Lately I’ve struggled with my writing. The whole woe-is-me kind of struggle that I hadn’t quite believed I could actually “suffer” from. I open a blank Word document and my fingers begin to tingle, not with the usual excitement of covering the page with prose and dialogue so it draws you in and sucks you down to the grit of the story, but with the sickening sweet promise of numbness.
My fingers tingle until they go numb, like in the dead of winter when a chill soaks your gloves through and through from wet snow. The way they go stiff, unable to curve or twitch.
Keys go untapped. Thoughts go out the ear, lost on the winds that are thief to my words.
I’ve tried narrowing down the reasons. Found myself unable to do so, at least to narrow it down to one single reason. Mostly it’s a combination of several things sprinkled with more little things.
Lately my life has been a whirlwind of self-discovery. A bunch of sappy epiphanies that started to settle into my mind in late-October when I read an article that a woman whom I used to be very close to had died.
The article said that Jenn Cardone died in a car accident. My first reaction was, I knew a Jenn Cardone one time. But it can’t be her. She’s my age. Young. Healthy. She has a son! She can’t die. Then I focused again on the words car accident, I thought, maybe it is her. And I was shocked. But I was more shocked that I didn’t feel anything. Not pain, not sadness. And I thought, what kind of person am I? To not feel a loss for a woman who was like a sister? And then I realized it was because I didn’t believe that it was her. I didn’t want to believe that she was gone.
I scoured the internet that night and came up with another article that said her name was different. Her maiden name. I thought, Well, maybe there’s another Jenn. With the same last name. And then I laughed harshly; you know that laugh that you spit out in disbelief. “No,” I said, “That’d be too coincidental.” I think it was at that point that it sunk in. My very good friend was gone. Never to smile again, to hear the sound of her baby boy, whose laugh, she said, she wanted to capture and make into her ringtone. I didn’t start crying until I went to bed that late October night, when I was alone in the dark, seeking guidance from my angel and guides. Seeking forgiveness. For what I don’t know. Something. I felt it then, that searing pain of loss. How it echoes deep like the hollow of words you can’t take back.
She was twenty-nine. A year older than me. We worked together at a restaurant for about a year or so. We became fast friends. From the moment we met, joined at the hip, every other clichéd phrase for “at first sight.” We hung out together all the time. Took her young son to lunch and shopped. She talked me into asking out the guy I liked at the time (he said yes, but never went through with the date). I crashed at her and her husband’s place after having too much to drink at the restaurant on summer night in ‘06. Cross that; it’s a white lie, here’s the truth: I crashed at their place and threw up in their kitchen sink after first going head to head with her hubby at Irish Car Bombs—and winning. I never lived down the Car Bombs jokes after that. That year on my birthday, everyone at the restaurant signed a card for me and one person wrote “No more Car Bombs.” And the manager drew an arrow at it and wrote, “Screw that—drink more CAR BOMBS! I’ll buy!”
I haven’t had one since.
Jenn and I lost touch after she left that next spring. I tried tracking her down on myspace (since I didn’t have facebook at the time). Never heard back. I thought she was mad at me, but that’s the first thing you think of when someone stops talking to you.
And it was about this time that I had a wonderful, awesome time with my good friend Cliff and his girlfriend, best friend, and his best friend’s niece. Punkin Chunkin was in full swing and they decided to come down for the day. Delaware isn’t exactly a place you might want to get stuck in for more than a weekend or week, but who am I to talk, I live here. They loved it. Rednecks and tossing pumpkins.
Cliff is the kind of guy who grabs life by the horns. Infectious laugh. Constant smile. He believed in everyone. Said he couldn’t wait to read my first book. The kind of feeling you got from him, was like Wendy and the Lost Boys walking on clouds. He was… Cliff. And anyone who knew him, knew that if anyone could turn your horrible day upside down, Cliff could.
But Cliff died on December 4, 2011, less than two months after my friend Jenn. At first I couldn’t put into words the way I felt, the way I saw his girlfriend, his best friends and family. I didn’t want to put them into words, but a good friend of mine suggested an essay. Here’s an excerpt on the essay I’m writing:
Cliff loved, loved nature. His heart was just full of outdoors; he breathed campfires, hugged cliff edges (yes, intended) and went the route that was very much ‘less travelled’ and, truly, I’ve never seen more exclamation points in any email. Period. (As a writer, it took a lot of self-restraint to not edit/correct these copied sections).
Chrys! We had such an amazing time! you were a great host and your family and friends are totally incredible too! Thank you!
Why didn’t we hangout more!??? It seems like we have a lot in common. Even our upbringings were similar! lol. Oh well, guess we just have to make up for lost time, haha.
You were a lot of fun to hang out with! Hope you had as much fun as we did! Can’t wait to do it again soon! —from facebook email.
Cliff was always so excited for anything. State fairs, hiking, camping, helping to clean up the gulf oil spill in 2010. He was selfless. His heart was truly larger than life. Aside from being just the sweetest man I have ever met, he was the most compassionate and welcoming man. He cared about everything and everyone. First time I had agreed to go hiking with him, I freaked out. I had no equipment, not even a backpack or hiking shoes. I wrote to him in a panic. His response:
lol! relax…breathe…it’ll b ok… it is just a day hike on the mntn. we r camping @ a campground about 15mins away from the trailhead. should b about a 3-4hr hike up and then another 3 down. u r too much! hahaha. …. so glad ur coming! its gonna be a blast!!! …. This is gonna be epic! Hope you’re getting pumped! I know we were all talking about it this weekend on our kayaking trip!!!—from facebook email.
