So how do you get over a dead guy? For those of you looking for answers (or worse, those of you having answers to offer), let me state now that this is a rhetorical question. I’ve probably spent more time kicking this around over the last few years than David Beckham has spent similarly engaged with a soccer ball, and I guarantee he’s fared better, and quite possibly, so has the soccer ball. If you are seeking a happy ending, I suggest you go rent something by Disney.
I had a friend in high school, engaging, quirky and about the smartest person I’d ever met. He read Camus’ “The Stranger” in sophomore year – in French! (Although he did admit to me 20 some years later that just because he read it, didn’t mean he understood it, and with a French father, he did have the advantage of being bilingual). We would hang out at school occasionally and discuss things like the socio-economic impact on third world countries of whatever high-jinx Washington happened to be up to at the time. We never dated (for him, I need to add the qualifier “each other”, for me – the global statement is sadly true).
Fast forward 25 years or so. We’re both still living close to where we grew up. We run into each other occasionally (like twice?), haven’t stayed in touch. He’s married, divorced, two grown kids and on the back side of a long term relationship. I’m married, one grown kid. One day several years ago (although it seems like a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away), he showed up at our farm for a performance by the Herrmann’s Royal Lipizzan Stallions. After the performance, I needed to unload three hay wagons (my husband was at work, and our daughter in the house sick and sleeping). He stayed to help with the first one. We went on his bike to get a cup of coffee. He came back and helped with the last two, then took me up to meet his horse. We grabbed a pizza and a couple of bottles of wine and sat on his deck and talked. Really. We talked about his horse, his life, my life, sociology and political science (he had recently graduated with a double major and unsurprisingly high honors). We discussed philosophy, politics, religion. He pulled out books, referenced sources, talked about being a helicopter pilot in the National Guard, talked about the breakup of his long term relationship. I talked about running a farm and running on empty. I realized, or perhaps “finally faced”, the fact that despite having my dream job (owning a horse farm, teaching riding lessons and training horses), I was feeling empty and unfulfilled.
I know what you’re thinking – couple bottles of wine, empty and unfulfilled, so when did this move from the deck to the bedroom, or the couch, or did you just do it on the deck?? Well drag your mind out of the sewer and back into the gutter with the rest of us. We. Talked.
Over the next several months, we continued to talk. Marc would pick me up when he had to go to Home Depot, and we’d talk. We would make a run to the nearby used bookstore, and we’d talk. Emails went back and forth many times a day. He’d come to the farm, I’d go to his place, and we’d talk. We’d go for rides on his bike, and we’d talk. At some point, I became included in his “Monday nights with Ross”. Ross was Marc’s best friend. “Close” doesn’t even begin to cover it. They were closer than most brothers I knew. They had an amazing respect for each other. They had a standing appointment for Monday night outings to a bar with Jazz, and I had been invited into the inner sanctum. We’d drink and talk, although on these (as in many other) occasions, mostly Marc would talk. I remember one night, Marc was sitting between Ross and me. I had asked Ross a question, which Marc started to answer. I already knew his answer, I wanted to hear what Ross had to say. I finally had to say “Would you just shut the fuck up? I didn’t ask you!” We laughed and drank, and talked.
He made the transition from National Guard to the Army (no small feat for a guy in his 40’s), and went to Ft. Rucker to do his Blackhawk training. His horse came to live at our farm, and via phone and email, we talked.
Marc knew how to ask questions that were uncomfortable (and ultimately necessary for my growth). He pulled me out of my not-that-comfortable comfort zone with questions like “why?”and “what?”. Why did I feel that I didn’t like to take risks? What was I doing in my life that was just for me?
I wrote a lot, mostly in emails to Marc. I decided I could use some counselling to help me find a way through the questions I now couldn’t let go. Marc thought that could be a good thing. Now a “who?” question: “Who are you going to see?”. I didn’t know. Then a “how?” question: “How are you going to choose?”. When I suggested throwing a dart at the yellow pages, he gently suggested a more prudent course of action with something as important as my psyche. He gave me a name of a counsellor he knew. Try him for a visit, if this wasn’t the right person, fine. If it was, fine. It was the right person, not that I was surprised.
Things started to change. I started riding roller coasters. I took the basic motorcycle rider’s safety course at the local branch of the state university. I enrolled in community college. I listened when Marc told me I was a talented instructor. He took riding lessons from me, I took life lessons from him.
A new post in Germany. The phone calls tailed off, the emails continued. On a visit back to the US in May a few years ago, Marc reviewed my big paper for English and gave me some pointers. He was disappointed that he hadn’t gone to Iraq. It was chilly and rainy. I felt like we weren’t quite connected on the same wavelength as usual. That was a Monday. The next day, he flew back to Germany. The following Tuesday evening, I got a call from Ross. Marc was dead. Even now as I type these words, my breath catches, I wait for it to be a mistake (my conspiracy theory loving self has even thought – in really desperate times – that maybe he’s just working under cover, and had to fake his demise). During the counselling sessions which followed, Dan tried to help me move through this wrenching, horrible time. I particularly remember one exercise. He gave me figures (dolls if you will) to represent Marc and me. I had to place them where I saw our relationship when Marc was alive, and then move them to where I felt they should be now that he was dead. When Dan questioned why I still had Marc standing after his death, I could not take that figure and lie it down. I don’t think I could today.
What Marc gave me is something that transcends the physical realm, perhaps because it was never a physical relationship. Yes, he was incredibly handsome, and I was vulnerable enough for it to have become physical, even hoped it would, sometimes still wish it had. For good or bad, Marc made it clear upfront that he didn’t want to mess up our friendship by adding that dimension. On my nobler days, I find his integrity another quality to admire. In my more base, self loathing times – I figure this was the intelligent man’s way of saying he found me physically repugnant.
Despite the hours and pages and days of dialogue which flowed between us, I was not, still am not, ready to have it end. In my heart, when I can cut past the effects of thinking far less of myself than Marc thought of me, I know the answers to the unasked questions. And really, I know the answer to the question with which I opened this: “So how do you get over a dead guy?” For me, the answer is simple: You don’t.