Dear Nancy on your 53rd birthday!

Dear Nancy,

Today you would have been 53. Your birthday is always a day I revel in my memories of you and the other day I remembered something you said about patience. You once said that we, the human race, had become so impatient we couldn’t wait 2 minutes for our coffee to reheat in the microwave. That’s often how I feel about seeing you. I want to be patient because I intend on living a full long life, but I’m also desperate to be close to you again. I’m pretty sure you’ll be the person waiting for me when I go. You’ll open up your arms and say “Hey George” and I’ll be a puddle of good feelings because it will have been years (God-willing it will be) but the moment you hug me I know it’ll only feel like seconds that we were apart.

Sometimes I think about you and you feel right there, like there’s a thin veil between you and me and I just can’t see you. When Kev and I talk about you we either laugh or cry about how close you feel. We’ll laugh at the morbid jokes we come up with about your death that you would deeply appreciate and we feel you laughing with us. You are missing in every good moment, but somehow you’re still there.

On your 53rd birthday I want to tell you that I’m doing well. Your death & the loss of our friendship is like a hole inside of me. The hole is painful to carry, but over time it’s grown smaller. And all around it a beautiful garden has grown. A garden of memories, laughter, new friendships, deepened relationships, self-love, acceptance, forgiveness, and love. It’s a garden that I take great solace in and one I walk through often when I miss you.

I have lost you, but I have gained so much wisdom and peace. I am fearless in ways I never was. And I am a badass because you taught me how.

Happy birthday Nancy! Tonight my toast is to you, your life, and your legacy. May I always carry you with me as I go.

Love,

George

 

 

Dear Nancy, I am not throwin’ away my shot.

Dear Nancy,

I’ve begun a new ritual. Each morning in the car I listen to the Hamilton soundtrack, and more specifically, the song “My Shot.” Alexander Hamilton is fiercely singing about his drive to show up and go all in on his life despite his rough start, and despite all that is stacked against him.

Just hearing the beginning of the song can bring me to tears almost instantly, but there is one section in which Lin-Manuel Miranda’s voice is at a fever pitch – on the edge of yelling but still singing, and I catch my breath each time:

“I’m past patiently waitin’ I’m passionately smashin’ every expectation
Every action’s an act of creation
I’m laughin’ in the face of casualties and sorrow
For the first time, I’m thinkin’ past tomorrow
And I am not throwin’ away my shot.”

Your death was more than a surprise to me; it was a full on sucker punch. Before then I lived comfortably in a bubble of contentment and safety. It was easy to relax and never push myself to do more. Or be more. I had all the time in the world to make things happen – tomorrow was just a good time as any.

Enter the sucker punch. The burst bubble. The grief, the loss, the emptiness, the madness, the anger, the sudden loss of safety.

It was more than a wake up call. It was a call to LIFE.

And all at once I decided “I am not throwin’ away my shot.” I am not waiting another minute to do this work. To create, to laugh, to take risks, to begin.

You were a writer before anything else. You poured over books, blog posts, newspaper articles. It filled you up. And it flowed out of you, a torrent of ideas and knowledge and words and stories.

But you were rejected. You gave your manuscript to someone you trusted and she ripped you to shreds and told you lies.

I’m afraid you believed her. I’m afraid you didn’t keep going or invest in yourself because you thought she was right.

You were told “no” so many times in your life. You were weighed down by the limitations of your health and hearing loss. But you kept going. Found a new route. Exceeded all expectation.

But this. This is one of those moments where I wonder what your life could have been if you didn’t put so much stake in her words. If you had rejected her rejection.

Because, you see, I am not throwin’ away my shot. I am not throwing away the opportunity of truly living. To go so big that I have few regrets, if any. I am not throwing away the gift of perspective your life and death has given me.

I am not throwin’ away my shot. Or yours. I’ve thought recently how your death has made me a writer. So maybe, in this way, it is your shot. Not your words, but your influence and your love. Not your story, as it’s not mine to tell, but the ways our lives intertwined and created our story.

I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory
When’s it gonna get me?
In my sleep, seven feet ahead of me?
If I see it comin’, do I run or do I let it be?
Is it like a beat without a melody?
See, I never thought I’d live past twenty
Where I come from some get half as many
Ask anybody why we livin’ fast and we laugh, reach for a flask
We have to make this moment last, that’s plenty

I’m going to make these moments last and, dear Nancy, I am not throwin’ away my shot.

Love,

George

 

 

Dear Nancy, One year without you.

