When everything changed forever: Eric 2015: Chunk 1

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:

7:30am

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.

When My Family Changed Forever: Heather: July 2008: Chunk 1

-This is something I started to write in chunks when my life changed completely…I have decided to share it, something only a few people know about. Something I am sharing the same way it was written…in chunks-

I was jolted out of Tim’s parents bed at what should have been 9:30 in the morning but ended up to be 9:03. The night before I was to drunk to figure out the alarm clock and had a hard time reaching over Tim’s naked body without inflicting some sort of pain to him. That night Tim and I had drank away a few bottles of Sutter Home White Zin and rekindled the “love” that we had experienced a month before. The two of us realized what was going to happen the second we saw each other. It was a mutual understanding, an exchange of the eye, the tension was unbelievable. The night was full of drinking, kissing, sucking, and touching. While the next morning seemed like a blur, driving home was unbearable. The constant feeling of nausea and the bitter taste of coffee was overwhelming.

I pulled into the parking lot of TGI Friday’s and all I could think is, shit today is going to suck, I can’t be here for a double shift! I lit up a cigarette as I turned my car off and rolled up the windows. It was insanely hot, but I loved driving with the windows down, And always hated AC. I had to ring a bell to get into the side door of the restaurant because we weren’t open that early. The bartenders always took their sweet time, like it was a ridiculous request to have them come and open the door that was just in the back of the bar! I had finished my cigarette and had called my mother to inform her that yes I was alive and yes I was at work, and the door had yet to be opened. Finally James came around the corner and opened the door. Great the last person I wanted to see right now.

“Rough morning eh shithead!?” James screamed in my ear as he pushed my head so hard that it smacked against my own shoulder.

“Gee thanks Jimboy, great to see you too.” I answered without losing my pace, he hates that nickname.

I got to the bathroom and changed into my uniform, still stained from my shift two days before. I put my headphones in, turned on Bloc Party, and started to open the restaurant.

The rest of the day was a blur. Typical Friday’s, slow but busy at the same time, a constant two or three tables, and each and every person needed something at some point. I was constantly moving until 2 o’clock rolled around. The restaurant cleared out at the snap of a finger. I hadn’t had a table for nearly an hour when finally Megan cut the back room and I was free to leave early. To hungover to start my side work, I finished cleaning my sections and ordered some food. A nice big juicy Turkey Burger, the perfect hangover fix. My food came out and I had never eaten something so fast, it was like I hadn’t been fed in days. I told myself the only way I would get out of here and sleep was if I finished everything fast. So I thought I’d start off easy and do my silverware first.

During the days any given server had to roll 25 pieces of silverware. During the nights it was 50 a person. When I first started working at Fridays, this was the worst part of the shift, it took me forever to roll ten! Once I figured out a system, it took me 10 or 20 minutes to do 50 and damn was I proud about it. I was a machine, at the end of the night when I would close I could bust out 150 in no time. But today I wasn’t having it. My entire life seemed to be in slow motion. My movements were ten times slower than normal and it sucked.

Jenn came over to do her silverware as well, and I pushed over to give her room. Jenn lived in Plainville but went to school down in Florida. She was back for the summer and she decided to work in Norwood, something I never understood. Jenn and I have a mutual friend from Middle School, and we meet once or twice when were about 13. It was funny on her first day here early in the summer, we realized who each other were and talked about how stupid we were when we were kids. Regardless she was right next to me and her hands were trembling as she tried to roll her piece of silverware for the second time. I looked up at her and my eyes caught hers, she darted back at her silverware.

“Everything okay babe?” I asked trying to sound as gay as possible just incase she didn’t know and thought something else.

“Yeah…well no, ahhh I don’t know I have never had to tell anyone something this big, I don’t know how to word it and I’m scared to even say anything” Jenn blurted out in 2 seconds.

