Sunday, May 7, 2017

27 Years

I started this post to look back on my 27th year, because it was a year benchmarked with drawled thoughts of, "Gawd, I am such a grown up." Yes, those years right after college, venturing into the workforce and then living and teaching in South Korea for a year gave me newfound perceptive and opportunities to showcase my adult-ness. But far enough past the automatic progression of school years, a 27-year-old is faced with the humdrum of day-in-and-day-out and is forced to make real, solo decisions.

In my 27th year, I became legitimately interested in things I had before only really wanted to like. Life stories from those older than me, politics, and saving for retirement got the blood flowing. I went free market and bought health insurance on my own for the first time, made donations to organizations I started to read and whose work I care about, and bought my first car. This is the age where I started to legitimately forget how old I was.

At 27, I began digging my heels into my grumpy cat ways, really trying to figure out my introversion. I cared slightly less about what I thought people thought about me, and I have come through my 27th year feeling more exhausted with my adult responsibilities. It's like things are easier but harder. I am roller blading down the hill but up the hill. Twenty-seven was a pivotal year in overall awareness.

When my college friend died unexpectedly at 27 just before Thanksgiving, it was hard to think about feeling positive about that 27 personal growth bit. I instantly pulled up Facebook and clicked on her profile. She had just uploaded a new profile picture... I had seen it a couple of days before on my New Feed. She had just texted me a few weeks ago. We had just been to the same party two or three months ago.

Death puts things into perspective obviously. And it is crazy how much I think about Candice still. I randomly remember things we did together and conversations we have had. It is really unfair to realize how many memories I have with her, because these are things before her death that I had forgotten about, or were not accessible. It is the brain's way of coping I suppose but, fuck, it makes me sad. And I am always thinking about her family and her best friend and her students and co-workers - the people in her every day, what they must be feeling.

Candice died at 27, the same age as all those musicians and famous people. A bit of pop culture she would definitely know about. It is sad and twisted but I feel, in a way, that she would have thought that was cool. Sad and twisted.

One of the thoughts that comes to mind when hypothetically thinking about a loved one dying is: I will not be able to get through it. The aspect of Candice's funeral I had in no way anticipated was the feeling of hope and this certain happiness, which absolutely speaks to the kind, sweet person Candice was. It also speaks of the empathy and generosity of her mom, her dad, and her older sister. I cannot quite explain the positivity and giving shown. It was so admirable and thankful.

So that thought of "not being able to get through" proves more complex. Not only did I get through one of the more tangible pieces of dealing with death, but I also got through it feeling happy. And the every day humdrum does go on... time still passes, I still go to work. The subtle injustice of that ticks away in the back of the head.

The other argument I would make is that there is no getting through. There is no true closure on anything in life. Two days after Candice's funeral, working down from the high of that day, I got really sad about everything again and everything new since her death. Around the same time frame, I got a super awesome rash on my back and chest. I'm not claiming a direct correlation, but I think it was probably related to stress.

I can only control how I react. Grief is very personal, and people have different ways of dealing. I cried a lot driving to and from work. I cried on the phone talking with friends. I cried in a restaurant bar when I met up with a friend who did not know Candice. I cried on my couch with my bull mastiff curled up on my lap. I stepped quietly outside one day at work as tears welled up. Heartbroken. I was heartbroken, and that was important to know and to cry.

Candice's sister asked our group of friends if any of us would want to speak at her celebration of life, and so I wrote a letter that I was able to read out loud. Her best friend also wrote and read at her celebration, and a couple more of our friends wrote messages that were read. We are at the age of babies, and two of our college friends that married gave their second daughter "Candice" as her middle name. Her students and fellow teachers released yellow minion balloons with messages for Candice. Her family posts a photo a day on her Facebook page. It is not easy but essential to express feelings. Your body will also physically remind you to do so.

27 years. I heard a lot of sadness over the fact that Candice never got to get married or have kids... For me it as more about 27. Such a great age, the new black. Young but old, carefree but mature and organized. We are living the dream, working and paying bills. That is easy to forget in the grunt of everyday. I just thought we would live forever, that we would be in it forever.

There is an episode in the final season of HBO's GIRLS - in the aftermath of a death of a co-worker, boss, and friend - that twenty-something Shoshana says, "Yeah, no, it's super random, but I'm just not going to die, like, ever." As one who thinks and feels a lot, there is crucial aspect of that sentiment that I need to pretend is true. It should be some unicorn rainbows with that bucket of salt. Because as much as death is a part of life, life is, too.

I read an article online headlined about Meryl Streep and her response to "the hardest thing about growing old." Losing friends she said - an aspect of growing up, I experienced truly for the first time at 27 years. And quickly, when I have someone a few years older than me being knowingly casual about losing friends, the realization comes that the death of loved ones becomes normal at some point. That is hard to swallow. It does make me want to be better in my friendships and relationships though. I realize that I need to put down the petty paddle and not worry so damn much. Because that friendship, companionship, and those memories and the people I love, their presence, will be with me in the big little ways, especially after death.

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