twenty-seven years ago.
There was sunshine and abundant warmth on that day,
a blessed gift after a solid week of rain.
Our son was a corybantic toddler in need of a playground
and an ice cream cone.
We were all desperate for ice cream,
that harbinger of truly spring when the days open again
to burgeoning possibilities
like green shoots bursting from the sodden ground.
And so, when the phone rang as we were leaving,
I did not answer it;
I answered my heart instead.
Years from now I doubt that
I will remember that it snowed today,
or that my husband brought home pizza
as a consolation for the weather.
To render a day in such focus that you never forget it
requires the prism of an unanswered call
that waits to inform you that your brother is dead.
It casts an image so sharp you can play it back at will:
a heart answered; a brother gone; and still the world spins.
There was also ice cream that day, and laughter.
I remember that. What there was always counts
as much as what there is no more.
My friend Alison is gone. In a blink. Like the flutter of a bird’s tiny wing. Suddenly and unexpectedly. I hate that there was no time to say goodbye. It sucks that we have no say in who we lose, and when. Life is hard enough the way it is. We should get to say a proper farewell to the people we love. And Alison was someone I truly loved.
That we met at all was a fluke. That when we did we became friends was as if preordained. I can’t remember whether I first hired her to pick my field or she hired me to pick hers, but that was the beginning. We chatted, because it was what you did on Farm Town. You talked to a total stranger who lived who knows where in the world because you could. In our case it turned out that we were 3300 miles apart with an ocean between us. We quickly sussed how much we both loved to read ALL THE WORDS in all the books (when we weren’t making art out of imaginary fields on virtual farms, of course). We friended one another on Facebook, and continued to talk over the Farm Town fence where we learned that we each had an only child we were awed by, and who, despite being opposite genders and nearly seven years apart in age, were remarkably similar in their temperament and interests. How could we not become true friends?
Eventually, we met in real life. I adored her daughter as she loved my son. We were like sisters once separated through no fault of our own, now found, and reunited. It was happy days again. It was happy days each of the handful of times we got to spend time face-to-face.
Alison had a wicked sense of humor. She was one of the sharpest wits I knew. But she was an introvert like me, and she would go quiet occasionally, when the world was too much for her, and I recognized that tendency in myself. There are times when words are not enough and only the space for silent contemplation will do.
Still, I wish I would have told her how brilliant I thought she was, how much she made me laugh. I wish I would have let her know those naughty (but erudite) words I looked up for writing on her cast when she broke her arm. (rantallion, bescumber, fustylug, stympahlist.) They would have made her laugh. We should tell the people we love that we love them. We shouldn’t take for granted that they will know how much they mean to us unless we do.
I wish I could have thanked her for the years we had as friends. I wish I could tell her how the light is a little dimmer now that she’s not here.
I never met Shannon Lewis Adams, but I woke up this morning thinking about him. I said his name out loud.
On September 11, 2001, he was twenty-five, about the age that my son is now. A baby, still, his real life just beginning — the one his parents had spent years preparing him for. Nurturing him; encouraging him. Loving him.
Fly, little bird, they may have thought then. Go out into the world and see what there is to see.
And Shannon flew. To a lofty building far from home.
I knew his father. We grew up in the same small area in the Adirondack mountains of northern New York. A place where most people are content to spend the whole of their lives. Lewis Adams had a shy sweet smile that traveled his face and was reflected in his eyes. I’ll bet his son Shannon did, too.
I picture a space in the universe where all the lost smiles fled to that bright September day. They are there still. We need just say a name and the space lights up with love.
Of all the names I know just the one. But it’s enough. One name, one face, one smile is all it ever takes to bring us to our knees. And still we say the name.