I keep reaching for the phone to call you. In those few seconds before the reality dawns on me, I take comfort in knowing that I’m moments from hearing your voice — that even if you don’t pick up, I’ll hear your outgoing message. And I’ll leave a voicemail, despite the fact nobody likes checking their voicemail, because whatever, you can deal with it. Sometimes even after I come to my senses and I feel the reality of your absence, a sensation not unlike falling, I think about calling you, anyway. I don’t think your voicemail is still connected, but maybe — and then I could leave a message you’ll never hear (you weren’t going to check it regardless) and it would almost be like talking.
I’m still not sure what I believe in when it comes to the afterlife, but I like to imagine you floating in the clouds somewhere, annoyed at the fact that you’re still getting voicemails, but mostly just frustrated that you can’t call me back. Believe me, it’s hard for both of us.
I wonder what you’d think of the way I air my grief in public. It’s something I’m still not sure I should be doing — yes, even as I’m doing it — but it remains the best way I know how to cope. From a young age, I learned that for me writing was the first step toward healing. And the second step, the more important step, was to put that out into the world, as scary and shameful as it sometimes feels. I guess the hope is that someone reads it and relates, that maybe I could help that person, but I think on a more basic level, I just want my pain to be heard. Otherwise I’m screaming into the abyss.
Put it this way: I need someone to listen to my voicemail.
I question my use of metaphors, my stylistic flourishes, the fact that I try to create something meaningful out of my grief instead of just writing “I miss you I miss you I fucking miss you” over and over again. Perhaps it’s self-indulgent — that I’m not just offering up something bare and raw — but crafting language is how I process my thoughts. This is what happens when you major in English and you’re a little bit pretentious.
If I were leaving a voicemail, I’d keep it brief and tell you that, yes, I think about you every day, and some days are harder than others. I’ll feel fine and then a certain memory will needle its way into my thoughts, and suddenly I’ll find myself sobbing on the arm of my couch. But I’d also want you to know that I’m OK, that sometimes I’m actually pretty damn good. I am flawed in all the ways you knew me to be flawed and loved me anyway, and I am working to get better in all the ways you would have wanted to me to. On the good days I know that I can make you proud.
I didn’t know what I was going to write when I opened this page. I just knew that my eyes were welling up with tears because once again I thought of something to tell you, reached for my phone, and was struck by the fucking injustice of your death. It’s stupid and rude and I will never get over it. There is, as I think I’ve said before, a Roxy-shaped hole in my heart. As grateful as I am for all the love that surrounds me, nothing’s ever going to fill that back up.
(OK, I’ve given it more thought, and realistically, if there is an afterlife, voicemail is an eternal punishment, not the kind of thing you’d be subjected to in paradise. Besides, I’d like to think that wherever you are, you’re surrounded by all of us who loved you and will always love you. We exist there and here at the same time, which is exactly the kind of hippie bullshit belief system we might have laughed at back in high school. I mean, it’s still a little silly, but it’s comforting, so I’m going to hold onto it anyway.)
This is now verging on a ramble, the kind that I would instantly regret if it really were a voicemail. I try not to talk about these things too much: I don’t have a monopoly on grief, and I’m only one of many who misses you. And I don’t want anyone to think I’m a constant weepy mess, not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just not me. I am someone who does his best to hold it together, who sometimes needs to force himself to ask for help, who can be fragile or strong depending on the hour, and who honestly never would have made it this far if you hadn’t been there to help me along the way. I do cry, but I also smile — and that’s as much as credit to you as the tears.
I wish you hadn’t even read this, that you saw the missed call and were already calling me back.