“Wow okay well you know you can tell me anything.” I said with the voice but this time there was a hint of trepidation. I thought to myself What the hell is this girl going to tell me? I don’t know anything about her…

“Yeah I know, this is just really difficult.” Her eyes meeting mine again, this time I was the one to dart away.

“Well it’s about my sister Heather.” (I give her the ‘go-ahead nod’) “Well her father. Wait your dad’s name is Scott right? Scott Downey?” (again with the approving head nod) “Heather’s dad is also your father.”

My heart dropped for a second and then slipped back into place.

With a nervous laugh I asked “What?” assuming it was a joke.

“Yeah…Your dad got my mother pregnant in high school and well yeah.”

The next ten minutes-half an hour-an hour, I really don’t know how long, was full of questions and answers. I think it hadn’t hit me yet. The intensity of the situation. It had taken me a while to believe Jenn, I still didn’t. Or maybe it was that I didn’t want to believe her.

We had finished our silverware and were left to awkwardly stand face to face, forced to stare in each others eyes again. You can tell a whole story with your eyes. There are so many different looks, and so much depth to a person’s eye that shows you a lot about them. Jenn had nice eyes, sweet eyes really, with a hint of instability inside. I found myself thinking, does my sister Heather have her eyes?

The first thoughts that were going through my head is that the whole family had no idea what had happened twenty-three years ago, that it was all this huge secret. And I certainly didn’t want to be the one to break the news to my mother. As the conversation between Jenn and I started to wind down, I told her that I had to finish my work and just get out of here.

I turned away from her and started to do my side-work. I found myself walking towards the host stand, then to the front door. Not realizing what I was doing, I started to pick up my pace.

The host had said something to me, but I couldn’t make it out, my mind was racing to a different world, one that had suddenly done a U-turn and was now headed for a cliff. I was running at this point, and slammed into the front door. Stopping for a second I went to grab my head, when I noticed I was crying. Wiping the tears from my eyes, I headed through the second set of doors that led me straight outside.

The air was heavy and it felt hard when I took a breath. Or was it that I couldn’t catch my breath?

Without thinking I ran to my car grabbing at the door which was locked with my keys still in Fridays. I lost control of my body, something that I had never felt before, my knees, like jelly, no longer attached to my brain. Dropping to the hard concrete, I slide myself over to the curb. Resting my head on my knees I curled up into a ball, with tears streaming from my face onto the ground, a couple passed by, not stopping but staring, enough to make me notice and pick my head up. Why are they staring? Then I looked at myself, still in my Friday’s uniform, black apron and all curled up in a ball, crying my eyes out in a parking lot. I laughed a little, how ridiculous I must have looked. I wiped the tears away, put my hat back on which was lying next to me, it must have fallen off when I fell. I slowly stood up, and walked myself back into Fridays.

The host, and now three other servers stood at the desk.

“Hey are you okay? A guest said they say an employee outside by some cars…crying on the ground…” the host said as she stared at me with the look that says Wow I feel bad for you but really it said What the fuck is wrong with you?

“Uh yeah.” The only thing I could muster.

I walked past tables that stared at me, why was everyone staring at me. I couldn’t stand it, I booked it to the back room and into the bathroom. I stared at myself in the mirror for a while, thinking How could this have happened to me, to my family. I mean I knew we had problems, but this, this is bringing it to a whole other level. I drenched my face with cold water and wiped it clean. I stared again into the mirror but this time only to make sure that it didn’t look the way I felt.

I entered the kitchen and headed out to do my side work, when my manager pulled at my arm. “Hey Matt, are you okay? I heard that something was wrong…” Megan said with a voice I hadn’t heard come from her before. A voice that had a hint of sympathy, but god she had no idea what was going through my head.

I couldn’t even make a sound, words had escaped me. I turned my head down and again started to cry. Finally, “I don’t think I can be here right now, can I just leave?”

 

A Chameleon

My whole life I have been so wrapped up in what other people think of me; how I present myself, the words I say, the clothes I wear. It takes a toll when you feel you are constantly being watched.