Dear Nancy,

Today you have been gone from the Earth for 365 days. Each day was a little different. Some were so filled with joy that the pain I felt was a low hum. Others I was drowning in the well of my grief.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
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But each of those days cultivated something in me: strength, resilience, patience, and the deep workings of love & healing.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
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I write myself notes on my calendar each month that read “Lisa is proud of you” because I want to remember that each time I create something new that you are proud that I’ve taken this anguish and made something beautiful.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
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I know you’re reading this so I want you to know that I miss talking to you every. damn. day. That might be the hardest. I don’t have a coffee date with you or a funny text exchange to look forward to. No one else gets my South Park jokes or 80s movie references. But it’s ok.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
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Because in the last year, I have been loved by many. I have never been alone. I have received support through handwritten notes, DMs on Instagram, text messages, emails. And I have dug deeper and deeper into friendships with amazing women that I know will last a lifetime.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
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I miss you all the time, but I’m grateful you are near. We are bonded together forever and I know I’ll never truly be without you. I hope your first year in Heaven was a kick! I hope you are hanging out with Bowie and Prince. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
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I love you always. And when we meet again I know that first hug will be the sweetest and will feel like coming home.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
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Love,⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
George

Dear Nancy, A reflection on your birthdays.

Dear Nancy,

Today you are 52. It’s been 326 days since you died. I’ve spent most of those days trying to find my place in a world that no longer includes you. But I will spend today remembering all of the birthdays we spent celebrating together.

On your 36th birthday: I painted a huge banner that I put up in your dining room, I cooked my famous fried chicken (my parents paid for the chicken by the way), and while I was cooking I FORCED you to relax in a bubble bath. I was desperate to show you how much you mattered in my life. Later that year you helped me leave my abusive relationship. One of your strengths was loving me right where I was and never letting me think any less of myself for staying with him as long as did. You were my anchor as I escaped and my refuge once I was free.

On your 38th birthday: I arrived at your house because I needed a Nancy fix. We hung out and drank coffee. We spent most of the afternoon chatting and laughing. Then your Stepmom arrived and said: “Happy birthday.” And I thought – FUCK. I didn’t remember my best friend’s birthday. You were so sweet and understanding that it escaped my notice because you knew I was preparing to leave for my first year of college in just over a week. I had been so stressed about the change and move I’d been feeling random pain in my sides and I’d gone over to your house that day to alleviate some of my anxiety. And it did. That day I learned the depth of your generosity and kindness.

On your 45th birthday: We spent your birthday in Vegas! We drank and laughed and I used all of my gambling budget on the Sex and The City slots. Then at dinner at Hugo’s Cellar you left your phone in the bathroom and it was stolen. We used another phone to track it down and we ran around the streets of downtown Vegas with stomachs so FULL of wine we could burst. You kept sending the signal for it to “scream” so as to scare off the person who had it. When we finally reached the spot it was supposed to be we saw those 3 guys hanging out by a car and when we asked them about a lost phone they responded “We just lost a phone too!” You knew it was bullshit and so did I. We ended up going home without it only to call the restaurant the next day and find the phone had been turned into the lost and found. That night was crazy and hilarious and I LOVED watching you run after your phone like a badass. You were a badass every day of your life.

On your 51st birthday: You spent this birthday in the hospital. We all came to your room and hung out with you but I could tell you were uncomfortable. You generally didn’t like the spotlight and it was made even worse because you were in a hospital gown and we didn’t know exactly what was wrong yet. A few weeks later I bought you an electric tea kettle as a belated birthday present because you could no longer drink coffee. You were only allowed to drink tea and you were making it with microwaved water so I showed you how to best make tea. I knew that green tea was no substitute for your beloved coffee but I wanted you to have the BEST tea possible to make up for the difference. I wanted you to know you were not diminished by your illness. I wanted you to know that even if life changed that you and I would not. I wouldn’t treat you differently. I wouldn’t handle you with kid gloves or like you had a “FRAGILE” sign around your neck. I would love you right where you were – just as you had done for me.

On your 52nd birthday: Today. Today is hard. Today I want to cry and laugh and scream and sleep. I want to celebrate your life but I also want to mourn the loss of it. But today, mostly, I want to remember all of the things about you we all loved: Your humor, your courage, your ability to see people who are often unseen. Your passion and never ending quick wit that always had me on my toes. Your ability to quote movies you hadn’t seen for years and your ongoing quest to stand up to injustice.

Today I will remember all of these things and more. And I will raise my glass and say “To Nancy, one of the best humans to ever roam this planet. May you spend your birthday in heaven serenaded by Prince & George Michael while drinking copious amounts of coffee. And may you know that we are doing okay, but we miss you always. Happy birthday my friend.”

I love you,

George

Dear Nancy, Was It You?

Dear Nancy,

You’ve been gone for 9 months. And yet…

Two weeks ago I swear you were holding my hand. I was half-asleep on the couch and felt your two warm hands holding mine. The sensation was as real as my fingers typing these words on this keyboard. Was it you?

A month ago I stumbled upon a card in a random section of Powell’s. I felt drawn to the shelf where this simple card sat. It read: “I miss you. Nobody here understands how hilarious I am.” Was it you?

