Death still baffles me. The finality of it.
Like silencing a good song, only half played. Perhaps that is deaths purpose, to make us listen harder.
I met Aryeh in the kitchen of my old apartment in New York shortly after I'd first moved in. He was introduced to me as my roommate Katy's boyfriend, but he became more than that for me in the seven months he spent off and on living with us in that apartment; he became my friend.
I'll never forget the night we officially became friends.
The weather was turning cold, the dark shadows growing long and purple out on the street when Katy and Aryeh arrived home. We chatted for a bit as I, teetering on top of a chair, taped big swaths of clear plastic over the windows to keep some of the New York wind from whistling down the hallway. It was while I did this that I made an incredibly quiet, crass and inappropriate joke. I don't even remember what it was now.
But I do remember the look on Aryeh's face as he caught it, Katy leaving the room because she was blushing so hard. But Aryeh, as he laughed he looked at me with a new respect, we were both still laughing when he reached out and gave me a fist bump.
"I like you." He said, that familiar shine in his eye.
"I think it's official, you and I, we're friends now."
And that was it. We were.
I'd get home from class and find him in the kitchen, in his robe, cooking bacon. He'd usually share some with me and I'd perch on the tiny counter and we'd chat about the day, or what either of us was working on for school, or what episode of west wing he was watching. It was an easy friendship, Aryeh's and mine.
I knew Aryeh had cancer, had been battling it like a combat mission for years. Sometimes you could see the pain cross his face in a flash of tension as he climbed the stairs to our apartment. Or, one day as our roommate Phoebe yelled YOLO down the hall and I sighed at the phrase.
"You know YOLO means You Only Live Once but everyone just uses it to do stupid shit, like drink and party and drive fast cars, they aren't actually talking about living!" I said rather waspishly. I glanced up and watched as a steely softness stole into Aryeh's face.
"Yeah." He said quietly, "Well, really when you are faced with death, it just makes you want to do the things that mean the most to you, it's not fancy. It's being with the people who you love the best and spending time on things that make you happy." He looked down and so did I.
He had been playing chess with death for years; he knew the opponent he was playing. I felt like a child trying out a word I had heard my parents say. I knew nothing, truly, of what I spoke of.
Aryeh was a man who had life within him, and love. I watched it play between him and Katy, the soft ways he would watch her, the way they laughed together, the familiar brush on his shoulder as she passed by with a smile, starting on a new recipe for dinner.
They brought me into their warm circle, Katy and Aryeh, inviting me out to big fancy art openings with them, eating pizza in a late night pizzeria in our formal clothes after it was over.
After we all moved from the apartment we still kept in contact, spending this past halloween together in a bar not far from Aryeh's new apartment where, the three of us sat down and ate homemade chili and watched the better part of Harry Potter.
I didn't know that would be the last night I got to spend with him, the last time I would joke quietly across the table with him. The last time I would get to hug him.
As I left, I called down the hallway how much I loved them both.
When I got the news, on Tuesday night. I sank down on my kitchen floor in the dark, empty house. Reeling from the finality of it.
No more. Tears made quiet rivers down my face. No more.
I closed my eyes. The soft ticking of the clock the only sound as I remembered Aryeh. His kindness. His laughter. His sharp wit. His opinions about religion and politics. In his red robe eating bacon at our kitchen table. That cheeky smile.
Maybe it's not fair but I find I want to turn down the life around me, just for a second; the sound of the neighbor dogs barking and the cars whizzing by on the highway, just for a second. Then maybe I can hear the sound of his laughter again, even if just for a moment in my memory and I can hold that second, freeze frame the stupid joke I'd made and the glee on his face and hold it, hold him. Closing my eyes and remembering. Remembering.
In my sadness the cadence of my life feels off. My heartbeat wants to move at half speed, the radio playing in the next room is too jolting, too loud and yet not loud enough, to blot out the loudness of the grief.
You are a strange friend, grief. Shouldered alone I feel as if your weight will crush my bones, my very marrow.
But in the gentle reaching out of a hand, from a friend, to take a corner and help shoulder the weight, the heaviness I carry is transformed. Because we carry it together. It becomes a flag of honor. A place of love, of remembered life. Because we are remembering Aryeh together.
I feel baffled now. It still doesn't seem real. As they lay Aryeh to rest in the earth today, a part of each of us who've loved him goes with him. And a piece of him stays with each of us. Because that's what love does. It blends our hearts. Sewing us together until you can't tell which parts were theirs and which were yours.