Cliff and I went to the same middle and high school and knew of each other, but years passed before we reconnected. I friended him on facebook and looked at his website (he was an awesome graphic designer) and we started emailing back and forth. One night we even facebook chatted until three in the morning. Even then, that night, I told myself, “Stop wasting your life. Get out and do the things he’s doing. He’s a fucking inspiration.”
And his inspiration will never cease for me and those who knew him well. Live life to the fullest doesn’t even come close to how he lived his life. Edge of the action. Front row at the monster-truck rally. A whole fried twinkie. Backwards on a rickety roller coaster. Cliff held nothing back. I imagine his goals were simple: try everything at least once. I remember him telling me about his trip to Rapa Nui for surfing (“You gotta go! It’s amazing! The people, the surfing. EPIC!”), and the kayaking trips and the camping trips with his cousin. He lived. He truly lived and for himself, not the way anyone else wanted him to live. He wouldn’t let anyone hold him back, least of all his own doctors. One can argue with me here if they choose to, they might get mad at him for not listening, but they should realize that Cliff has done more in his short twenty-eight years here than the average Joe can hope to accomplish in his entire lifespan.
I remember where I was when I read about Cliff’s death on facebook. It was Monday morning, the 5th of December. My fingers were holding an egg-white, cheese, and bacon on sun-dried tomato bagel from Surf Bagel. My hands froze—one on the sandwich, the other on the mouse. It took a full minute of me staring at the screen rereading his girlfriend’s post. “We all lost an angel who walked among us…” What? What? My face began to chill and I imagine it might have looked paler. This is not possible. I wanted to scream at the screen, to put down my bagel and shake my computer monitor until it changed her status, like one of those eight ball fortunes. I wanted the blue liquid to swallow her words and spit out new ones. Her friends’ posts on her wall confirmed my fears though: I’m so sorry for your loss. My head spun with anger and sadness and frustration and… What happened? Another said: I’m here if you need me. I blinked. Then again. Read more posts: I’m so sorry to hear about Cliff. It was at that moment that my heart sank. It felt so heavy. Heavy with loss, but also with sorrow for his loved ones—his friends, his girlfriend, his family.
I think the shock set in first. I stared at the monitor and stared. And stared. And thought, What the fuck is wrong with me? I’m not crying. Why am I not crying? What kind of person am I? What kind of friend? And then a snap resounded in my head and I couldn’t stop crying. I cried and cried well into late morning. I couldn’t taste the rest of my bagel sandwich. I could’ve been eating charcoal bits from the dredges of a fire and I’d never have known. I’d never see him again. Never hear his laugh, his very distinctive, throaty laugh followed by the phrase, “I got this.”
Cliff was always there for me. Whenever I needed to vent or complain, or, since we were in the same field, ask questions about graphic design. Even if he didn’t get back to me right away, he got back to me. He was patient and ridiculous (in a good way). First hiking trip I took with him, he earned the nickname Cub Ovens, after non-stop talk about adventurer Bear Grylls and the indestructible Bear Grylls pants. About how he couldn’t wait to try to destroy them. On a short pause mountainside, we chatted about Bear Grylls and how far someone was willing to go in the wild. We talked about Bear Grylls eating fish eyes for the liquid. Or eating something raw. Wearing a seal suit. “Wait a minute,” —Cliff laughed, mocking, pretending to be Bear Grylls’s cameraman— “How much am I getting paid for this?”
There wasn’t a time I didn’t see Cliff smile or laugh or just be goofy. It’s so fucking hard knowing that he isn’t somewhere on this earth breathing the same air as his friends. Some days it’s acceptable, even to the point where I chat with him and hear his voice in my head and laugh out loud when the answers sound exactly like him. Other days, I stop mid-stride and say, “Let me wake up now. I want to call him and laugh and say, ‘You’ll never guess the craziest dream I just had…’ and tell him about his death. About his funeral.” But I can’t wake from this… waking dream. It’s a bittersweet dream, one laced with fond memories of the times we shared.
Cliff’s death was the final piece of straw that uncovered the needle I’d been looking for. That spark of something I needed to get off my ass and do something.
Jean de La Fontaine said, “Sadness flies away on the wings of time.”
Truer words could not have been spoken. The sadness for my two lost friends is lifting, but I am still affected by their loss. Since I’d been struggling to find something from life, struggling for so long to finish my book, neglecting the truest, utmost important things in life—love, family, friends, travel, exploration, adventure—I finally realized that there was this bigger picture around me. Something I had yet to see. And these two people, whose places in my heart will forever be special, have helped me see that what I thought was so important or critical to me now seems so trivial.
I guess this post is just my way of figuring out (the round about way) that maybe the reason I can’t write is because I have experienced a glimpse of the vital, non-materialistic way to live. I’ll get my writing desire back. I know I’ll get it back because I can’t imagine my life without writing.
Without writing, I don’t really feel like living, so I’m bound to write passionately again, but at the moment, I’m passionately living and experiencing what Mother Nature has to offer.