Friday, June 22, 2012

It's a whole different violent thing...

When your friend dies, people will tell you thinks like "Allow yourself to grieve."  But when your friend dies a violent death, whether self inflicted violence or violence at the hands of another person, what they don't tell you is that you have TWO things you have to deal with.  I'm not in the business of suggesting that a violent death is somehow "harder" to process or deal with.  But it IS different.  Very different.

There are two tragedies that your mind has to process...the first is, of course, the loss of your friend, and the second, is murder or suicide.  Even though they're connected, obviously, you're dealing with both death AND deadly violence. As a society, we are somewhat conditioned to accept "death" in a certain way....she's in a better place, etc. But when you throw murder or suicide in there, you have this whole NEW thing to deal with, and in can sometimes get in the way of your grieving for your friend. I know that happened with me. I don't think I actually began to grieve...TRULY grieve for Leslie the PERSON until I had processed the murder. And that took a long time. For me, it was almost five years.  It's OKAY to need to process the violence right now. Being angry about it and having feelings about it does NOT mean that you are not a loving friend who is grieving his or her best friend.

I've seen people who have been able to deal with both things concurrently and be okay with that.  When I was teaching at a rougher, urban school, I saw CHILDREN who were able to process both violent death and loss at the same time better than I was.  But, honestly, I don't think it's about being "better" at it.  I think it's about how your brain works.  Maybe it's about how you and the person you lost actually connected, particular communications you shared, maybe even concerning death.  I know that one of Leslie's and my other best friends, Brooke, dealt with the loss first and began to face the murder itself much later.  

I had the experience of wanting to know the facts of the murder right away...including the ones that aren't usually well received by loved ones.  I couldn't explain to you then why I wanted (actually NEEDED) this.  All I can say is that I've been  a "facts" person for my whole life.  It strikes some people as odd, considering I am in a creative field, but even my art has its rigidity and structure.   I like things explained, under control and I like things to make sense.  And when they don't...can't...make sense, I guess I have to find out as much as I can and see if I can make some sense of it on my own...even if I have to fill in some gaps.  As you read through some of my writings, if you have an eye for details, you can even catch how some of the facts change as I learned new things, got new documents and bits of knowledge from random, and sometimes surprising, people.

What I know now, after LOTS of journaling, introspection, talks with friends and family over wine and too many cigarettes, and, recently, some really amazing therapy with a counselor who must have been hand crafted just for me, is that, the way my brain works, I needed all the truth and factual information that was out there before I could begin to miss my friend.  I was somehow afraid of "coming to terms" with what happened to her and making peace with it only to find out later that it was different than I thought.

And It was also a great way to avoid it..."it" being the reall hard part.  I kept pretty busy with the events of death.  And when a death is violent and, in our case, public, there are plenty of events to keep you busy.  There were facts to figure out, news media to avoid, documents to sort through, scholarships to give out, speeches to write...  And when all that was over, I could ruminate on all of that for the next three or four years.  And, in the meantime, I could avoid remembering that, on the day after her murder, when I went to her apartment to feed her cats, I saw the clothes she had been wearing the day before on the floor of her bedroom...pooled up on the rug as if she had just stepped out of them.  I could avoid remembering that SHE was gone. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

That day...

A few of the posts I make here will be old things...things I wrote a long time ago in various different places and am collecting them here.  That will probably happen mostly in the beginning.  The old things are good, though.  They are the reason, in some ways, that I'm writing this blog in the first place.  I wrote things then just because I needed to write.  Today I understand more about WHY I needed to write them and what they mean to the whole situation. 

The thing I'm going to post today is something I wrote in an online journal I was keeping at the time of Leslie's murder. At the time, I wrote it just to remember what happened.  Every day was becoming a blur and I was struggling to remember even how it all came about.  I needed to remember the exact facts (facts again...noticing a trend?) of the moment my life changed from "before Leslie died" to "after Leslie died".  Because, even now, that's still how I divide my life. 

But I recommend this if you are going through this kind of monumental tragedy...whatever it is.  Write it down...everything.  Even the bits that you think aren't important, because you might forget them and read them later and realize they were the most important bits of the whole day. 

I'm not going to go into it today because this thing is pretty heavy, but there is a bit in this piece that has ended up being on of the most important (and POSITIVE) bits of my whole life in the five years since this day.  For serious.  I love you, Upstairs Amy.  (For you strangers who are not Upstairs Amy or do not know who that is, we'll get to that....promise.)

From here on out the writing was actually done on May 16th, 2007...seventeen days after Leslie's death.  Typos and all.

