Yesterday, November 8th, was obviously election day. It was also the umpteenth anniversary of my friend Mark’s death from AIDS. In many ways, Mark’s death was my “first.” I knew other people who had died, friends of the family, distant relatives, those beautiful, wild high school kids killed by drunk drivers or drunk driving themselves.
But Mark was the first person I truly, deeply loved who died. Mark’s death was the first one that I felt would change my life. The first one that did change my life. What I remember from those first few days was a feeling that I needed to get stuff done. I needed to call in sick to my teaching job and prepare lesson plans for the time I’d be gone for the funeral. I needed to pay bills, and arrange for someone to feed my cat. I needed to clean my tiny studio apartment. I needed to call others and let them know.
When I left my apartment I felt a little like I was walking around in a glass box. I wanted to reach out to people and ask them if they knew Mark, if they knew he was gone. But the box was the only thing protecting me, the only thing keeping me from breaking, and I knew if I tried to reach out, the box and I would shatter. I was 25 and had just moved to Chicago. Mark died in San Diego. I knew that no one at Jewel or my building knew him. But through my glass box it looked like everyone else was in mourning, too. Years before another friend and I spent many stoned hours discussing how when we were high it seemed like everyone around us was also high. This is how grief felt, too. Inside my glass box of mourning, I thought it was possible that everyone else was also mourning.
It’s a little bit what it feels like to me today. I am sad and shocked. I know it’s true and yet I can’t quite believe it. I feel like I need to do so many things, finish articles for my clients, clean the house, arrange a Girl Scout field trip. I took a walk on a beautiful fall day and with every person I passed I wondered if they too were in mourning. If they to were grieving today.
What I remember most from Mark’s funeral was the way my fragile glass box turned in to a warm bubble. All of us who loved Mark were in the bubble. We stayed in one house, we shared beds and couches, we ate, we drank and smoked and posed for ridiculous photos together, long before the days of funeral selfies. Eventually, we had to go back to our own cities, we had to leave our bubble.
When I came back to Chicago I made my friend who picked me up at the airport promise to call me the next day. “I’m not sure I’ll still be here, I think I might die,” I told him. “You won’t,” he promised and he called every day for the next two weeks. Every day I answered and every day I felt a little less like I too was dying.
So this is what I hope happens now. I hope that we all have our days of mourning and grief. I hope we move from our glass boxes and find our bubbles. That we find the people who know how we feel, those who truly get us. And then I hope that we all start to find our strength again.
The biggest lesson I learned from losing Mark was that even a broken heart keeps on beating.