is not choosing single parenthood. Those kids don't get to see their dad for dinner on Tuesday nights and sleep over with him every other weekend.

How are those kids going to live without John? How will they move on, grieve, and still have a happy childhood? I keep thinking that, if they are lucky, they will grow up to be three adults who will have to tell their friends, "My dad died when I was little."

I want to believe, with John as their dad and Cindy as their mom, two wonderful parents, these three kids will grow up to be amazing people, even if John won't be here to see it. Which is just fucking wrong, by the way.

Maybe, because he was a larger-than-life character, he already gave them all his good juju. Maybe his happy spirit was so concentrated that it was at its full strength at 47. Maybe that awful, awful genetic disease that took his life will skip them all, but they will all inherit his joy gene. Maybe they will have his booming laugh and find many opportunities to use it. Maybe they will remember and replicate his ape-like dance/walk. Maybe they will see the world with his eyes and love life.  Maybe Cindy will have to smile when she sees John in them. I hope so.

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