Eighteen years ago today my friend Mark died, just a few weeks shy of his 25th birthday. It was the first time that my heart was truly, irrevocably broken.
I can’t pretend that Mark’s death hurts me the same way today that it did 18 years, or even 15 years, ago. For years I would wake up in a cold sweat at 3:00 a.m. on this date, the same time that I got the original call telling me he was gone.
That hasn’t happened in over a decade. Days, weeks, months, have gone by without me thinking about Mark. I have not seen him in my dreams in years. I used to love those dreams, where he would come to me, still so young, looking the way he looked before disease ravaged his perfect face. Sometimes he told me it was a mistake, he wasn’t really dead. Sometimes we just did normal things and in the back of my mind I kept trying to remember what was weird about it, what was off. Sometimes he told me he was dead but it was all ok.
If Mark were alive today he would be addicted to texting. He would use LOL in a completely annoying way. He would have voted for Obama (if he remembered to register) but secretly found Paul Ryan attractive. He would be on Twitter and Facebook. He would have his own YouTube channel and ok, he might be on Grindr. He might also be married, he would have loved to have seen gay marriage become legal anywhere.
Or maybe none of that is true. Twenty four is so young to die, there’s so much left to learn and do, so many ways you can still change. The other day my son picked up a picture I keep of Mark, already showing signs of illness, and me with red hair. He wanted to know about Mark,who he was and how he died. He asked about other people he remembered who died and we talked about Cousin Grey who died of a brain tumor and Uncle Eric who, as far as my son knows, died in an accident. People I did not even know when Mark died, but whose loss still haunts me. I kept a calm and neutral voice while obsessively thinking about his teenage cousin, struggling with leukemia. Hoping I’d never have to add her to the list.
This is the thing about a broken heart, it keeps beating, it keeps loving, and it keeps breaking.