I’ve learned that grief is some sort of a taboo, rarely talked about, never taught, and makes people uncomfortable. It took me a long time to realize the truth, that grief never disappears but it’s constantly changing shape. I owe a lot to grief, it’s strengthened my relationship, changed my way of thinking and I truly believe has made me a better person. So why am I afraid to talk about? Why wait until an anniversary to take old photos out and reminisce. Why hide that I experience grief during the rest of the year?
After talking to a lot of different people I’ve realized there’s no reason to hide my grief. For anyone interested here’s the story about how I lost a true best friend.
I guess every story starts at the beginning, so wheres a better place to start than the end?
February 2nd 2015:
My day off started kind of abruptly with my boyfriend’s alarm clock ringing through the apartment. I lazily rolled to my left and faced the wall, closed my eyes again and waited the five minutes until his next alarm fully woke me up. We lived in a small one bedroom apartment with no central air in Miami Beach, the heat was rough even during the start of February. I pulled the blanket off my sticky skin and and felt him stir beside me.
“Time to get up babe” I said softly.
Barely replying he pulled himself out of bed and into the bathroom to get ready.
I laid on my back, still for a while, listening to his muffled singing through the wall and staring at the ceiling fan turn. Moving my eyes in circles trying to catch a glimpse at the fans blades in slow motion. The singing stopped and I heard the water turn off, I quickly turned over and closed my eyes. I stayed that way until he was finished dressing and ready to leave, being awoken by a good bye kiss has always been my favorite thing regardless if it was planned or not.
He pushed my hair away from my forehead and kissed me slowly.
“Good bye my love, have a good day off” He whispered trying not to wake me.
“Love you” I ‘sleepily’ murmured. I waited until I heard the door shut and lock before I opened my eyes and started my day.
Working in the hospitality industry granted me the glamours days off of Monday and Tuesday. Not the best I must admit, but on a normal day off I really took advantage of them. Today was not one of those days.
Many important things happened this day, and my memory of the morning has been less than perfect.
I remember getting out of bed, and reassembling my living room. With the lack of central air, we had to move our couch and set up a series of fans to bring the cool air into the bedroom. Once the living room was back in place I fixed myself breakfast.
Sadly, breakfast is only something I eat on my days off. During my work week, I don’t typically have the energy to do anything other than shower before heading out the door. I remember that day in particular was nothing special but a bowl of cereal, some coffee and two cigarettes.
Netflix got the best of my morning and I fell into a coma of bad television and cigarette breaks. It quickly became noon and I realized I had not reached out to Eric. Every Monday we shared a bite to eat at News Cafe and sat at the beach for a few hours drinking beer. Normally this started around 11am, but Netflix again kept from my day off ritual.
“Whats up?” I texted without even pausing my show.
1pm and I hadn’t received a response. I followed up with another text.
“Are you ready for your first day!?”
I waited on the screen looking for the three … bubble to appear, but nothing.
So I resumed my show, went for a walk, and took a shower.
Around 3pm I laid down for a nap, another of my favorite things. There is something about a daytime nap without an alarm set and windows open that makes my life complete.
I woke around 5pm, I admit that’s a longer nap than I like to take but it felt good and needed. While smoking two cigarettes in a row I realized I should probably get dinner plans ready for when Carlos came home. I racked my brain for something easy to fit my low key day when I thought Chicken Noodle Soup would be perfect.
I grabbed my wallet and left for the store to get my ingredients, using my mothers recipe I picked everything up at the local corner store. When I got home I started preparing the vegetables and chicken to set aside for when he got home.
I started cooking the soup around 7pm, after Carlos had arrived and we had a few minutes to catch up on my exciting day.
I get off the couch to stir the soup and fetl my phone vibrate in my pocket. I shuffle the phone out of my pocket with one hand as the other stirs the soup.
Its my boss “Hey everything okay with your friend? He didn’t show for his shift”
I toss my phone back in my pocket and blankly look at the soup. Disappointed with Eric and frustrated that I completely forgot I had tried texting him earlier without a response. I angrily stirred the soup a little faster now thinking why the hell he hasn’t responded. Probably went out to hard last night I thought to myself. And to embarrass me like that! Doesn’t he realize I got him this job!
“Whats wrong babe? Who was that?” Carlos asked, obviously noticing my change in stir mood.
“Its Alex, he said Eric never showed up today. Can you believe that, what the hell?” I replied rather quickly.
“Do you think everything’s okay?” Carlos questioned.
