It's Joey's birthday. He would have been 41 today. He died over a year ago & the date of his death is marked on my calendar with hearts signifying love & remembrance.
When I was 30, I had no death dates on my calendar. Death was something for old people -- beloved & tired & well-lived & ready-to-die old people. If, God forbid, a child died, or a young person, I didn't mark the date, but instead worked hard to forget it had happened. Because it was a freak thing, death. Accidental gun shot, rare form of cancer, deep water.
At 30, I didn't want to think about death because, hey, it was a long way off. My friends were all living, my parents & siblings were healthy. Sure, I worried about car accidents & planes crashing -- death needing to come in with a bang, some drama beyond a stark hospital room. At 30, a hospital room meant that doctors could fix you. At 30, I still believed doctors knew magic.
Somewhere around 55, I finally recognized that none of us are getting out of here alive. Some of us get to stick around longer than others, but inevitably we all die. I'm not crazy about this idea, but so far nobody has come up with any super-amazing-incredible-live-forever! pill. Granted, spirituality-wise there is the faith & trust & belief in eternal life deal. But still...gotta die first. Damn technicalities.
My mom (whenever I would worry about something, which was practically all the time) would always say, "When it's your time, it's your time." It used to make me crazy when she'd say that -- We control freaks hate to be told that we can't change something, or make it better, or -- uh -- control it.
But she was right, I sat next to her as she died, a final smile at the end. I watched Joey fade, always with the hope that he'd miraculously pull through. I have laughed with a friend on Wednesday, only to attend his funeral that weekend. I've had dogs die in my arms, & cats on my lap & birds in my hand. I have made countless "memorial" donations, spent hours at cemeteries, brought warm cookies to crowded rooms -- all of us gathered to share memories, trying to keep a loved one alive awhile longer, if only through words.
My friends & I joke about our inevitable deaths. If we lose a couple of pounds we are certain we have cancer. Suspicious age spots. A cough. Headaches. I have never once awakened in the middle of the night with a headache without the sure feeling that I was having an aneurysm & would probably not last until daylight.
And then daylight comes & I'm like YES! Hurray! I made it thru the night! And I go out to feed the cats & walk the dog & clean the litter boxes. I drink my morning cup of tea with my husband & we talk about mortality or politics or God or the grandkids. I forget about death until the next headache, the next "quaint local dies" obituary, the next crushed road-kill squirrel.
Sometimes in the morning we talk about people we love. This morning we talked about Joe. I'm sad missing him, even though I never got to see him all that much after he grew up. A few months before he got sick we talked for over an hour on the phone, the two of us laughing & him telling me his dreams & about how happy & hopeful he was, & it was a really great talk & I am grateful for it, & grateful that he was in my life, & wish I'd told him more often how happy he made me, how when he was a child he was pure joy, a sweetly sweaty little boy who made us laugh with his "Popeye" face & marched thru the living room to The Nutcracker Suite, kind & compassionate & adorably goofy & serious all at the same time.
As an adult, he became defensive & dark, & I am certain that his dad's voice telling him he was a loser or ungrateful or an asshole -- that voice must have been there, always. Joe tended towards denial, as is our family way. If you pretend the monster's not there, maybe the monster will go away.
But even at his most damaged, he was still gentle & loving, & harder on himself than anyone else. When true love finally broke through Joe's poorly-constructed barriers, he stopped being hurt all the time & he laughed again, & laughed at himself. He picked himself up, danced thru his days, found "happy" all over again.
And I am glad for that, it's a big thing to know happiness. We don't know how much time we have, & who understands time anyway? There are no perfect lives. We all have sadness & shit days & misery & desperate-prayer types of days & how-the-fuck-can-I-get-through-this days. But if we are lucky we also have joyful, ecstatic, passionate, crazy-in-love with the world kinds of days.
And Joe had those days, so hurray for Joe. He didn't mean to die & break our hearts. He beat us to the next journey. I have no clue what that journey entails, but I hope when I take mine, Joey is there with that laugh he had that kind of started deep & then disappeared into his eyes. And I hope I shake my head & say, "I don't know what I was so afraid of..."
Love you & miss you, Joey, as always.