"I don't recall a single care, Just greenery and humid air."
-Death Cab For Cutie
Once in a great while someone from my past crosses my mind. Over the past several weeks one particular person has been an almost daily fixture. It is weird -- for nearly 23 years this man has come and gone in my thoughts, and I often wonder if he thinks of me at all.
He usually comes to mind when I'm listening to or thinking of "Summer Skin" by Death Cab for Cutie. I'm not even sure they would be a band he would like. It is just that the song itself, something about it in the lyrical content and the percussion make me think of him, and of me, and others we were with in 1984... and of being 17 and 18 and fresh out of high school.
Squeaky swings and tall grass, the longest shadows ever cast
The water's warm and children swim, and we frolicked about in our summer skin
Mid-June is hardly the time of year to be pondering Labor Day and end of summer events, but for some reason in my mind for the past several weeks I keep hearing the gentle snare drum and Ben Gibbard's voice singing softly to me.
In the summer of 1984, we were all getting ready to leave for college. There were a lot of really fun days at the beach, hanging out in someone's backyard drinking wine coolers and swatting mosquitoes. There were good-bye parties almost nightly at the end of August. Some of us left before others, due to athletics of marching band at their universities. My school didn't begin until after Labor day, so one by one I watched people leave.
There was a lot of laughter and regret, a lot of wondering if we'd ever see each other again. I remember getting mad at someone I had been friends with since third grade for something so petty, and I don't think we've spoken since.
I don't recall a single care, just greenery and humid air
Then Labor day came and went, and we shed what was left of our summer skin
One of those long ago good-bye to someone party nights, I was floating on my back in an in-ground swimming pool on an under inflated floating chaise lounge. Most of my body was submerged, and the water was warm as a bathtub. My friend, the one I've been thinking a lot about lately, was floating in the pool with me, and Pink Floyd's "The Wall" was blaring from a boom box on a table beside the pool.
We were apart in the water, enjoying the experience of looking at the sky and the trees and the glow of the streetlight from over in front of the house, listening to the music. Once in a while our feet would meet the wall of the pool and we'd push off gently with just our toes and send our bodies floating along further to another part of the water. We'd sometimes bump into one another and smile. At one point, I remember holding left hands with him, our feet facing opposite directions, and our toes touching walls to continue the float around in the void.
Someone did a cannonball into the pool, and the quiet magic of that night suddenly ended.
On the night you left I came over, and we peeled the freckles from our shoulders
Our brand new coats so flushed and pink...
And I knew your heart I couldn't win
Cause the seasons change was a conduit
And we left our love in our summer skin
I was never in love with him in school or anything... that floating moment was and is perpetually sweet and suspended in time. For years in High School I kept falling in love with the guys in the rock bands, and always wanted them to love me. I was part of a circle of friends where I was the far out on the fringes always hoping to be included, and I rarely ever was when they did fun cool things.
Looking back I realize that I should have given up in 10th grade instead of trying to perpetuate relationships with people who just didn't want me around.
There were wonderful people in my life, wonderful guys who were unfortunately not the kinds of people a wannabe rock star groupie girl like me crushes on. When I look back on all the fantastic men I was friends with, and all the opportunities I could have had to have an actual boyfriend instead of a perpetual heartache I kick myself.
Jesus, I was such a dumb ass.
He and his brother were in my homeroom for four years, and they always made me laugh. Every morning was a lot of fun. He would draw a lot, on my books, in my books, on my desk, on my hands. And mornings put a smile on my face as I sat there with him sitting in front of me in that home room. I look around that room in my mind and there were some really nice people there. Some real shit-heads too, but for the most part I have a smile on my face thinking of this person and the relationship we had.
Over the past several weeks, I've imagined that end of summer moment even though summer has just begun here. I hear the snare drum, and I hear the lyrics. So I had to do it. Instead of the echoes of Ben Gibbard's voice in the back of my mind, I pulled up an mp3 of "Summer Skin" and listened to it here at my desk at work.
