Have you been watching? Have you seen what's going on in my life? Are you proud I've made it this far, or disappointed in some of my choices? Is it even possible that you can watch me from where you are?
If so, then you know what happened after your sister called that March evening. If not...Well, I was in the midst of doing my chores. I was vacuuming the living room when the call came through. I was shocked. I'd been calling the hospital, checking up on you; each time I picked up the phone, I hoped to talk to you. Instead, it was always your sister, telling me you weren't well enough to talk on the phone...and never telling me how truly ill you were...although I think there was mention of a collapsed lung, and that it was in the process of being re-inflated.
Thus, I was stunned when word of your passing came through. I was like a zombie as I put the vacuum away, and then informed my biological mother that I was unable to finish my chores. It was another of those moments where an ounce of caring would have gone far, and she couldn't do it. "That's what you get for making friends in a hospital," she informed me as coldly as possible.
My verbal explosion was epic in its scale, and I stormed from the house to take a walk. I cried a lot. It was unfair that the world should lose you at the tender age of 15. I prayed that night. I asked G-d care for your soul as tenderly as he cared for my brother, Micheal. And, of course, I was loaded with rage against my biological mother. Strange thing, that; the angrier I get, the greater my tears. It persists to this day.
On my return home, I found my father sitting in the living room. He looked about as "happy" as I was, but then he'd become a victim of my mother's inability to be human. Y'know, I don't remember if I sat down or remained standing. I just remember focusing on those white, wicker chairs with their blue and white cushions. And Dad said, "Rob...I understand why you're upset, but I need to ask you not to use such language with your mother. When you do, we all pay a price." Then he added, "I'm sorry about the death of your friend."
My mother would have her revenge for me and my foul mouth. When I wanted to attend your funeral, she flat out refused to lend me the car. So I didn't attend the service...I never knew where you were put to rest...and for some time, I had some of the craziest thoughts. Talk about mental illness! Do you know at one point that I was convinced you had "faked" your death so I would stop calling? It's true. I thought you had your sister call and tell me you were dead so I would leave you alone. I now chalk it up to the "bargaining" part of the grieving process. "Just tell me it was all a prank and let our lives go on."
No such luck.
And yet you would manage to revisit my life in several ways, despite no longer being one this Earth.
The first was my "Santa story." I somehow believe that every good writer should have one, and mine focused on you. In my youth, it was called "The Gift." As I grew older, the title changed to "With a Twinkling Eye." I used a younger version of you, dying from cystic fibrosis. Although I used the generic name of "Mercy Hospital" in the story, I always envisioned it taking place at Long Island Jewish, where we met. An abbreviated version of the same story earned me a 4.0 in a poetry and prose class I took in college.
Funny little side story about that last part. One of my classmates was a guy who was about five feet, six inches tall, and almost as wide...all of it muscle. He worked as a bouncer at a bar at night, so he wasn't the kind of guy you'd think was an old softy. For an extra college credit, we would be performing for various other classes, and each rehearsal had me reading my story based around simply knowing you. By the time I was done reading my story, Mr. Tough-Guy-Bouncer would be sitting there, tears streaming down his face. He thought it was the most beautiful story ever written.
The next time you touched me from beyond the grave was when I was driving down...was it Merrick Road or Merrick Avenue? I can never remember which one was which, even when driving the streets of Long Island. I only knew once I was there. Anyway, I was passing your house, and I saw your mother taking a walk with a baby stroller. I believe she was out with your infant nephew. I immediately found the closest side street, parked my car, and ran to talk to her.
Memories flooded back to me, and very likely for her. Your Sicilian mama still held big dreams for you, and what you could have been had you not been taken so early in life. Thought several years had passed, we both missed you so much in that moment. She gave me a vital piece of information that day...she told me where you'd been laid to rest.
I would then visit your mausoleum site on the anniversary of your passing. I would only stay a short while, trying to close out the nightmare visions of what truly lay beyond the stone. Did your family follow tradition and lay you to rest in a wedding gown? Were you with me in those moments of my visit, trying to calm me? I'd like to think so.
The final time you seemed to reach out and touch me was during a call with my friend Jodi. I don't remember how it came about, but you were mentioned, and it turned out that a young woman who knew you was right there...Toni. I'd known Toni when we were both much younger, and I had no idea she'd known you. Well, she got on the phone with me, and the stories ensued. We shared a lot about our love for you, and the experiences we had in your home. I remain particularly fond of the time I rode my bicycle two towns over to visit you the day after Thanksgiving. We sat in your basement, and I joked how your mother was probably warming up the tons of leftovers right then, and would come down with trays of food, repeating, "Mangia, mangia!" Lo and behold, a half hour later, she did exactly that, making our laughter hard to actually do any eating whatsoever.
We joked so often about why we never dated. My "I can't date you because you're not Jewish" was always answered with "I can't date you because you're not Italian." We were always glossing over the fact that we loved one another, but were scared for whatever reason. I am sometimes filled with regret that I never took the plunge and asked you out.
And now...Well, my sweet Sandra, I have come close too many times to joining you. Will you be there, awaiting me with open arms? Will you embrace me and tell me that all of my mistakes are forgiven? Would you be sorely disappointed if my arrival on the other side was a result of suicide? Will you allow me to unload the horror I felt all my life with the knowledge that you essentially drowned within your own body? Would you be willing to just hold me and let me cry for a good, long time, and not judge me for my tears?
I'm trying not to find out. Every day is becoming a fight to stick around. The way you were loved, it would seem the same is happening for me. I didn't know by joining a forum that I would influence so many lives. In fact, it's one of those forum members that inspired me to write this letter to you. Can you read it? Does your celestial self understand my mortal problems?
I'm going to head off now. People know I'm in trouble, and they're doing their best to keep me propped up, fighting the good fight. But should the time come when my life comes to its close, I pray that you're one of the first people I see in Heaven, arms wide open, and the words, "You did the best you could with what you had," on your lips. And when we embrace, I hold that you'll forgive me a moment of weakness as I give you the tender kiss that is decades overdue.
With my enduring love for you,