This Sunday is the anniversary of Sean’s death: March 10. I only know one thing, and that is that I will go swimming. I won’t commit 100 percent to anything else.
Last night, after chowing down on sushi and guzzling a well-earned Sapporo at Happies, Joel got up to leave and asked me if I was going to make it to the memorial toast on Sunday.
“Possibly,” I said. Of course, the boys wanted to know why I wasn’t a 100 percent “yes”. My expanded answer is that I want to go, but all I’m planning on is swimming. If I feel up to it and trust myself to drive to the bar, then I’ll come. If not, then… “If I can’t drive myself, you could pick me up!” I volunteered.
Gary stepped forward and gave me a hug. Ben told me to “at least go outside on Sunday,” because it’s going to be beautiful. Joel acknowledged that my answer was good enough. And is has to be, because my grief is an island.
Liz’s grief is a chasm; Sean was her person. And while I don’t intend to trivialize the myriad of feelings felt by all of Sean’s friends, I can’t help but think that for them it was a shock, like being slapped in the face by a ghost: Sean was here, now he’s not.
I can’t classify how I feel, and I’m still often surprised by my thoughts and memories. My grief is driven primarily by the fact that I was there. I hate pointing it out, because there’s a tiny, snarky version of me inside my head that says, “Oh, don’t say THAT. What are you doing, fishing for extra empathy? Being there doesn’t make you SPECIAL.”
Believe me, I don’t want this event to be what makes someone consider me special, but being at the pool with Sean on March 10, 2012 does set me apart. No one else, except perhaps the lifeguards on duty that day, find themselves thinking, “What do you call that particular shade of purple? I’ve never seen a human face turn that color before.”
I talked to my friend Jamie last night, and told her that I’ve come to terms with so much that happened that day. I don’t think that the outcome would’ve been different if I’d gotten out of the pool one lap earlier. But I do wish that I’d gotten out 60 seconds quicker, and had touched him. I wish I had held his hand or patted his arm, a small form of reassurance paired with my voice. I don’t think that touching him would have kept him safe, alive. And I could have fought for that touch, but I know that it was the right thing to do — going for Sean’s wallet instead of getting in the lifeguard’s way when he started to seize. But I still wish that I had used just one moment to reach out to him with my fingers, to press my care, concern, and love into his skin like a parting gift.
They wouldn’t let us touch him at the hospital; he was already gone but they wouldn’t let us touch his hand or kiss his bald head. Liz and I were left to stand, leaning against each other for support while we stared as long as we could and tried to make sense of it. Through a fog of disbelief, we both admitted to being glad that he had a beard. We both liked his red beard. We both desperately wanted to touch him, to prove to ourselves that THIS WAS SEAN and not some wax dummy imposter. Instead we tugged on his features with our eyes. So that’s it: I wish I’d touched him. And when not mentally or physically occupied, I’ll find myself reworking through that day and trying to envision a scene where I got to do just that.
I think I’ve actually been doing pretty well, and I work hard to stay positive. I’ve focused primarily on remembering all of the good things and adding elements to my life that honor Sean, or what Sean would have been proud of me for doing. But as the anniversary approaches, I find myself unable to focus my thoughts on only the good bits. Instead, I’m remembering and reliving that day. Replaying the moments that led up to putting Sean in the ambulance, and that lightning bolt of ice that ripped through my heart when the doctors finally told us that he didn’t make it.
My little internal horror movie is longer than everybody else’s. Liz’s starts when I called her from the pool. Everyone else’s starts later that day, when cell phones and Facebook helped spread the devastating word. Mine starts at 11:45 a.m., with a smiling Sean waiting for me at the door to the Drill Hall. A hug, and then him happily telling me about heading up the road last night to help his nephew celebrate his 21st birthday. His long, bare feet on the tile of the pool deck. His grin because he enjoyed the cold water and the exercise that he was about to begin. The disconcerting feeling of seeing him lying on his back on the pool deck. The surprise in the lifeguard’s eyes when I asked her if Sean had told her about his heart condition. Not being able to remember if he spoke to me when I addressed him, or if he just looked at me — a single look can be so loud.
The juxtaposition of these memories swim around me, in the flooding that surrounds my heart. They are awesome and absurd, bright and dark, sweet and bitter, and colorful. Like snippets of the variety of movies that we watched together: fun, dangerous, happy, sad, quirky. The shark in the water is March 10. Duuun dun duuun dun dun dun dun Sean made me watch Jaws for the first time just last year. No wait, it must have been two years ago. (Oh God.)
As the anniversary of his death approaches, I don’t know what mood will prevail: happy to have known and been friends with Sean and to now share a friendship with Liz and his Happies crowd, or a perverse lonliness where intellectually I know I’m not alone in my sadness, but the differences in what I’m thinking about and how I’m feeling make me feel separated, apart. An island floating so near a land mass of hands and hugs, laughter and tears, beer glasses clinking, and memories verbalized.
I’ll try to be there, for the memorial toast. It would be nice if the good thoughts, the ones that are easy to share and express, helped make a bridge across those troubled waters. It would be nice to not feel so alone, so recently again haunted by pictures that don’t exist in anyone else’s memories.