When you died, I was sitting in a movie theater thousands of miles away. When you died, I found out because I read it because a comment on a Facebook post told me so.
I don’t remember what day it was, or what I was wearing, or even what scene was playing in “The Fault In Our Stars”, because it didn’t stay in my memory. The snapshot of that moment doesn’t exist because it never hit me.
The impact of the fact that you were gone didn’t sink in immediately either, and it did not until I sat down on that lonely couch in my small summer house and shrieked more than cried. Until the cat started following me around in the morning, meowing at the mood it sensed that I was in. Until the intro of “La La La” started playing in my head as I wandered aimlessly around. Until I read the news stories that quoted the hundreds of mutual friends we had and shook my head, recoiling in horror.
Until the guilt that I was still alive, focusing on petty conflicts and stupid small pleasures, crept into my heart as I was on a drive with a friend one night. She told me you would want me to live and love life. I have not done this hypothetical wanting of yours justice.
In the almost exactly 9 months since you left, I’ve been sitting here despairing over why it didn’t hit me all at once. Despairing over the fact that the only thing I remember about you is that my best friend in 5th grade had a crush on you, that you were laughed at for being the first guy to smoke in our high school underclassmen circle, that you asked my friend to homecoming and she thought it was awkward, and that you told me to “keep smiling” at Theophilus my sophomore year of high school.
I’ve concluded it took a human voice telling me you were gone for me to feel the realness.
That was the moment you truly died. I felt the after effects more strongly. But I wished I’d felt that moment more.
I didn’t think much of anything when I saw it on a small screen, on my phone, far far away in New York City. I nodded and felt relieved that *that* didn’t happen.
Today, someone pulled me aside in the newsroom and told me. And I sobbed instantly. And I’m still sobbing right now. And I sob and sob but it was the same thing conveyed to me, just one was over social media and one was in the flesh. One was “this is eh, something that happened” and one was “This girl, you love her, you know her, she is related to you you you you and this is what it might have been-”
Today, the moment hit me at the appropriate time.
I didn’t know you, Paul. I’m retroactively disgusted I knew who you were for 15 years and didn’t bother trying harder.
I don’t know you now, Paul, when I see the pictures on your Facebook and realize you’ll be frozen in time. Forever. You’ll never age.
But I felt for you, when you died.
Death isn’t real to me. But death has stings, all the same.
And the closer it looms at you, the more you gotta cherish what you have now.