Daniel and I were friends, but the kind that feel more like cousins. Our moms met while we were still babies. He knew that lasagna was an eggplant dish at my house. I knew where to find the big bins of Legos at his house.
I flip through photo albums, and there we are: At a petting zoo. Our younger siblings’ birthday parties. My backyard. His kitchen. Halloween. A giant sandbox.
Our dads took such pride in raising nerds. For months, Daniel and I competed to see who knew more of the state capitals.
He took piano lessons. I went to ballet class.
At my house, the deal was that smart people were never bored. And I was never bored when Daniel came over. We once played for a whole afternoon in a giant cardboard box that had held my parents’ new refrigerator. In our game, it became the trash compactor from Star Wars; we were Luke and Leia.
Years passed. We started high school, then college. Dan took up guitar. I got a job at the newspaper.
The photo albums, tucked away after both sets of parents’ divorces, still find us together sometimes. At Christmas. On New Year’s Eve. Sitting on a sunny hillside listening to folk music.
In the concert photo, we’re grown but not yet really grownups. Our hair is a little wild. My mom snapped the photo with a film camera, so it’s probably the only shot of the two of us that day. The sunlight makes the whole thing a little hazy.
When I see it, I can use my imagination — strong from those afternoons playing in the woods and turning cardboard boxes into trash compactors — and picture what should’ve been: Daniel at my wedding. Both of us cheering as his baby sister gets her doctorate. Celebrating our 40th birthdays.
But those images are not in any photo album.
Suicide took Daniel from us in 1999.
How do you make sense of a loss like that?
It’s impossible, really. The hole in all of our lives won’t ever be mended. Not by time, not by new friends or lovers or babies or jobs.
I thought Dan would be there forever, pulling up a chair at his mother’s table, next to me on that hillside for another concert.
Losing him taught me not to make those assumptions. It taught me the importance of showing up for the people I care about.
I go to the party, the lunch, the hospital.
And I say it: On the phone. In cards. Via text.
I love you. I’m so glad you’re here.
I wish I could go back in time and tell Dan that.