And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.
For the last couple weeks, I’ve been fretting over the feeling that I forgot something. Each time I remembered something, I thought, That’s it! But then the feeling returned and I was back to fretting again. It followed me around like a little storm cloud.
And then, one day last week, when I was muttering an almost daily mantra given to me by a good friend from grad school, that mantra being, “I’m going to rock the system,” it hit me.
I missed the anniversary of my friend Sam’s death. The day he chose to take his life.
On March 3, I remembered to put a happy birthday on Sam’s Facebook page, which is still up as a memorial to him. But on April 23, the fifth anniversary of his leaving this earth, I was silent. Not out of choice. Because I plain and simple forgot.
Since this realization, the feeling of forgetting something has left me. Instead, I descended into misery.
I met Sam within minutes of stepping foot onto Vermont College’s grounds for my first semester. This was a low-residential MFA program, it was December, I was a long way from home, it was dark and I couldn’t see anything around me. At home, my youngest daughter, Olivia, was thirteen months old, not yet diagnosed as autistic, but already making waves, and I was sick with guilt over leaving her. I didn’t know what I was thinking, deciding to go back to school for a graduate degree when I was forty years old, the mother of four, a hard worker already putting in 65 hours a week teaching other writers, and now I was taking on more. I was scared to death. I wanted to go home.
As I stepped off the shuttle bus that brought me and other students from the airport, I couldn’t see much of anything to ground me. But then there was this man standing beneath a light post and he smiled. He fell into step beside me. To this day, I don’t know why.
He helped me check in, get my keys, drop my stuff off. And then he led me to the dining room and we talked all through the late dinner. He asked me all about myself and I told him, because I was so desperate to have someone know me, here in this world where I was suddenly surrounded by absolute strangers. By the end of our meal, he did know me. He recognized who I was by the stories I’d had published.
“Kathie,” he said, “you’re going to rock the system. You already are.”
And then I was okay.
Throughout our years after grad school, we maintained contact. We each shared the same publisher for a while. And everything, everything I decided to do, everything I did, Sam said, “Kathie, you’re going to rock the system.”
To this day, I say it to myself. Whenever I’m scared. Whenever I’m unsure. Which happens way more often than people believe.
On April 23, 2014, Sam chose to end his life. I knew he was having a hard time. I intended to speak with him later in the day. I was busy. But by later in the day, he was gone.
And now, I missed that morbid anniversary for the first time. I didn’t leave a note, letting him know what he meant to me and what he means to me still.
A couple days after this realization, I was heading into a meeting I didn’t want to go into, and I muttered to myself, “Kathie, you’re going to rock the system.”
Which resulted in realization number two. I haven’t forgotten Sam. I haven’t forgotten him at all. He is with me constantly, a smiling shadow that falls into step beside me, and never more than when I repeat those words. I just no longer focus on his death.
I focus on his life. His passion, his compassion, his incredible knowledge of what a person needs right when they need it and his willingness to give it. I don’t need to remember his death.
I only need to remember him.
And I do. Which brings me great joy. My life was enriched when he came into it, and my life continues to be rich because of his impact and care. I didn’t forget, Sam. I just didn’t need to remember.
I never know from day to day what “rocking the system” means, exactly, but thanks to Sam, I do it. Because he saw it in me.
Thanks, Sam. I miss you.
And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.