Wednesday, September 25, 2013

National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims

Please, murder, go away.  

Leslie Elizabeth Noble
September 8, 1973 - April 29, 2007

EPITAPH by Merrit Malloy

When I die
Give what's left of me away
To children
And old men that wait to die.
And if you need to cry,
Cry for your brother
Walking the street beside you.
And when you need me,
Put your arms
Around anyone
And give them
What you need to give to me.
I want to leave you something,
Something better
Than words
Or sounds.
Look for me
In the people I've known
Or loved,
And if you cannot give me away,
At least let me live on in your eyes
And not on your mind.
You can love me most
By letting
Hands touch hands,
By letting
Bodies touch bodies,
And by letting go
Of children
That need to be free.
Love doesn't die,
People do.
So, when all that's left of me
Is love,
Give me away.

Monday, September 16, 2013

He lead me to the threshold of my own mind...

My friend Stuart died this weekend.  A disturbed person with a gun didn't murder him.  His own large, loving, human heart did.  It just turned on him.  It turned on us.  And it killed him swiftly and surely, and, like any killing, left the rest of us with millions of questions and wondering what in the hell we were going to do.

I loved Stuart.  He was first a teacher, then a mentor, and then a friend.  He wasn't my "BFF", though...not in that true definition.  And I wasn't his.  That spot goes to Carlos...his partner of over 35 years...his more than a BFF.
Carlos is on the left and Stuart is on the right.

So when I write about Stuart in this blog about how you're supposed to survive the loss of your BFF, I write for a few reasons.  I write because of that invisible reader whom today I imagine to be Carlos. And I write because Stuart made such an impact on my life when I lost my best friend.

I've not had a partner, a lover, a spouse for 35 years like Carlos did.  I cannot even come close to imagining how it must feel to lose not only your best friend, but half of your own body.  What I do know, though, is that when I lost Leslie, I struggled so very much because I had known her so long that I not only lost my friend, I lost part of my identity.  I had been friends with Leslie for 25 years....for so long that I do not remember deciding that I liked her.  I don't remember when I realized she liked me. It's almost as if our friendship wasn't even like if it wasn't decided "Let's be friends."

And what is odd is that it became part of who I was.  I was the girl who had the lifelong friends.  I knew other people.  I had other acquaintances.  But I never even really made a lot of other really good friends throughout my life.  And the few that I did make knew all about her and Brooke and Dama.  We were those Anne of Green Gables girls.  We had our Dianas.  Life would snake through all kinds of experiences, but we would always have each other as touch stones, and that's just how it would be.  And then she was gone.

I actually felt a lot of guilt sometimes because I missed that identity occasionally almost as much as I missed her.  I had no idea who I was supposed to be.  I've struggled with it every day since.  Sometimes when people think I am still struggling with my grief over losing my friend, I think I might actually be struggling more with figuring out how to be the new person with a different shaped heart.

And I can't help but ache for Carlos because I know that it must be the same for him.  He is grieving his beloved, and he is grieving the man he was when he was half of that pair.  And that is so incredibly hard.

I also can't help but marvel at the sad, chilling irony that I lost Stuart so suddenly.  The irony of it is something most people don't know.  I haven't told many people about this, because it was really personal, and because...well...because if I told it people would know that I didn't really write something that had my name on it.

After Leslie died, I wrote an email to people in her address book, letting them know what had happened to our dear mutual friend.  I split the people she wrote and called often into two groups: people I knew, at least on some level, and people I didn't know at all.  The group that I knew included some people I knew well, and some people that I barely knew, but knew well enough that they would know who I was and why it was me who was telling them this terrible news.  Stuart was in that group. And I put the other group off for a day or so because I just couldn't do it.  I couldn't figure out how to introduce myself AND tell them, "By the way, your friend was murdered."  It was too hard.

So probably an hour after he had gotten the news I heard from Stuart.  Because he was not a man of platitudes, he didn't say "if there is anything I can do..."  He said, "Give me a task....something you really don't want to do."  So I told him about the letter I couldn't write.  And he wrote it.  And I signed it.  It was amazing.  It was gentle, but to the point.  It didn't coddle and wasn't too familiar, but it wasn't harsh.  It was simply perfect.  It was the perfect way to say that the unexpected had happened to a person you loved.