On Sunday, April 29th, Leslie called me on her way to the mall from the gym. She didn't say she was going to Ward Parkway...just shopping. I guess I thought it was Oak Park, or Marshall's, or even the grocery store. But I guess I knew she was going shopping for clothes or something because I had this feeling of guilt, even then, because I didn't want to go shopping for clothes with her. I didn't want to go for two reasons:
a) i was worried about the way she was spending money...really worried, actually, and I didn't really want to be a part of it.
but reason b) is the most guilt-ridden...and true. I was SO proud of Leslie for her weight loss. She looked a different person, really. And becoming thin, or at least normal sized, had been something she had wanted for a LONG time. But it was getting increasingly difficult for me to go shopping with her and sit in the dressing room of stores where there was NOTHING that would fit me and watch her put on size 8's and 10's. I felt jealous and annoyed. And then I'd get kind of blue and mopey, and I know she could tell. And then I'd feel guilty because if *I* had made it to a size 8, I would SO want someone to sit in the dressing room with me, beaming and jumping up and down, and telling me I looked great. So the next time, I would do that. I'd pretend I was gloriously happy. And I WAS gloriously happy...FOR her. But not myself. And then I'd go home and be blue and mopey by myself.
The truth is, I missed my fat friend. I missed the one I could commiserate with....the one person in the whole world who I knew TRULY understood. And I guess I knew she she still understood. But she'd come out of the tunnel and was waiting for me on the other side. I wanted someone to be in the tunnel with me. So I didn't go shopping with her much anymore.

And I didn't go shopping with her on the 29th of April.
She said, "Do you want to go to dinner with Christy (high school friend) and I tonight? Come be the single girl who pokes fun at the married lady with me."
And again I said no. I didn't want to go to dinner with the married lady. I said "no thanks." And she said "I understand. Feel better" she said at 3:26 pm. At 3:29 she would be shot in the neck and die instantly.
I told Leslie I do not want to be with you today...TWICE on the day she died.

That afternoon, I DID go shopping, but I went shopping for healthy diet food. And I came home to news of a shooting at Ward Parkway. I didn't even think for one second about Leslie being there. I didn't think about Leslie at all.

I called my mom as I walked the dog and asked her if she'd heard about the shooting. We talked about how a lot of Sion kids went to that mall and I said that I was glad no children had been shot. Then we talked about gun of the political issues we always solidly agree on...and we tsk tsked and said it was sad.

When I got back to my place, I put away the healthy food and I sat down to write my plan for food and exercise for Monday in the weight loss livejournal Leslie and I shared. She didn't respond...which was weird.
That evening, I had a pseudo fight with my neighbor. I wanted to get that off my chest with Leslie, because she knows about my neighbor. I called her at 8:30. no answer. No big deal, she often ignores my calls if she's out on a date or something. I thought maybe she had reconciled with Paul after her dinner with Christy or something. Called her again at 12:15. No answer. VERY weird. Called again at 1:15, by this time leaving messages asking her where the hell she was. I was starting to get kind of mad...but not at all worried. Finally I went to bed thinking maybe she had a REALLY good reconciliation with Paul.

On Monday morning Brooke called while I was drying my hair. I didn't hear it ring. By the time I got the message, I was pretty much going out the door to get to work...going to be late, as usual. She was obviously upset on the message asking me to call her back as soon as possible. And she ended it with "I love you." The bosom friends say "I love you" all the time, so it wasn't that she said it that was odd, but the WAY she said something was wrong. I knew she was upset, but I was going to be late. And I couldn't find my purse. I was running around the house looking for my purse. While looking, I decided to call would be early for Leslie, but I thought maybe she could talk with Brooke for a while so I could get to work, get my kids started on something, and then call her myself. When I called Leslie this time, her cell phone was OFF, and that just never happens. Again, I wasn't worried...just noticed it was strange. I figured Brooke had probably already TRIED to call Leslie, but, since she had turned off her phone, couldn't get her so I thought I had better call her. Screw work...bosom friend was upset. So I called Brooke...and my whole world changed.

Brooke was less noticeably upset when I called her...obviously still just as upset but not crying. She asked me if I had talked to Leslie. I said, yeah, I had, yesterday at about 3:30. Brooke said "She went to the mall." I said, "I know." She said "No, Amy, she went to Ward Parkway." I remember saying "No she didn't." But I really didn't know that. Then I started freaking out a little. I think Brooke must have thought I was going to go to work, or maybe she was just terrified to tell me, but she told me then that she didn't know much more, even though she did, and she said maybe I should call my mom and see if she knew anything. I think all of this is what was said, because I can't remember much from this point.

I called my mom and told her....shaking and kind of screechy..."Mom, Leslie was at Ward Parkway." She kind of screamed at me..."What!?" and I told her what Brooke said. I said, "Mom, I need you to call hospitals." I have no idea why I asked her to do that. And I have no idea why she so readily accepted. But she did. I called work and said I was going to be late. I kept trying to find my purse. I was starting to get a little frantic. I couldn't find it.

The phone rang again and it was my mom.
And she said "Baby, we're coming."
And I said "Is she dead?"
And she said the thing that made me know it.
She said "Are you by yourself?"
And I screamed at her. I screamed "IS SHE DEAD!?"
And she just said "yes".