“Yeah, he told me he was celebrating last night, he probably just over slept.”
I sat back down on the couch and pulled my phone out. “Hmmm thats weird, let me call him and see whats going on.” I replied to my boss.
A few phones later, and a bad memory…I can’t remember exactly what I sent Eric. I do remember getting nervous after the text still said “Delivered” 10 minutes later.
“Maybe we should go check on him” I casually said to Carlos.
A few back and forth comments later, I turned the soup down to a very low simmer and we jumped on my scooter over to Eric’s apartment. I remember the whole ride practicing my speech in my head. I would tell him how embarrassed he made me, how my name was on the line because I got him the job, how stupid he was for going out so late the night before his first shift. I had it perfect by the time we made it to his place.
We parked on the street outside between two cars and walked up to his apartment building. I was always so jealous of his courtyard, it had a beautiful tree and three stone tables and chairs to sit at. We passed the tables and tree and turned to his door.
His apartment was on the first floor and we both looked at his windows to try and get a glimpse in. Strange, his apartment was dark. We walked through the main door that was always propped open and made it to number 24. I knocked, and again. I remember staring at the numbers on the side of his door frame. The number 24 had always been a lucky number of mine, one of those numbers that followed you everything.
I remember my first roller coaster was numbered 24, my first flight I was sitting in row 24, my first boyfriend was 24 years old, the key to my first apartment had the serial number 24 engraved in it. Silly things like that, that kept this number with me my whole life.
As I stared at the metal numbers I realized Eric hadn’t answered, in fact I hadn’t heard any sounds at all. “Eric?” I called out. “Its Matt and Carlos, you home?”…Nothing
I looked back at Carlos and we decided to look through the windows. Eric had a studio apartment, where his bed lined up directly below his windows. In order to be able to sleep he had installed some tapestries throughout which looked great but gave little visibility in from the window.
“I can’t see anything, can you?” Carlos asked
“Nothing, lets try the back” I replied.
Looping back around the front of the courtyard and to the opposite side of the building we came to Eric’s back stoop. You could see the black marks where he stubbed out his cigarettes on the stairs, where he left a towel from the beach to hang dry.
I reached for the door assuming it would be locked but as I turned the knob the door slide open. As I slowly pushed the door open “Eric, you there?” Nothing.
Looking back at Carlos I could see his eyes widen, we both had a feeling, something was wrong.
“Stay here, I am going to check.” I told Carlos as I pushed the door open completely and started to enter. The back door led straight into the kitchen and a small hallway to the living/bedroom area. The whole apartment was dark aside from the bathroom light. As I walked past the stove and fridge I felt for a light switch but couldn’t remember exactly where they were. I could feel my heart rate rise and I passed my hands all over the walls looking for it. Without any luck, I kept moving forward.
“Eric?” I called out.
I made it to his couch, it was so dark but my eyes were adjusting, I could see the tapestry first. Half open to the left and a dark space to the right. My memory reminded me the bed should be there and I crept up like a child playing hide and seek. Anyone who has been in a completely dark but familiar room knows what I mean. With my back curved, knees bent and hands extended I moved forward.
I jerked my hand back as it made contact with skin. Suddenly, as if I hit the light switch, I could see the entire room. My eyes had adjusted within seconds of touching his foot, almost like they knew I needed them at the moment, or they could no longer keep me in the dark.
I stood there fixated on Eric. Some people say time freezes others say it speeds up, but I could feel every heartbreaking second go by. I stared at his lifeless body for an extremely long 10 seconds. Finally my eyes blinked and I was brought back to the moment.
“Carlos! Call 911…NOW” I screamed.
I reached for his neck, that’s what you do right? At first I couldn’t feel a thing, I couldn’t even feel my fingers on his skin. Without thinking my hand had moved to his wrist, there I thought, that’s a pulse.
I could hear Carlos on the phone, but couldn’t make out what he was saying. Suddenly he was next to me. “Matt…MATT! is he breathing. Their asking if hes”
“Yes he’s breathing Carlos, just get them here quick.” I snapped back without him finishing. I knew I was lying, but I needed to get someone here to help. I started seeing his chest move up and down, I closed my eyes hard and when I opened them I realized it was just tears blurring my vision. He was not breathing, he was still, he was cold.
That’s when time froze, at that moment I realized what everyone meant. Time froze than sped up, froze again. It felt as though I fell in and out of consciousness as paramedics arrived, I could barely see or hear at certain times it was like my mind refused to allow me a second to understand what had happened. It was pure panic and all over in a matter of minutes.