Friday, August 5, 2011

I Still Miss You

"I'll be seeing you in all the old familiar places
That this heart of mine embraces all day through
In that small café, the park across the way
The children's carousel, the chestnut trees, the wishing well

"I'll be seeing you in every lovely summer's day
In everything that's light and gay
I'll always think of you that way
I'll find you in the mornin' sun
And when the night is new
I'll be looking at the moon
But I'll be seeing you."

It's been a year now, and there are times when I still can't get my mind completely around it.

My friend Phyllis died a year ago today.

Her birthday rolled around a couple of months after she died, and I wrote at that time of how much I missed her. Not a lot has changed.

We met in sixth grade. We lost touch at times — as even the best of friends will do — and we didn't always see eye to eye on things — again, as even the best of friends do — but we were always friends. That never changed, and we will continue to be friends until I draw my last breath.

You see, death (or so I have heard it said) does not mean the end of a friendship. At least, until both of the friends are no more. I'm glad I still have the memories I have. As long as those memories exist, so does Phyllis.

When I die, if there is an afterlife, I suppose Phyllis and I will pick up where we left off. Under those conditions, I guess, time and space will no longer be barriers.

The existence of the afterlife is really a separate discussion, though, and I am not as confident of it as I once was. I will discuss it with anyone who wants to discuss it, and I will listen respectfully to anything that anyone has to say on the subject — but not today.

Today, my thoughts are of Phyllis and how much I have missed her these last 12 months.

I have written about Phyllis on several occasions, in this blog and in the others that I write. I never know when — or why — I may be reminded of her, inspired by her. I only know that I am.

And I want others to know that she has inspired me. That's why I put these thoughts out here.

If I die unexpectedly, these writings will be here indefinitely, I suppose. If people stumble onto something I have written about Phyllis — or anyone else — it may be nothing more than a digital "Kilroy Was Here" to most.

But, in truth, it is my way of saying that I was here — and so was Phyllis and so were all the other people about whom I have written and will continue to write.

Those people brought me great joy when they were alive, and I want them to be remembered.

And the best way to do that is to remember stories.

There are lots of stories I could tell about Phyllis. But, you know, one of the pleasures of telling the old stories is having the people who were part of those stories around to reminisce about them.

Phyllis has been gone for a year now so I haven't told those stories nearly as often as I would like.

Well, most of those stories probably wouldn't mean anything to anyone else, anyway, so maybe the appropriate thing to do on this first anniversary is to reflect on what I have learned — in the last year and in my life in general.

I've been thinking a lot about the things I always thought were true. I've noticed that, as the years have gone by, things aren't as black and white as I thought when I was a child and I was learning the rules — you know what I mean, the multiplication tables, learning to tie my shoes, driving on the right side of the road, looking both ways before crossing the street, etc. The basics.

The instructions I received when I was growing up resembled those science experiments that have been conducted in classrooms for generations. The outcomes of certain actions under certain circumstances were 100% predictable.

There's a lot more gray now. I find it hard, at times, to know exactly what meaning I am supposed to draw from things anymore.

For instance ...

Almost exactly two years ago, I wrote about my friend and her relationship with her husband.

Phyllis was single until about the last 10 years of her life, then she met a man who was more than 10 years older and married him. By her account and others', it was a strong relationship, made even stronger by their shared experience of her affliction with cancer.

Her husband, who goes by the name of "Hawk" (I have always suspected that is a nickname, not a given name, but Phyllis never told me and neither has anyone else), is a Methodist minister who serves a couple of small churches in the central Arkansas county where Phyllis and I grew up.

I've never met him, but, after Phyllis died, we became friends on Facebook, and I have followed his posts there and occasionally sent him e–mails offering him encouragement as he has recovered from Phyllis' loss. Usually, I've sent such messages to him around milestone dates — holidays, birthdays, that sort of thing — but sometimes for no other reason except that I was thinking about him, hoping he was all right.

I guess I sort of felt I owed it to Phyllis.

Lately, his recovery took a turn that took me by surprise — and I haven't known how to react to it.

If you aren't familiar with Facebook, people can choose to enter all kinds of personal information, including their relationship status. They aren't required to do that. It is simply an option.

Anyway, after Phyllis died, Hawk changed his status to widowed, and it remained that way until just recently, when he changed it to in a relationship.

I've had mixed feelings about that, feelings that are hard for me to put into words, much less to understand.

It isn't that I expected Hawk to erect some kind of shrine to Phyllis and be a monk for the rest of his life. I don't believe that is what Phyllis would have wanted. (Let me qualify that by saying that I have always felt a little uncomfortable about suggesting that I know — or, for that matter, that anyone knows — what a deceased person might or might not have thought.)

There really is no rational way to look at this as some kind of betrayal — and I don't.

At the same time, though, as I say, I'm not sure how I feel. I know how much of herself Phyllis invested in that relationship, and I suppose much of my feeling stems from my deep regret that she is gone. In this past year, I have often felt cheated, deprived of what should have been.

We should have been able to enjoy the pleasures that old friends enjoy in their old age. Those were things that should have been for Phyllis. She was entitled to those things, damn it. It isn't fair that it was all snatched away from her that way. I guess it still pains me to realize that they will never be.

There were times after Phyllis and I re–connected on Facebook when Hawk had to leave her for a few days or perhaps a week to attend some sort of ministerial conference. Phyllis posted daily countdowns until his return — then, on the day he was scheduled to return, she would post giddy, schoolgirlish messages about how "my sweet Hawk" would be walking through the door in a few hours.

That was a side of Phyllis I had never seen, not even when we were teenagers together back in Conway, Ark. Back then, I knew she had the typical "crushes" girls in that age range tend to have, but she was always more serious about everything else — her studies, her grades, her music.

It sort of rounded out Phyllis for me, I guess. And I knew — as I had always known — that her devotion to the people in her life was lasting and genuine and true.

I know Hawk wasn't unfaithful to her — and isn't being unfaithful to her now. And perhaps, when I have had more time to absorb this, I will know better how to feel about it.

For now, though, all I can say is this:

I miss you, Phyllis.

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