And six and a half years later, the unexpected happened to him.  And I loved him.  And oh....oh how I wish he was here to break it to me that gently.

I will miss you, teacher, mentor, friend...

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Because I knew you...

As a lot of life tends to do, the ache comes in waves.  It still does, and I'm six and a half years in.  I had this grand plan that other people would read this...specifically people who had lost their best friends (who might also be sisters or sons or wives or nephews, etc) to crazy, wild public violence.  I wanted every word to make a be a source of comfort to that "someone else"...a sense they he or she is not alone.  Which, of course, sucks.  It would be great if he or she was alone.  Not great for he or she, of course, but great because that would mean the rest of us weren't out here, weren't grieving because of this totally unfathomable murder club we're in.  Anyway....I'm not even sure if anyone who reads this isn't my close personal friend.  Or my therapist.  Or my mom.  But I pretend that she's out there...that one woman who is standing where I have been.  And she's reading.  So that's why I sometimes write like I'm writing to her.  But I digress...

It does come in waves, the ache.  And I won't lie and say that tears aren't part of it still.  But sometimes the ache is beauty.  It actually gets that place where the missing isn't always sad.  There are these really strange times where the missing is funny, and the ache is joyful.  Sometimes the missing is a reason to call another person that I love.  And a whole lot of the times the ache is thankfulness. There's a lot going on in my world right now that makes me think of Leslie, wish for Leslie, want Leslie's brand of listening and well placed humor.  But these days my overwhelming feeling when she enters my mind is gratefulness.  Thank God...I mean, seriously.  Thank GOD, I had the time with her that I did, right?

Days after she died, Brooke and I put together a list of songs to play during the entrance and exit of the crowd at her memorial and to burn to disc to give out to close friends and family.  The songs were an odd mix of songs that she loved, songs that we had loved when we were 13 (hello, Aerosmith and GNR at the pool in 1987) that we didn't really love anymore, but held so much love inside of them, songs that made Brooke think of Leslie, and songs that made me think of Leslie.  Some of those she might never have even heard, but they told our story of how we loved her.  I remember I picked Regina Spektor's "Fidelity".  Brooke wisely suggested that Leslie would have hated that song.  And I do believe that she is right.  It's the rather affected way that Ms. Spektor sings he-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-art.  And let's be honest.  Leslie loved Air Supply.  And Donovan.  In 2007.  She wasn't particularly forward thinking in her musical tastes.  Or particularly tasteful at all.  But I didn't pick it because she would have liked the way she sang it.  I picked because of one phrase in the song:

"Suppose I never ever saw you.
Suppose we never ever called."

Because, you know, that would have sucked.  I mean, I can't even imagine...

I saw Leslie at camp two years before she moved to my town and started at my elementary school.  I thought she was regally tall and had the most amazingly cool hair I'd ever seen, ever.  And then she moved to my town, to my school, to my class, to my life.  And oh my, did we ever call.  We had a little cluster of lovely friends, all of us close in our own ways, but Leslie and I were the phone friends. Hours and hours and hours.  Up until three minutes before her death, the telephone was a part of our friendship.

What IF I never saw her? What IF we had never called?  There was literally no measuring stick for the anguish I felt when I picked that song for her service, but it was worth it.  It was better than not having seen her, not having called.

Lately I've been listening to a lot of music from Wicked.  I'm planning to totally annoy my boyfriend by dragging him to see it next month.  There was a time when I just skipped over the For Good song.  But now I listen to it over and over and over.  Sometimes it does choke me up.  And it does make me ache.  But it's that ache of thankfulness.  It is the answer to Regina Spektor's question, "What if...?"

I don't know if you, my invisible readers, have heard this song.  And I'm not really the type to post song lyrics or youtube videos, but I think this is the time that I really have to.  It's really the only way you can get it.  And if you, invisible reader, are aching for yours, please remember as I do about Leslie...

Because I knew you, I have been changed for good...

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

I Am Brave.

