Kevin and I on St. Patrick’s Day 2007.
Almost everyone is still asleep. I know the car is waiting for me. Sunlight is starting to shine across the living room floor. I step gingerly between the people curled up in sleepingbags, searching faces, desperately looking. Des, Leah and Alissa are in the corner. Rueda is sprawled out on the couch, Christian and Toke on the floor below. With each familiar face, every friend I know, I grow more frantic. Time is running out. Suddenly Charlie grabs my shoulders.
“Andrea, you have to leave. It’s time to go.”
“I can’t Charlie. I didn’t say goodbye. I have to say goodbye.”
“It’s okay. He knows. You have to go now. Can’t you hear that?”
I wake up suddenly, the pounding at my door almost thunderous now. Whoever is there has been trying to wake me up for a while now. I grab my house sweater and stumble to the door, confused by my dream and even more so by why someone is trying to wake me up so early on a Sunday. Bleary-eyed, I open the door. Jennie is there.
“I have to tell you something but I don’t know how. Kevin died.”
That was five years ago.
I spent the rest of the day with Jennie, eating way way too much Italian food and going to a movie, just to not have to say anything for a while. There were a lot of words that day. It seemed like I spent the entire day on the phone, calling out-of-town friends who hadn’t heard, or who I didn’t think should find out via the internet. I repeated again and again the few details I knew. Finally the sun went down and the wine came out, and we all sat in my apartment, smoking and drinking and not knowing what to say.
The next few days were pretty much the same. The evening of Kevin’s wake I came home to find a rejection letter from CUA, telling me that I would not be offered a place in their PhD program. It was perfect timing, because I couldn’t care less that my future was basically shot to hell.
I cried, but I didn’t cry excessively, and I tried my best not to cry in front of his family. They were devastated, it wasn’t my place. But also, I could feel my grief inside my chest, sitting there, isolated and detached. I’d had plenty of experience with death and I knew different types of grief (confused anger for my grandfather, overwhelming shock for my father, sad relief for my grandmother that she was no longer suffering from Alzheimer’s) but for Kevin, I could see the grief inside, but wrapped up, I didn’t know what was in there.
I knew something was wrong with me. I knew I was reacting strangely. But I didn’t want to think about it. I just wanted to drink.
Kevin’s death pushed me out of the DC area. I’d been unemployed for months. I was broke and had already had one brush with eviction for not paying my rent. Everyday I consumed more wine and sent out less resumes. And after Kevin’s death I couldn’t look at any of my friends. I was ashamed of myself, but at the time I couldn’t say why. Within weeks I called my mom and asked to come home. I convinced my landlord not to charge me for breaking my lease, sold all my furniture and appliances, drunkenly boxed up the things I wanted to keep (many of which broke, a discovery I made last summer when I finally opened those boxes) and threw one last night out at the bar. That was a good night. Everyone celebrated and my friend Dark Dan got so drunk he knocked over a line of potted trees like dominoes.
And I went home. I refused to talk about Kevin, unless I was so drunk that I was about to pass out. I would mention him, start to cry and immediately stop, have one last drink and sleep the whole next day. Even when I moved back to DC-ish, got a job, etc. I refused to talk about Kevin. My grief for him, still in its box, simply stayed in my chest. I wasn’t ignoring it, I knew it was there. Once a year, on March 15th, I would look at his Facebook page, write him a little message, cry for a few minutes, and then make myself stop.
One night I was walking home from an AA meeting. I was few months sober and my interior was total chaos. Suddenly, standing on the corner waiting for the light, I started sobbing. The wrapping had fallen off the box and for the first time I could see my grief. But not just my grief. I could see my secret.
I was jealous that Kevin got to die and I didn’t.
I wasn’t jealous of how many people loved him. I wasn’t jealous of how his wrecked family would never be the same without him. I wasn’t jealous of what a wonderful person he was. I was jealous that his journey had ended, that he was with God and there was no more suffering for him.
I had wanted the peace he had.
I couldn’t put that into words at the time of his death, but it was true nonetheless and the shame of that truth was almost worse than the truth itself. That shame enveloped any conversation I had with Kate about her brother. And until today I don’t think I have ever said aloud to another person what I really felt. Who wants to admit that while others were mourning a life cut short and a world less lovely for his loss, she was cursing what a lucky bastard he was that he didn’t have to deal with any shit anymore.
(Truthfully I can’t believe I’m writing any of this. I guess I can’t have it inside me anymore.)
So, Kevin, I’m sorry.
I’m sorry I dishonored your life by wishing your death upon myself. I’m sorry I could not comfort those you left behind because I was too twisted up in trying to destroy myself. I’m sorry I never believed in myself the way you believed in me. I’m sorry I ran. I’m sorry I bailed the last time I could have seen you because it was too much of a hassle for me to show up. I’m sorry I couldn’t grieve for you these last 5 years.
I’m sorry I don’t talk about you. I’m sorry I don’t tell people how you were funny and loyal and kind. I’m sorry I don’t tell people how you never gave up on those you loved, how everyone always got another chance because you had an unwavering faith that anyone can be better. I’m sorry I don’t tell people how proud I was I of you, how you turned your life around, and lived your faith so beautifully.
I met Kevin my senior year of college when he arrived as a freshman. He was my friend Kate’s younger brother. We immediately bonded over sarcasm and my ability to provide him with free coffee. He was the best bullshitter I’d ever met, and I spent some of the best hours of my life sitting with Kevin, drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes and talking about nothing. Years passed, and the conversations became less about nothing, but they were no less enjoyable.
I miss him.
I miss my friend very much. I hope that now I can grieve for him, not for myself.
(2 Years, 5 Months, and 25 Days Sober)