At the same moment, I figured -- what the heck, I'll Google him. I wonder how he is. I'd like to find a point of contact and see if I can maybe drop him a line. I'd googled him before and didn't find anything, and I fully expected to once again find nothing.
I didn't expect to find an obituary.
He passed away on May 13, 2007 at the age of 41. I knew it was him and not some other person as it listed his brothers and their names. There was no reason listed out as to what happened. Does there need to be?
The next thing I'm doing is sitting on the bathroom floor crying. I don't think I cried like this when my aunt died in February of 2005. Blindsided by the surprise of stumbling across someone's obituary is not cool.
I do not believe that anyone speaks to me from the grave. I don't believe that I am guided by voices, that spirits communicate and let me know stuff. I know some of you do. After Clayton died, every single song on the radio was something that connected me to him. But that was sheer coincidence. I can hear "Galileo" now without breaking into tears.
But I've got no idea why or how the constant sound of "Summer Skin" by Death Cab For Cutie has been in my mind since mid-May. When he died. And why today when I actually pull it up to play I find the news. I believe in strange coincidences, but not in messages and contact. And this one was a tremendous and strange coincidence if ever there was one.
Apologies to those of you who want to know his name. I'm not writing it here. There are so few references to him for search engines to pull up hits that I don't want this journal entry to be listed chief among them.
Suffice to say, in the future when I float, be it a pool, a pond, the ocean, and I look up at the sky and the silhouettes, I know I'll be thinking of him. And I don't think I can listen to that song again...
After letting myself cry for a good long time, I wondered what to do next.
When I was in high school there was this circle of lunchtime friends that I sat with, and my friend who passed was part of that group. For some strange reason, I was the only girl. I don't know why they let me tag in, but there I was with these tremendously funny, smart guys who were kind of the bookish and übersmart. They always made me feel like I was funny, that they were laughing with me and not at me. We would round table discuss Monty Python, Peter Gabriel and whatever movie was hot at the time.
I loved these guys, but like summer skin, they peeled off after that point in time and there was little or no contact after I left. Top that off with the fact that I left and never went back, so the attenuation of the communication and connection faded with distance and time.
I looked up one of those friends from the lunch table. He has maintained a website for a long time, and once in a while I reach out and ask how he is doing. That is about how deeply connected I am with that part of my history.
I emailed him to ask what happened. He thankfully called me right back as he was on his way to work. He lives in California, and he tells me the story that from the point of diagnosis to the day our friend died, it was an incredibly short period of time.... He had gone to the hospital not feeling well and a few short weeks later was gone. He had cancer -- and it just swept him.
My friend and I talked for a good long while on his walk to work, about how we look in the mirror and the person looking back at us is not the person we think we look like. We see ourselves as that 18 or 19 year old that we were at our prime. Or our so-thought prime. I think I've blogged about this very recently, and my friend Keri also wrote about that person who looks back at her in the mirror not being WHO she is.
We are just into the 40s and this isn't the kind of thing we're supposed to be dealing with. Divorces of friends, yes. New Babies for some... yes. Cancer? Uh, not so much.
He's had time to process this, and was in touch with the East Coast while it was all going down. He wanted to get home to see our friend before he died but it all happened so fast that he even missed the funeral.
We told each other "I love you," and even though I haven't seen The Yale Master since 1984, I truly do love him. It made me feel so much better hearing his voice. He told me I would probably have a really rough day, a rough week... but that it would be okay and that we'd see each other probably next year for a reunion and toast our friend then.
How I feel right now is like I was sitting at a traffic light and was sideswiped by another vehicle. The other vehicle is nowhere to be seen, no one is around, there are no witnesses and I'm left with the shock of the wreckage, as I am sitting in the middle of the intersection. And there is no one standing here with me going "Wow. That was horrifying."
And I guess that is it. Sorry for such an entry as this. Go tell someone you love them, someone you have had on your mind for a while. Hopefully you won't be met with similar circumstances and will have the opportunity to smile.