Love is not a brief moment, or an experience to pass you by. Love is a transcendental series of events. Not a fleeting feeling. But your entire existence. Within the power of every breath drawn, and riding on the current of every exhale, is the meaning of life, which is love.
And he was in love with crack cocaine. He really loved that escape. The love he breathed in from that drug was his purposeful elixir of life. But it wasn't always that way.
He sticks his tongue out at me from behind the glass of the Biblio Café where I sit at a corner table by the west facing side. I laugh and mimic him as he rounds the corner to join me inside our favorite hang spot.
We used to come here after every choir concert. We first met here actually. Sophomore year for me, junior year for him. He was on a date with this handsome college kid and it wasn’t going so well.
I was reading. Making a new friend not ranked highly in my plans.
He sat down across from me, abruptly, making a scene and said loudly, “Heyyyyyyyyy girl! Long time no see!” Then quickly, under his breath, “Pllllllease go along with it. Please! Save me!” He glanced quickly across his shoulder. “I NEED that guy to leave.”
Dramatic whispers excited and awoke my solitary afternoon of reading. I smiled shyly and saved my place in the spine of the book I held. And he would continue to break me from my shell, bringing me along on adventures my high school years wouldn't otherwise have been blessed with.
He asks me if its different now. Not that he’s gone. “Why wouldn’t it be?” I look back at him skeptically.
He sips his chai. Tilts his head. “What do you mean?”
“Well I only see you here. Everywhere else, well, you’re just a memory.”
I was on deployment when I learned that he was dead. I was boots on ground in Afghanistan. I sat down at a computer in the MWR after my watch ended and logged into Facebook. My eyes were immediately drawn to his name on the screen.
But we called him Rafeee. In high school I used to write him notes and he used to like the way I spelled it, always with three E’s.
He died just days after his 22nd birthday. And I never called him. Deployment wasn’t even a semi good excuse, because I had access to a phone. I was mad at him. Mad at him for not making time for me when I was in town for Christmas. Making it about me. Failing to see what he might have been going through.
A year after he died, I was still sending Facebook messages to his account. A creepy digital reminder of a real life lost. Never to update the internet with another status or post again, yet still there, mummified in the messenger app with preserved conversations. Fossilized moments of tom foolery and I miss yous. I added another message to the capsule:
Happy 23rd Birthday boo.
It's been almost a year and I still can't believe that you're gone. If I'm being honest tho, I've tried not to think about you at all, so I don’t have to think about not being able to actually talk to you. As much as you come to mind, I try not to relive those memories, because I’m not ready to mourn you…it just tears me up inside to think of you alone in your car. Like fuck, why were you alone in that car?? And I can't take it to imagine what happened to you, I hate to wonder if you were alone or scared, or if someone hurt you.
You deserved so many more candles on your cake.
I want to send you flowers... I'm going to pretend that you can actually get them. I think you'd think they're beautiful. White and pure, like you always said you were lmao
I just hope whatever happens next, wherever you are, you're having the best birthday ever. I miss you so much
“Well I’m here now.” He gives me his cocky grin. The grin that tells me, the café, the universe, that he knows he’s beautiful.
“You are.” I smile back. How could I be so greedy. So selfish. Old habits die hard, I guess.
He used to write me poetry on the back of Betty Davis wall art. We used to sing Mary J. in front of the bathroom mirror at the top of our lungs. We were choir kids, after all, and we loved to jam. He was the first person to tell me I was pretty and mean it. Before I left for the military, we got high, made cup cakes and ate every last one of them sitting on the kitchen counters and laughing. I was a genuine person with him, and one of my best versions too. He made me laugh. I like to think we made each other laugh.
But it’s hard to make assumptions about how people feel after they die. And this is what I’m thinking about when I private message him:
Words are nothing. I feel guilty writing even this last note. Knowing that it’s only to ease my own suffering. It’s not as if you can actually read these. Not as if willing them out into the universe will somehow make them accessible to you. I suppose grief does make you crazy. As does guilt. I’ll never forget you. Not as long as I live.
It was the day after I sent that message that I saw him in the café for the first time in seven years.
I kept staring and blinking. Staring and blinking. Slow motion, but time was definitely not slowing down enough for me to think.
“Rafeee?” I stood and felt my knees almost buckle as he reached me just in time, steadying me with a deep hug.
I would know the smell and feel of that hug anywhere. My best friend.
He pulled back and beamed his big smile at me. “Been missing me, chica?”
He gently pushed my shoulders until I sat back into my chair and he sat down across from me.
Words flew a mile a minute. Like when you see a true-blue friend after a long separation and you pick back up again where you left off, like there were never any gaps. Filling in the yearning spaces with familiar laughter, even if tones have altered with age.
I sit here now, feeling my eyes glisten, as I stare across at a fond and familiar memory. A memory that can talk.