Counting down

When ringing in 2013, I began counting down way too early. I was standing amid the crowd at a friend’s house in Baltimore and began belting out numbers once the clock read 11:59 PM and 45 seconds, but no one joined me until I hit the number 10 and we were all taken over by that familiar breathless and senseless excitement, the feeling of fresh optimism, a new year, and new possibilities. But this year, with each number that I called out, the dread mounted in me in second-deep intervals, thudding like a heartbeat. When midnight struck, I clicked my glass and kissed my boyfriend, but when someone began singing Auld Lang Syne, I was surprised to find that I was crying.

Usually, I like New Year’s. My philosophy on life since 2009 or so is that it just keeps getting better, that age equates to possibility, that choosing to take the plunge, however small, will be infinitely rewarded. On Christmas Eve of this year, I walked home from a party down snow-softened streets with my gloved hand tucked in the crook of my boyfriend’s arm — remembering how I had done the same walk from the same party with the same friends just 365 days before — and thinking about how violently a life bookended by two years can change. Each year of my life for the past handful has deepened with meaning. I’ve been surprised by people, inspired by people, upheld by people. The world holds so much to see. And there is so much to learn. Inchallah, 2013 will be no different.

But on January 21, 2012, my roommate Dan left for Philadelphia on the snow-covered turnpike and never returned home. He was in the hospital when I interviewed for entry at the University of Pittsburgh, and he died two days before I got the email stating that I was recommended for acceptance. I do not remember the winter of 2012 very well except for the time when I finally stopped thinking about Dan every hour of every day, by the time I had cleaned out his toothbrush and shaving cream from my bathroom, that I was living a whole month behind the rest of the world, writing the wrong date on my classroom whiteboard and missing deadlines for the Patriot-News with clockwork regularity.

I am not the first to have lost a friend, and lost him suddenly. I realize this. I suppose I did not expect that I could approach this January without feeling something deeply, for if I could, it would dishonor the person I found him to be when he lived and falsify the friendship that we had. I do not know what hurts the most, the notion that we lost him, or the notion that I can see The Hobbit in theaters and he can’t, that the restaurant he critiqued on Second Street just went out of business and that he won’t know, or the fact that the 2013 Pennsylvania Farm Show is opening tonight with their half and half milkshakes that he once brought home to me.

Last February, I was looking around me, trying to find Dan in the wind, but this year, as I counted down to 2013, I was looking around me, wondering if someone I know will die. Perhaps this reaction is a defense mechanism, a way to place death on my daily planner, for if I can anticipate what’s worst in life, perhaps it will not hurt so deeply and for so long.

But what I do not often think about is that I learned both from Dan as well as from the sudden loss of him. When living, Dan showed me — among other things — how to open yourself up to people, to draw in those around you, to create community, to cultivate love. His death only reinforced these lessons. If I could tell Dan that I have learned anything, it would be that I do not know what 2013 will bring, but that I can only face it as he would have, passionately and free and open with my arms ready and waiting and wide.

January 2012
January 2012

5 thoughts on “Counting down

  1. This piece is very thought-provoking and written so beautifully. I was moved so much by the emotion behind the message that I read it twice with tears in my eyes. God bless you in this New Year.

    1. Emily, I knew you’d “get” it. Hugs & thank you.

  2. So much of this resonates with me. I have also felt that “each year of my life for the past handful has deepened with meaning” and in my early 20’s that was experienced with a care-free optimism about the infinite possibilities new years brought. I still think pretty positively about the future, but it’s with a little more effort now to leave out of focus the reality that the unknown can hold both the extraordinary and the extraordinarily painful.

    The looking around wondering who could be missing next year is especially disturbing and perspective-altering, maybe made worse because it’s generally not okay to voice those thoughts out loud. My family members always worried about me traveling, even to “not dangerous” places like England. I didn’t use to have much brain space for the negative what-if’s, but now I get agitated and worried if I know a friend or family member is traveling and I don’t hear from them.

    Anniversaries, birthdays are hard. I’ve found two+ years after losing my best friend that those predictable dates are a little easier now but there are still moments where the pain and sadness hits unexpectedly.

  3. I’m really glad you wrote. Does life get “better”? What is the measure of what life is? Is it infinite possibilities and freedom, or is it joy in the fact, like we’ve talked about, settling down? Lately, I’ve felt like there’s joy in knowing that life is unpredictable both its pain and its sorrow, but that joy doesn’t come without a ton of fear. I sometimes wonder if I am more afraid of life now than I was before, or if my perspective is just a lot more realistic, or what.

    I thought a lot about writing the line about looking around me because you’re right, it’s not acceptable to say that outloud, but I guess it’s the start reality of all of us.

    That’s really rough that you lost your best friend, but strangely good to know that even two years in the pain still hits. I haven’t had to lose someone close to me before, and so the process of grieving is really new to me. I don’t know what’s normal to feel and what’s not. Obviously, you can’t compartmentalize those feelings into “normal” or “abnormal,” but it’s weirdly hard when I’m sitting in the middle of the Hobbit, all choked up about Dan, and don’t feel comfortable explaining it to others — there is a point, I think, where’s it’s no longer socially acceptable to talk through the death of a loved one if it’s been too long. It becomes too personal and too confusing.

    Boy, do I appreciate you.

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