And then I just remember falling.

I must have hung up the phone because it rang again. It was my mom. She said she was calling my friend Susan, the counselor at my school to come over. She said she was on her way with my dad.

I started looking for my purse so frantically, like I thought Leslie would be inside. I called my neighbor Amy and I screeched at her not "Leslie's dead!" but, "I CAN'T FIND MY PURSE!!!"

Amy came down and we found my purse. But Leslie was not inside.

But I am still looking there...

How to survive the death of your BFF...the beginning.

Deciding on the title of this blog took me weeks.  Okay…maybe years.  I have always considered myself to be the creative type….you know…good with words.  I wanted to avoid the tired, overused “surviving death for dummies” kind of thing.  I wanted my title to let you know that I had something to SAY….maybe something you hadn’t heard before, but definitely something you needed to hear. 

But, see, I’ve been thinking the things I’m about to blog about for all those years that I’ve been trying to come up with a name.  And every time I think them, I think…man, I wish I’d known that years ago when I really needed it.  But I didn’t know how to look for it.  And I fur sure wasn’t sitting in my pajamas for the nineteenth day in a row, eating my seven millionth piece of buttered toast and seventeen millionth vodka tonic for breakfast thinking about googling something like “The Girlfriend’s Widow” or “Goodbye Bosom Friend.”  I wanted to know how in the hell you got up every day after you’d just lost your best friend.  I wanted to type in “How am I going to survive this?” and have an answer come up that did not say things like “give yourself time to grieve” and “remember the good times.” (gag)  I wanted honesty. 

So, I’m going to give you honesty.  This blog is about how I am surviving my best friend’s murder.  And, hopefully, it will help someone else survive his or her friend’s murder or suicide or accident or illness or any kind of death. 

In the spirit of honesty, I’m going to tell you the truth.  I’m going to tell you what happened to Leslie.  What happened to Leslie matters.  I don’t think that everybody’s story is ever the same.  I think we can still relate to each other, though.  But I don’t think you will ever understand anything I ever say in this blog without knowing the basic facts.  I mean, facts are what honesty is based on, right? 

Maybe I should say some sort of disclaimer…like they do on This American Life.  The following may be disturbing to some listeners.  But I can assure you, they won’t be more disturbing to you than they are to me, and I am surviving writing this.  In fact, writing this is part of surviving, so maybe reading will be, too.

Leslie was my best friend.  She’d always been my friend…since I was eight years old, anyway…but she hadn’t always been my best friend.  Life has a way of moving people around like a wave.  Sometimes people are near and sometimes far, but always part of the same body.  But I’ll talk more about that another day.  Anyway, she was my best friend on April 29th, 2007.  On that day, she and I were supposed to meet at the gym.  Leslie was a day sleeper.  A napper.  And, true to form, she’d fallen asleep and missed our gym appointment.  A few hours after we’d planned to meet, she called me from her cell phone.  It was a hot, sunny day…very hot for April.  She was driving…on her way to a local mall.  I could hear the air conditioner humming in the phone.  She asked me if I wanted to come shopping with her.  I wasn’t really mad at her for missing the gym appointment, but I’d already gone and was continuing on with my plans.  I’m not even close to as spontaneous as Leslie was.  I never have been…never will be.  Makes me feel a little uncomfortable to veer off course.  Actually, after that day proved to me that staying with the plan can keep you alive, I’ve been even more rigid in my particularity.  So, I declined her invitation.  We chatted some more.  She was supposed to have dinner that night with an old high school friend of ours.  We talked about how she was married to a cute guy with a cute baby and we were knocking on death’s door at thirty-three and both alone and barren.  She told me she was pulling in to the parking lot at the mall and couldn’t park and talk at the same time.  I told her I loved her and she told me the same.  We hung up.  Three minutes later, a stranger shot her in the back of the head through her car window while her car was still running and her purse sat in her lap.  And that was the end of Leslie’s life.  She was thirty-three years, seven months, and twenty-one days old. 

From the moment I knew that she was gone from the earth, I also knew that I would grieve her very differently from everyone else.  And I mean that in two ways.  I knew that I would grieve for Leslie very differently than I had grieved for my beloved grandmothers, both who had passed in their eighties.  But I also knew that I would grieve for Leslie very differently than anyone else who loved Leslie would grieve for her.  I already craved facts that were not available to me.  Facts, facts, facts.  Facts. 

She was my best friend.  I knew facts about her that no one else knew.  I knew facts about her that her mother and her brothers and her sisters and her father wouldn’t even dream of knowing.  I had questions they didn’t want to know the answers to.  I had screams that no one could hear and could not begin to make the sounds that people were pretending were coming out of me. 

And I could not get the facts I needed from anyone.  Because I wasn’t Family.  I was just family.  You know what I mean.