It took me a long time to figure out what my personality is. Sad to admit I know, but I have been a chameleon for as long as I can remember. It took just a few days ago to realize, when a coworker said something that caught my attention.

“You’re a Libra right? That’s weird because you seem to know exactly who your are. And you don’t change for others.”

That hit me hard, he didn’t mean it to, just a compliment really. But what he said opened my eyes and made me realize it was true. I have done just that my whole life up until recently. What does that mean for the past 24 years?

They say high school and college shape who you are and what you will become. But what happens when you never were really yourself to begin with? Am I starting this process now? Or was my chameleon younger self that process?

I spend my free time day dreaming of a life I want so badly. A place impossible to reach because I am afraid, afraid people may judge me for trying and possibly failing. Are things finally turning around?

My partner has taught me much during our relationship. He has showed me things I never thought I could experience. Not just places, but emotions and a way of life that makes me excited. He has showed me that it doesn’t matter what people think, as long as we are happy. I have taught him Lime Dancing on a crowded beach, done yoga for the first time, tried foods I was afraid to order, grew out my beard and started dressing how I want. The list goes on and I hope I never stop adding to it but there is this new thought that runs through my head. Am I still just a chameleon adjusting to this new way of life he brings in?

Do other people go through these feelings? Do most people just adjust to their surroundings or do they live and let others adjust for them?

A Neighbor and My Wondering Mind:

Being a smoker is both a blessing and well…a problem for obvious reasons. I am allowed alone time without it being awkward or misinterpreted. For those brief cancer ridden minutes I’m allowed quietness, a moment to check my Facebook newsfeed, Instagram, and if I’m lucky even a snapchat. But there are times when I just sit and think, and it’s amazing what my mind puts together.

I wonder…sometimes it’s relevant sometimes it’s not. I think about my job or my relationship, or how in the world I will come up with rent, normal things that the quasi adult has to think about. Then there are smoke brakes that I really enjoy.

For the past two years I have lived in the same apartment complex sitting on the same stoop smoking my same brand of cigarettes and it never gets old. The complex is cute, entering from the side of a conjoining building, there is a modest size courtyard. Not anything too special or over the top, just a tiled walkway that opens up in the middle with potted plants and a stone bench. From there it leads to the main doors of two apartment buildings and the back doors of the front. Which is where my stoop is.

From this spot I have the view of my courtyard ahead and to my left through a metal fence the neighboring apartment building. A balcony of one of the apartments over looks my courtyard allowing for awkward moments between me and a fellow smoker who seemed to run on the same schedule. We bumped into each other once at club a few months after I moved in.

“Hey your my smoking neighbor!” We’re my actual words. He seemed a little put off by this. Like he enjoyed his alone time as much as I did and refused to be called out on it. I let that slide because I understood and we enjoyed the company of a familiar face, hanging out together around the bar until the night ended.

From that point on my smoking buddy made himself scarce and I was back to my moments alone. Here is when I discovered his neighbor, who shared the small balcony with him. I noticed the guy while working hospitality my first year here and had a few days off during the week. I would see him sitting on his balcony enjoying coffee and the company of his dog. It was a pleasant pairing really, you could see the love they shared even from the distance I was at. The kind of person that opted out of children and replaced them with pets.

He would play with his dog some mornings throwing a ball or making him jump high enough to reach his morning treat. I was always confused as to why he was home during the week and not working. He was definitely in his forties but not over fifty, handsome man by any standards. With shaggy brown hair past his ears and always shirtless in board shorts when I saw him I was convinced he was a washed up surfer. But then I started paying more attention to him. Even having a chat with him, cutting the distance by walking up and petting his dog through the fence. He had this air around him like he was too intelligent to be a surfer, more like a professor or a something like that.

