Letters are the only way I can talk to you now. For six months I’ve tried to write about you, about what you have meant to me all the years of my life since I was seven. I’ve tried to write about your illness. Your cancer was such a bully. I don’t know how to say what it meant to watch you fight it like a warrior. How I felt like a coward for keeping my distance, even though I know that this kind of fight (especially for you) needs a little space. I’ve tried to write about your gifts, your character, your talents. I know you hate it when I talk like this, but I don’t even know where to start. You are one of the only people I ever knew who was universally liked. Who was good at everything. Who balanced so well.
I wrote you a letter the night I came home from your viewing, and it was a jumble of nonsense. I couldn’t say – even through my fingers – any of the things that I meant. I certainly couldn’t say them to your kids that night. Or your husband, who stood for hours, tender and loving and strong, hearing the awkward condolences of literally hundreds of well-intentioned but human people. Raw grief is so messy, and when we offer it up, it has to transfer heart to heart. The words-to-ears grief never translates quite right. That night I could only think that you didn’t look like you because you weren’t smiling with your teeth. That’s how I always see you in my heart – those perfect teeth showing when you laugh.
You’ve been appearing in my dreams for the last few weeks. You show up unannounced and sit on the couch or help me chop onions in the kitchen or take a seat in the car. You brighten the dream world like you did the real one. You slip in naturally. You fit. You laugh and show all your teeth. I wake up in a combination of sadness and joy, and that’s what life is made of.
I want to tell your story, because it’s the way for me to tell my story. You are etched into my history and onto my heart. I want to tell about “meeting half way” on our bikes, but I (almost) never left as quickly as you did, and you (almost) always had to ride the long half. I want to tell about you playing violin and me singing with you or (once) accompanying you on the piano – and how even when we were small, I knew you had a great gift. I want to tell about baking and decorating dozens of bright colored cakes. I don’t do that anymore. But we spent days and days and days over the years practicing and eating and laughing.
I want to tell how you were my touchstone through my growing and grown years. How you ground me to my past and believe in my possibilities. How you gasped with joy when I drove the long way home from the publisher so I could bring you the first copy of my book. Twice. How you’re the one I called in the middle of the night when my mom died. How you called me in those months you were home sick to ask for reading recommendations. I’m so glad you got to meet Scout and Atticus and read “The Secret Life of Bees” and “Their Eyes Were Watching God” and “The Book Thief” before you were finished here. How even though you loved to learn, the whole reading-fiction-for-pleasure wasn’t so much your thing until you decided it should be and then you asked me. I felt like I was sitting with you and we were sharing the open-mouth dazzle of Zora’s prose. And sobbing together at that second-last chapter of Book Thief. Oh, Rudy.
And I had no idea that you were living your last month. When we went for that three-hour breakfast with M and M over Christmas break, I’m not going to lie – you looked tired. But you felt so good. Remember? You said that you were a little afraid they’d make you go back to work soon. And on the way home, I said a long prayer. And I asked God to not make you go back to work.
It happened. I got a text. It said that probably I should get over there. And I came in my sweats and I sat in your bed with you and I listened to you and I whispered answers to your questions and I still hoped that it wasn’t the last time. And we told each other things we already knew. Good, important, best things. You offered to carry a message to my mom. And we cried tears and we held hands like we never used to do because your boundaries came right down. I saw your soul and you saw mine and we were together in a minute of eternity.
And I still can’t imagine writing about you in any way that does you justice. You were the best of us. You are the best of us.
I miss you, friend.