Tuesday, January 4, 2011

When you are a kid, death is the furthest thing from your mind. You believe that everyone in your life will always be in it. They will always be healthy, always be around. I wish that were true. Last night, laying in bed, I was thinking about the people in my childhood who didn't really make it to my adulthood.

The first person I really remember dying was a friend of mine. We were 9 years old and we had grown up our entire lives together. Same classes, same grade, same friends, basically the same family. I remember sitting in my room at my grandparents house when the phone rang. Nana was always the one to answer the phone so I just kept doing what I was doing. Then she called me into the living room. My mom had just joined the Navy, which was more complex than my small mind could really understand. So when I stepped into the living room and saw my Nana crying, I immediately thought something had happened to my mom. All I knew about the military was that people died, like in the war movies.

Nana pulled me up into her lap and held me. My little heart was hammering, fearing the worst. She said "You remember Logan, right?" I thought that was such a funny question since my mother had to be dead and I saw Logan every day in school. I nodded my head, though, like I was supposed to. "Baby, Logan died last night."

I knew what death meant. It meant you could no longer see the person anymore. But it was more like the person had moved away than that the person no longer existed. Logan's house had caught on fire in the middle of the night and she didn't get out. When I went back to school, her teacher wouldn't let anyone sit in Logan's desk. No one. And I think that is what really made me realize that this was permanent. Logan wouldn't be coming back to school. We wouldn't try to catch lizards together or chase each other around anymore.

But life went on. It was still too big for me to grasp and over time, I thought of Logan less and less. My next real thoughts of death came when my great Uncle R.L. died. I was 12 or 13 years old at this time. That was the first death in my life that I cried over. Uncle R.L. was one of my favorite people to see at the family get-togethers: the reunions, Easter, Christmas. He wouldn't be there anymore. And, although I was sad, it still wasn't that big of a blow to me. I missed him and still do but since I only saw him a couple of times a year, it wasn't a loss that was constantly on my mind.

Fast forward to 2005. I was 15, had just recently broken my back and was staying with my mom in Everett, Washington while I went through rehabilitation. I had been living in Mississippi and was anxious to get back to all my friends. Then I got the call that put my mortality in check. A friend from high school, someone I saw almost on a daily basis, had been killed in an automobile accident. Ramon. Sweet, funny Ramon. At first, I didn't believe it. Someone had mixed the facts up, surely. But then I saw the posts on Myspace from other friends and I knew it was true. I pulled up a picture of him on the computer. In the picture, his eyes were closed and he was laughing. And the thought that ran through my mind at that moment was "I'm never going to see him laugh again." Then the tears flowed.

I think back on Logan and Ramon and wonder what kind of people they would be now. Would Logan be in college like me? Would Ramon be married with a couple of kids? Would we still be friends like we were? Or would life slip in and put distance between us, like has happened with so many other people in my life?

A couple of months ago, my grandfather died. I barely knew him, had only met him once when I was eight years old. I don't know where he grew up, what kind of music he liked. I never got to hear him tell me stories of his life, where he had been and the things he had done. That makes me sad. He was my grandpa after all, and he died without me ever really getting to know him.

Right now, I have another grandpa (I call him Peepaw) out there somewhere. As a child, I spent most of my weekends with him. We went fishing together out on the river. We built things together out in the shed. We worked on the cars and trucks together. When I got my first BB gun, he took me squirrel hunting. He let me put make-up on him and style what little hair he had. I think of all these great memories with him and it makes me want to cry. I don't know where he is right now, or how to get a hold of him. I wish I did. I know he isn't doing very good, health wise. And I just want to tell him how much those memories mean to me. I just want to tell him one more time that I love him.

These are the things you don't realize when you are young. That one day, you won't be able to tell the people you love how much you care about them. I never thought my Nana and Papa would get to the point where they can't even put up a Christmas tree anymore. I never thought Meemaw and Peepaw would ever leave the little white house on the hill with the blue trim. I never thought my uncle would disappear into the world without a look back. I never thought my dad would drink himself into the hospital or that my mom would start having heart problems. I wish I had. I wish I hadn't wasted my time thinking that these people who mean so much to me would always be around. The harsh truth is, they won't. Some of them are gone already.

Love the people you have. Love them as much as you can. Don't look back and regret that you didn't tell them how you feel, that you didn't treat them the way you should have. Every day, every blink, every breath of each of our lives could be the last. So go hug your kids for no reason. Kiss your spouse just because you can. Call your parents and tell them you love them. Hold on to the people you love and never, ever let them go.