It seems once you meet someone new in your neighborhood you see them everywhere. I would bump into him after we first met. On the beach, or playing with his dog at the park I liked to walk through. Sometimes I would see him on a skateboard being pulled by his loving companion, or on a bike doing the same. I would be inline at cvs and have a familiar dog come up and rub my leg. It makes you think of how many people you pass daily without realizing you know their faces.

And yet we never asked much about each other. The conversation wouldn’t go farther than the weather or what we were doing that day. Sometimes it was just a hello, petting the dog, and walking our separate ways. We never exchanged names, and we never learned what each other did for a living.

My mind would race when having a cigarette. I still strongly believed he was teaching a class here and there during the week and living his life however he pleased. I actually started envying him. I slaved away in hospitality and worked long shifts for not much pay. I thought about how he must just enjoy life with his dog and that’s all he seemed to need. I imagined him teaching something like math or biology, clearly having won awards for his many achievements. He became something I thought of everyday, someone I would see everyday. Like a recurring dream. I would piece together little moments and create a life for this man and his dog.

Then things changed and I would see him less and less. It went from four times a week to once. And with a snap of the finger, like a magic trick, he was replaced with a younger model.

It was strange. Like if a character of a sitcom died in real life being replaced by a new actor. Needless to say I was confused, it wasn’t like I could knock on his door and see if he was okay. We weren’t friends, barely acquaintances really.

So my mind wondered.

Medfield

I grew up in a very small town. I know this is a common phrase from people all over the country, especially in a blog…but really its true. Medfield is a town where you can walk anywhere and be stopped and pulled into a conversation about almost anything. Whether your walking to the North St market for a soda or the simple task of getting the mail, you can’t escape the small town chatter. Part of me actually misses that.

Its a kind of place that becomes a part of who you are no matter how hard you try and block it. And once you come to copes with that and look back at the memories you have there, you realize it actually was as great as your parents said. Because at one point in your life you understand how lucky you were to live there, knowing the city you’re in now could not host a party in its center the way Medfield could.

I have moved away, moved back, and away again which makes me think…am I losing a part of who I am? Because as much as I hated DEADfield while living there, I can’t imagine my childhood anywhere else. Medfield is that bubble of a town where children hate it and adults love it…and I guess I’m in the middle somewhere. It’s a bitter-sweet relationship really.

When I grow up.

I had a big imagination as a child. These are some of the professions I dreamed of being.

An Adventurer. I had this whole idea of how I would live my life in the jungle one day and the desert the next. I would never stop traveling. I used to tell my parents I wanted to find the one place left in the world that has been untouched, that no one had ever seen.

A Lawyer. For a brief moment in time I wanted to study law. Then I saw Legally Blonde and my mind was changed.

A Country Singer. This one lasted a little too long. I used to sing Toby Keith’s Mexico in my head for weeks until I learned enough of the lyrics to sing out loud…then I discovered that I could never be a singer…my heart was broken on that one (this was pretty recent).

A Poet. A personal favorite of mine. This one came to me mid high school. I was in the art scene full swing at this point and I thought I was amazing. I would drive to the 24hr Starbucks and spend hours writing down poems. I never liked rhyming so they were more of little stories that really only made sense to me. This career path ended when I realized I was spending to much money on coffee.

A Model. This one happened when I was about 14. I went to a modeling agency and everything, they had me walk a mock runway, take a few test shots and present a portfolio. My portfolio consisted of my MySpace default pictures and I was so proud of them. I lasted about a month in the modeling world. They asked me to wear blue contacts because it made me look more adorable…but I wasn’t adorable I was supposed to be a heart throb, thus ending my stardom.

A Chef. This was when I was around 10-14. I tried cooking everything, I spent my savings on cook books and spent most of my time in the kitchen. My sister and i started off making little “concoctions”, as I would refer to them, and then cry when we had to eat whatever it was. I eventually graduated to making meals here and there and even my own cake for my 12th birthday which was a great success and further drove my need to have my own restaurant. I don’t know what happened to that one…it just sort of ended one day.