2 months ago I was driving in total silence. Suddenly I felt the urge to sing “Purple rain, purple rain,” one of your favorite songs and your absolute favorite color. Was it you?

4 months ago I had a whole conversation with you in my dreams. You told me you couldn’t visit often but would come when you could. We talked for what seemed like hours and I woke up happier than I had been in months. Was it you?

6 months ago I had a total meltdown. I was exhausted, grieving, and too busy. My husband put on my favorite record and filled the living room with candles. I heard you say “This is why I knew you’d be okay. Look how he loves you.” Was it you?

You’ve been there in a hundred tiny moments; they don’t escape my notice.

And each time I laugh or cry and think – was it you?

Love,

George

Dear Nancy, The Story of an Unlikely Princess

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Dear Nancy,

Do you remember how you got the nickname Nancy?

You sent me a text message once about a broken window at the school you worked for. You said you were investigating the issue and I called you Nancy Drew, to which you replied that I was her best friend George.

And the names just stuck!

It’s the best nickname I’ve ever had. To be fair, I haven’t had very many.

However, I think the story of my first nickname is the one I love the most.

You gave it to me the first day I met you. I was a skinny 12-year-old with few friends and too many things to say.  You were a 31-year-old woman who was the guardian of my dear friend.

I stayed over at your house and our first task after dinner was to do the dishes.

Your house on 15th wasn’t updated with fancy gadgets so we filled the sink with hot soapy water and on top were lots of soapsuds.

Being the precocious pre-teen I was I grabbed a couple of handfuls of soapsuds, placed them lovingly on my head, and proclaimed “I am the Soapsud Princess, bow down to me!”

At the time, however, the “princess” thing was in full swing and you and I didn’t prescribe to the bumper sticker wisdom that “Being a princess is hard work, but someone has to do it.”

Due to our dislike of the princess fad, you changed my nickname to many things: Duchess Soapsud, Soapy, Soapster, etc.

Any iteration of it was fine by me because I was finally someone. I was needed, liked, and even admired as Soapsud. Every time I visited your house you called me by my nickname.  And each time you did I loved you more. I mattered, and maybe, more importantly, I belonged.

You told me your version of that story many years later and how you were bowled over by this firecracker 7th grader who declared who she was and was so full of energy. You felt the moment we met we were simpatico; we saw the good in life while also finding room for sarcasm. We also loved to talk about books and writing while drinking cups and cups of Cortney coffee (your perfect blend of coffee, sugar, and milk).

Dearest Nancy, I believe belonging to you and to our friendship was actually life-changing for me. A sense of belonging was the single most important thing to me at 12 years old and you gave that gift to me.

I’ll never forget it.

Love,

George – the Soapsud Princess

Dear Nancy – you died.

 

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Dear Nancy,

You died on October 24th, 2017. It was beautiful that day. Beautiful in a way that made death seem impossible. It had become autumn overnight and the leaves burst forth with orange and red leaves blazing in the sun against a perfect blue sky.

And yet, somehow, you were gone.

You were 51 years old when you died. It’s hard not to feel robbed of many more years of loving you, adventuring in the world together, and the solace of knowing you were close. I still can’t bear to look at our old text messages because I know it will break my heart not being able to send you one.

But I try to focus on the good, on the gift that your life gave to me. Meeting you when I was 12 was a gift. You are in my DNA. You helped build me. I look back on these 20 years of friendship and see your influence in difficult decisions, joyous moments, and times of transition. I am who I am because you loved me, nurtured my heart and spurred me to action. And because you were, and are, my best friend.

I hated saying goodbye. I know you’re close, of course. I can often you feel you near. But I miss the comfort of our easy friendship. Of not having to explain myself, although I often did anyway. I miss the way you made me laugh at our stupid inside jokes – like how you were Nancy Drew and I was her best friend George. I miss how you would just know when I needed you or what I needed to hear. I miss sitting with you over a cup of coffee.

I think it’s the normal/everyday moments I miss the most. Because they may seem mundane or routine to an outside perspective – but they were an anchor in my life. A place to come home to.

I suppose you already know, but don’t worry – we’re taking care of your Mister. The day you died I cooked him my famous fried chicken and mashed potatoes. That first week we were at your house almost every night. I knew you were there in the room with us and I could feel your gratitude. I know the hardest part of leaving was leaving him behind.

I’m not sure if you had come to terms with the possibility of dying. Sometimes I want to ask you if you were prepared, or if anyone is ever prepared for death. You tried to protect me when you told me about your progress and prognosis. But, I could always tell when the news wasn’t good and that you were filtering a bit for me. I love you for that.

And I love you for a million reasons. So many reasons that this is just the first letter of a collection. I am writing to you because I don’t want to forget our adventures. Our coffee chats. Our everyday moments. I don’t want to forget a single second of you.

Love,

George