There are a lot of things I want to say here, and I don’t really know where to start. A friend of mine from high school died very suddenly Thursday night/Friday morning. The wake was today- a lot of us are in shock. I found out at about 11 a.m. Friday and started making calls to tell people, and I’ve had this vertigo feeling for much of the time since then. Whatever I’m thinking about, the idea “Cristin’s gone” kind of washes in every so often and the world just goes out of focus. On the one hand, with her health problems and her nature I’d sometimes wondered if she would get to live a full life- and on the other hand, she was 24! It’s sudden and it’s stunning. I hate the idea that this is “denial.” I wasn’t refusing to believe this yesterday. It was that the idea itself didn’t make sense.
Some of her closest friends gathered last night, near the high school where we spent most of our time together. We all knew we needed the company. We talked about her some of the time, but mostly it was about being around other people and knowing the rest of them were still there. (Later on, I had a much sadder conversation with my best friend and my girlfriend. We were looking for pictures of her because her family wants to make a scrapbook. THAT was hard.) Some of the guests actually hadn’t know Cristin very well, which was good: we told some of our favorite stories about her, and it was a little like we were introducing her to new people. She was very shy, but people always liked her when they had the chance. She really was one of the nicest, most patient and innocent people you’d ever meet. Not to say that she was never funny or anything else, but that’s what we kept thinking of. I was, relatively, at peace after all that talking and crying Friday night, but today was another day and of course the wake stirred up so many other feelings.
I actually dated Cristin for about 8 months. [I thought I missed her when she went away to camp in the summer…] That began sophomore year during one of the drama program’s last rehearsals for The Grapes of Wrath. She was so shy that she couldn’t ask me in person - and in fact, she couldn’t even write me a note. She had to ask one of our friends to write the note for her. Most of her friends were part of the drama program in high school. We all have fond memories (and some other memories!) of those four years, but Cristin in particular never stopped speaking fondly of it. It made her part of a group in a way she had never been before, and she did come out of her shell a great deal in that time. We’re going to try to create a scholarship in her name, maybe for kids who specialize in stage management the way she did. (I said she was patient, right? To put up with that many high school kids, cast and crew, plus the director… well, none of us really knew how she did it. It was natural, I guess, and a lot of it rolled off her back.)
Monday, after the funeral, I write a column about it for the paper I edit. I feel a little selfish for wanting to do that, but I’ve written about less important things and maybe I have something worth hearing to say. At night, I’ll call her family and do her obituary. I wanted to do that much, and I’m glad they agreed to let me. I’ve typed up and run the releases funeral homes send out, and I guess it’s nice to put a name in the paper at all, but they feel so automatic. It’s just not enough, not for a friend.
I last saw her about two weeks ago. I hadn’t spent much time with her in the last year, since I came back to New York, but I don’t feel too bad about it. Years ago, my freshman year of college in particular, I made an effort to tell her how glad I was that we’d stayed friends after breaking up. We had that conversation a few times. That was years ago, but I know how often she thought of us and talked about us, and I know she knew. That’ll have to be enough. We won’t get more, so we’ll have to make do with what we have.
And I know that ‘fair’ is just an idea people made up, that you can’t expect life to be fair. But it still seems so wrong. One of our friends said “people aren’t supposed to die before they’re 25,” and I know that doesn’t really mean anything - I know how many people don’t make it that far and how many other people have been through worse, we were lucky to have her at all, but it was right at the same time. Seeing her in a casket at a wake today was wrong in ways I couldn’t describe. We know that she ended her life on a high note, so to speak - she’d finally started to find her way in a career, her last night was a nice evening out with friends, and at the very end we know she didn’t feel any pain - but to have to use that to comfort yourself when talking about a girl so young? To see someone you spent so much time with, even said “I love you” to, like that? Like I say, we’re all in our different kinds of shock. I don’t expect it to go away. And I guess in one way, the pain is alright - you accept that risk by caring about someone, and as much as it hurts, that reminds you of how many good things you’ll be missing. There’s no way to get around the fact that something is missing now, though, and I’m not really used to the idea of the world without her in it, even if I wasn’t seeing her that often.