This is an older piece of writing.  I wrote it about four years ago.  Leslie died in the spring of 2007 in a mall parking lot in the south part of the city.  In the fall of 2009 I bought a house a few blocks from the area in which she was killed.  This is about the day that I first encountered "the mall".  I don't know that everyone needs to go to "the place".  In fact, I still haven't been to the actual spot, the parking lot, where Leslie was killed.  But I do think that I was cheating myself by living in fear of "the place".  I used to go to great lengths to drive around it.  It's okay to have a healthy respect for the bad memories places can bring you, but it's UNHEALTHY to create new routes for your life so that you don't even need to acknowledge their existence.  So, anyway, this is my story.

On Valentine's Day weekend I went to Ward Parkway Mall. I didn't go to the spot where Leslie died. But I went to the mall. I had avoided it for a long time. I even considered going a time or two but decided that I didn't need to. I always told myself that it was unnecessary to make myself go if I didn't need to.

But now I live just about four blocks away. It was late on Friday and I had to buy a board book for a baby shower. My friend, Amanda, just brought home her baby boy, Isaac, who she had been in the process of adopting from Haiti when the earthquake struck. She was able to bring him home thanks to the American government granting orphans in the middle of adoption proceedings humanitarian parole to the United States. We got a larger gift that hadn't come yet and my mom wanted me to pick up something small to wrap and we decided on a board book. I could have driven to the plaza on a weekend night, found a place to park, etc. But it seemed silly to do that when a board book was literally a few blocks away from me. It made me realize that it was only fear that was keeping me away. And the longer I let that fear grow, the more it would become a part of me and a part of my memories about my dear, dear, bosom friend.

I took my friend Amy with me. I cried a little in the parking lot...only a few tears. It was hard to think I was in the last place she had been alive. Inside was weird, but I was okay. I had little bits of fear when I was near the entrances of stores.

When we found to board books, the first one I picked up was called "You Are Brave". On the cover was a smiling, black boy. I thought of Isaac and how brave he had through the only home he had ever known falling down around him; getting on an airplane and arriving in an entirely different world full of strangers. I thought of how brave Leslie was to have lived her life so courageously, spontaneously and with such trust in her own decisions. I thought of how brave I was to be there, facing my fear and conquering it. We are brave.

I bought the book and gave it to Isaac. He chewed on it a lot, which, I think, in baby world, means he gets it.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

My own private pharmacy...

One thing that I think is important is to get help.  Your friends are awesome.  Your family is great.  Your dog listens like a champ.  But your friends often are going through this, too.  Your family is so glad to have YOU and not have had the tragedy happen to their baby that they don't know how to feel.  Your dog is a better listener than a talker...and while listening is important, you need someone to talk tell you what you can DO.

Right after Leslie was killed, I saw a counselor who specialized in grief.  She mostly did a lot of listening.  And passing me Kleenex.  I am pretty uncomfortable crying in front of anyone who is not a parent of mine so it felt good to be able to cry without feeling weird.  I'm a big believer in the idea that a counselor is not your friend.  I guess they SORT of are, but no, not really.  The counselor that I have now once asked me when we were discussing vulnerability if I felt vulnerable telling her things.  I told her no...that I didn't...because I was paying her.  It seems rather cold, but it's true.  

So, in the immediate...when everyone else around you is likely falling down about as heavily and dramatically as you are...a grief counselor can be a great help, if for no other reason than a very safe place to scream and cry.  Or, in the reverse, about something other than your dead friend and not feel guilty.  Because that happens.  You think about something school grades or a great sale or the lyrics to a song that is not sad...and you feel crazy guilty because you stopped thinking about her/him for a minute.  AND THAT'S OKAY.  And the counselor will a) listen to that and b) tell you that it's okay....and make you believe it.  

The other thing the counselor can do is help you get medicine, if you need it.  I'm not talking about serious long term meds....but you MUST sleep.  And you MUST eat.  And you MUST function.  Something to help you sleep or stay calm...  I don't believe in using these things long term AT ALL.  And this is a time when you need to be careful about that...depression, even situational depression, can make it really easy to rely on substances.  But with the right Dr. supervision, they CAN help you get through the first few weeks.

And that's really what the first few weeks are about...surviving the next twenty minutes.  When you get through those, you take on the next twenty.  And so on.  And eventually it's a few weeks later, and you're still alive.  Success.