January 21st

(This one’s pretty personal, and fairly epic for this blog)

There are some moments in life when your entire being is distilled into one raw emotion.  Sometimes something happens that makes you so angry, it blocks out any other thought you can have.  Sometimes something happens that makes you so happy you can’t imagine any other feeling.  I don’t think this happens to everyone: you need an extreme situation to bring it out, and the more you mature the more you’re able to control your emotions.  But for some of us, the former happens before the latter can kick in.

I can pinpoint for you the loneliest moment in my life.  I’ve never experienced anything like it, and I hope beyond hope that nothing happens to make me experience it again.  I can picture in my head precisely what was going on around me.  I was sitting in a terminal in Ben Gurion Airport in the early morning of January 22nd, waiting for my flight, when my phone rang.  It was the housing director from my university, reminding me of the apartment inspection she was coming in for.

I told her I wasn’t there, that I was at the airport.  Angry, she asked why I was at the airport.  I told her that my friend had just died.  She changed her tone and cancelled the inspection.  I hung up the phone, put my headphones back in my ears, heard the voice of Alexa Joel, and cried.

Four months in a country you just moved to by yourself, two weeks away from the first set of final exams you’ve ever taken, staring ahead at the terminal gate that holds for you a twenty-hour flight compressed in an aluminum tube with 200 strangers, and finally acknowledging after a good eight hours of panic that the guy you’ve referred to as “my best friend” since you were five won’t ever be coming to visit you in Israel… it isn’t a nice feeling.  And that terminal gate represented a week of chaos wherein I was supposed to come to terms with the loss.

I think that’s the last time I’m going to tell that part of the story in that way.  It’s the part that’s most solidly recollected in my head, but it’s not the most important.  It’s a very self-centered part of the story, and while it’s my story, it really shouldn’t be about me.

I met Steven on the first day of kindergarten.  We were both young-ish with Summer birthdays, and we were both short for our age regardless.  I don’t remember why we clicked so well so quickly, but we did, to the extent where other kids thought we were brothers for a while.

We were in the same class in first grade, too.  Then, considering the both of us had two working parents, there was after-care.  We went to the same Summer camp a few times.  Even when he ended up transferring to a different school for fifth grade, we still kept in contact.  Steven was less a friend and more an integral part of my life.  He was just someone who was there, and would always be there.  We subtly affected one another’s thinking, even if we didn’t realize it.

One of the last lessons he taught me was to be more open-minded.  That some things aren’t worth fighting about.  The two of us had spent most of middle school and all of high school developing diverging political ideologies, and heated discussions weren’t uncommon.  We’d gotten into a particularly bad argument while we were supposed to be on a post-graduation trip together with a third friend of ours, and then he went off to college while I stayed home and the argument was never settled.  We were still on rocky ground when Spring Break came by, even though we’d stayed in contact and had planned on getting together.

And then, instead of Spring Break, he was diagnosed with cancer and whatever we were arguing about wasn’t really important any more.  It wasn’t really a eureka moment or anything like that, but from that point I made sure to avoid situations where a friendship could be strained by something as petty as a difference of opinion.

Despite the strong right-left divide in our thought, one of the biggest topics upon which we agreed was the State of Israel.  So even though the IDC came to my attention right as he was starting treatments, Steven was always in favor of my coming here to study.

Which leads into the next bit: how I chose to spend today.  Which was with friends.  It’s how I chose to spend this day last year, too.  I used to hole myself up on this day, focus on myself and things that reminded me of Steven.  But it’s been six years.  It took me a while to come to terms with everything, but by now I’ve done that and that’s a good thing.

So, as long as I’ve got my time to reflect for myself, I’d much prefer that today be a reminder that I’ve still got people around me, rather than a reminder of who I’ve lost.  And I’m really happy about the people I’ve got around me right now.

Sometimes I’ll wonder where Steven would be today if he were still around, or what he’d think of where I am.  I don’t think I could ever answer the former, but coming up on the end of my army service, I know he’d be happy for the latter.  Part of me likes to think he might have joined me in serving if he was healthy.  I’m sure he’d also like the people I’ve somehow ended up hanging out with.  Not in the “I approve” sense, but in that, as I sat with four of my friends at lunch today, I could easily imagine him connecting with any one of them.

These are all the kinds of thoughts that I have at various times of the year, but are hard to talk about because it’s such a heavy subject, and almost all of the people I talk to on a regular basis have never even met Steven.  Up until now I’ve only let these kinds of thoughts out in private forums for similar reasons.  But I don’t want this to be something that I feel like I’m hiding, so it’s going up here.

And as long as I’m talking about things I don’t want to feel like I’m hiding, there’s a song I started writing on that airplane, after the phone call with the housing director.  It was originally a song I was going to write for my high school graduation, but I never finished it, so I reappropriated it for these purposes.  It still took me four and a half years to write it well enough that I thought it did my friend justice, but a year and a half after *that,* I still don’t think I’ll ever be able to perform it for any sort of audience, for the same reasons mentioned in the above paragraph.  So here it is:

We met as kids in Central Park
And good things happened, dawn till dark
We were five years old, but we knew then
For the rest of our lives, we’d be friends
There was after care, where we started DT
And then there was that trip to St. Augustine

And, life it happens like all things
From Candy Land to The Lord of the Rings
I wish we could speak just one more time
So I could tell you the things that are on my mind
Steven…

We hung out with Jeremy and Jillian, then Sean and Sim
Then whoever happened to be at tennis on the weekend
You were the bigger Hurricanes fan
Sometimes you were right, but only sometimes
Remember that last Summer we spent in Atlanta?
I’m sorry.  I’m really sorry

Life it happens like all things
From Candy Land to The Lord of the Rings
I wish we could speak just one more time
So I could tell you the things that are on my mind
Steven…

There’s so many things we were supposed to do
Instead of Spring Break, you were getting chemo
I told you you’d be my Secretary of State some day
You said Secretary of Defense, I said okay
You said you’d visit when you got well
Just know a part of you is with me here in Israel

Life it happens, like all things
From Candy Land to The Lord of the Rings
I wish we could speak just one last time
So I could tell you the things that are on my mind
Steven…

Oh-whoa
Don’t tell your folks I got lost in Overtown
Oh-whoa
Yeah, I forgot how to play every card game
Oh-whoa
Of course I’m coming to visit, I don’t care where the hospital is
Oh-whoa
Let me take a picture, I’m flying tomorrow

Life it happens, like all things
From Candy Land to The Lord of the Rings
I wish we could speak just one last time
So I could tell you the things that are on my mind
Steven…

You’re still missed.

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4 Responses to January 21st

  1. Tamz says:

    Thanks for spending today with us… I’m really honoured you chose to be with us this year.

    • fishamaphone says:

      Thanks for inviting me. It was a bit of serendipity: between all the balagan that I’ve been dealing with lately, it almost slipped by me this year. I’m not sure what I’d have done today if I wasn’t with you guys.

  2. Ziv Wities says:

    I remember you mentioning this last year… as you say, not in detail. Thanks for writing and telling us about Steven. I’m glad to have read about him.

    יהי זכרו ברוך.

  3. Pingback: Ancient History | Fiction, Almost Fiction, and Fact

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