Today was the birthday of a good friend of ours. Someone whom my husband has known since his teens: he was at our wedding, and he set up the interview that turned into my husband’s job for the past 15 years. It is because of him that we moved here, where I finally found a place I could feel like I fit.
He and I and my husband had a tradition to take the afternoon off for the premier of every single one of the LOTR movies. We made it to all six movies together. No one ever made an excuse.
Despite knowing him for so long, I didn’t get past his façade for a long time. He put on a front of sorts, being on the surface a hard-partying kind of guy, who dated strippers and lived fast. So I didn’t really get to know him until a couple of years ago, when we went on a trip to Las Vegas for a reunion of sorts with a few of my husband’s other friends of that timeframe. We had a couple of good conversations then, during which he “admitted” to us that he, too, is atheist (after which I high-fived him). I asked him if he was conservative or progressive, and he said progressive. I asked, how does a former military guy, raised Catholic, become progressive? He said, “Thinking.”
I felt like we then became real friends, safe in the knowledge that we had shared values, but he spent a lot of the ensuing time in China for work. During that Vegas weekend I said I didn’t have very many people with whom I get to have an enjoyable, intellectual conversation (not one that wasn’t an argument). I didn’t have much chance to have more such conversations in person with my new friend, but we became friends on Facebook, and I found out we had a few more things in common.
He was more than just a friend. He was starting to feel like family — like a brother. He had the same name as one of my FOO brothers, too.
And then he died three months ago, very suddenly, in China, at the age of 48.
There are certain dates that are more or less etched in my memory. January 13th. January 30th. March 26th. July 18th. August 7th. Sibling’s birthdays. I took them off my calendar but they are still in the back of my mind (although now I don’t usually notice the days when they actually happen, but maybe a couple of days later).
November 2nd. I never had a chance to celebrate this new brother’s birthday with him. Between the time I found out what it was, and the actual date, he was gone. I feel like a heel for never asking before.
And I feel like shit for not being able to fully support my husband in his grief for his lifelong friend — especially since he just lost HIS mother this spring (actually, both my husband and our friend did). Not having been especially close to my own mother, nor to his mother, I haven’t been great about supporting him in that loss either. Which is particularly crap, because he tried very hard to support me when my parents died and we were both too young to know anything about grieving, let alone all the other shit that came with those losses.
But I’m too wrapped up in my own lousy baggage. This loss, on top of everything else, seems to be too much, and I have a hard time putting my own grief aside for his.
I lost a good friend and co-worker fifteen years ago, in Texas, to a car accident — someone who I ate lunch with every weekday, and who immediately volunteered to take care of my cats, twice a day, for two solid weeks, when my husband had already left for his new job and I got word of my father’s cancer diagnosis. Steve died in that accident while I was away on that visit.
I had an online friend in New Zealand, whom we got to meet in person when we visited there in 2008, at The Wirld’s Most Nawt Northerly Cheezemeet. She and I shared a birthday. Kim died of breast cancer in 2011.
I lost Morgan, my beloved cat of nearly 19 years, a couple of days after the anniversary of my father’s death. Morgan had been a birthday present from my brother Joe (although I think he got my birthday and my sister’s mixed up because they are only a week apart. Our birthdays were on Fridays that year, and we went the Saturday after her birthday, not the Saturday after mine).
I lost both my parents in 2001, when I was only 31 — well, 31 and 32, respectively, even though their deaths were only 3 months apart, because guess what? My birthday was in between.
I lost the whole rest of my family between then and 2012. (Well, I lost the illusion of having a family when I asked for a little too much.)
My FOO has never celebrated my birthday as a group. There have been milestone birthday celebrations for just about everyone else, including several that I got on a plane for. When my own 40th was approaching, at one of the reunions I tried to start a conversation abut what we could all do together to celebrate my first milestone birthday. The only person who even joined in was my BIL. My family (or rather, my sister) refuses to celebrate the day I was born, the day I should have become a part of the family.
And now, just when I thought I had a new log in my raft, a solid, dependable friend and brother — we’ve lost him too. And I never got to tell him “Happy Birthday, Joe.”