One of my best friends from high school died last week. It was shocking – we’re far too young. Shocking, too, how many of my small social circle then have died. I feel for those who know him now, those who knew him well, and the loss of him in the world. But it’s so freakishly distant from me. I moved to the town where I lived then at the beginning of my senior year, knowing no one, and said goodbye the following June to the best group of friends I’d ever had. Most of the people who befriended me had known each other for years, some since they were kids, and many went on knowing each other after I left the state. Other than for a wedding that December, I never really went back. The magic door opened, the music played, mountain pine and pot filled the air, I was loved and given a family and a wondrous & challenging year, and then it was gone. It’s the cleanest break I’ve ever had. Not that I wanted it that way, and I definitely suffered the loss of some of those people, but college engulfed me and soon enough I was swept up in another world.
It really was another world, and an actual adult lifetime ago. It seems more like a movie than a memory. As I started to put that emotional detachment into words I thought, oh, right, that’s how I’m supposed to do it. That’s a popular metaphor for how the enlightened look at life in general: like a movie. You engage, you invest, you laugh, you cry, but ultimately you can walk away from it knowing it’s all an illusion, that it only has meaning within its shallow circumscription, that its foolish to live or die by what happens in this living and dying material world.
Lookit me. Aren’t I all advanced & shit.
I didn’t feel enlightened. I felt heartless. Politics and the endless stream of death announcements and tributes got me almost totally off Facebook a month ago. Now I was trolling hourly, desperate for more information from him (he rarely posted, and only links), about him (no cause of death, no mention of career or recent relationships), and in memory of him. I got lots of the latter, mostly from my other distant friends, which kept me coming back for more.
I realized that this was my odd way of paying tribute. I didn’t want to look at him through a movie screen, I wanted to delve into those days, to drag up old memories and crushes and resentments and rituals and inside jokes. I wanted to indulge, to engulf myself in what might be the ultimately insignificant memories of that time. Because we were intensely engaged in each others’ lives, and the honorable thing to do was to intensely engage with his death. Isn’t that what a wake is, a way to bring the departed into the room, to dust them off and reinvigorate them, to drag them to the center of the dance floor one last time? I had to have Jared’s wake alone – I’m a thousand miles from any of our crew – but I had to have it, because he deserved that much from an old friend.