I’ve been doing just about anything you can imagine to put off writing this post, about this topic. Even as I type, I am still in my workout clothes, there is a strand of lights that has gone dark on the Christmas tree, and my in-laws are coming for Christmas Eve dinner at 4.
Don’t worry, dinner tonight is pizza.
Basically, last year on Christmas Eve, I was in a casino hotel, getting ready to spend the day playing slot machines and maybe sitting by the pool. And just relaxing and trying to enjoy the last bit of 2012, which was just as hard as 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, and 2007. Every year for the past few years, I have sent the year off with animosity and a hearty “good riddance.” 2012 was shaping up to be the same.
On Christmas day, I woke up ready to drive to my parents’ house for Christmas dinner. When I got there, I had a Facebook message from my friend Anthony’s cousin. I knew why she messaged me. Anthony had been in the hospital for several weeks, and when he told me he was back in, he made it clear that he was never returning home. She asked me what I was doing, if I was with family, and I lied across the board because I knew she would only tell me what I knew I was going to hear if she thought she wasn’t ruining a Christmas gathering.
She called me and neither of us spoke a word. Finally, I managed to force a whisper, “I know.”
I did know, because someone had already posted about it on Facebook. I had checked my phone before I left the casino. The thing about losing someone is that even when you’re expecting it, even when you knew it was coming for a long time, when it happens it sucks your stomach to your eyeballs and takes your breath away and every other cliche that you can imagine. Punch in the gut, hits you like a brick, hits you like a train.
Except, it all happens at one time, and all in one half-second you get broken apart.
I spent the drive home listening to Paul Simon’s Graceland album, holding my husband’s hand, and weeping steadily.
What Anthony’s cousin told me was that he died on Christmas Eve, probably while I was playing slots a few hours from him. She told me that he was ready and that he was at peace.
That was a year ago. I think about the kind of guy that Anthony was, the kind of friend that he was, the strength of his moral code, his sense of adventure, his humor, his love of fishing, his love of music, his love of St. Louis sports teams, his loyalty, his memory. Not just the memory of him, but the way he remembered the events in our shared history with meticulous detail.
We walked, Anthony and I. When we reconnected, I knew he had cancer and I knew it was bad. I asked him if I could do anything for him, but literally all he wanted to do was take walks. He liked to get out of the house, get moving. We walked last summer, sometimes 3 or 4 times per week, for a total of 21 times.
We walked in a local park that has a weird little pond, and sometimes people would be fishing in that pond. Anthony said he would never fish there. “What am I gonna catch in there? A dirty diaper?”
One day, we saw a couple of older guys and they had buckets, coolers, multiple poles each. Anthony nodded in their direction from across the park when they came into view and said, “Those guys are really fishin’ it hard.” I don’t know why, but I laughed and laughed at the thought of fishin’ it hard. After a couple of minutes of walking in silence after that, he said, “Someday, a few years from now when I’m not around, you’re going to see a couple of guys sitting around fishing and remember that, fishin’ it hard, and you’re going to remember me again.”
Like I will ever forget.