It will be a year in December since Brian left all who loved him, including me - a teacher of yesteryear who still can't register the fact that he's no longer with us. Since last year, I've spent many weekend nights chatting with his sister, Kristen, through text and, more often that not, processing the world since via phone.
The Valentines were central to my heart and humor in Kentucky, and that is why, last night, it was wonderful to put a personality to Brian's niece, Asha, over sushi and burgers (fries, too, and a caesar salad, Asha! I didn't forget those).
The Valentines are in Connecticut for a family wedding and I drove 48 miles north to find them. When I learned they were going to be nearby, there was no way I could NOT see them. I grabbed my KY hat, (although I'm usually in my KY hat) and headed their way.
And Asha? 3rd grade. Phew. I wish I was that smart, clever, witty, and spunky in 3rd grade. What a blast to spend a few hours with this kid!
Earlier, knowing I was going to see them, I found myself filling up with tears. Seeing them, I knew, would solidify the year - hugs that were way overdue. I got them, held myself together, and stayed strong by following their lead.
Brian was a great kid - one who made my last year in KY extra special (and a primary reason it was so difficult for me to leave the class of 2018 behind when I ventured off to do my doctorate degree). My memories of Brian in his junior were of joy, music, humor, and an absolute zest for life. To this day, I use a photo of him in his beads whenever I talk about my teaching days in Kentucky. Brian remains in my heart, but it will never get easier knowing he departed way too soon. Seeing Kristen and Mary, and meeting Asha, brought more of the story together (what Mary called "The Dash" --- all that resides in a life from birth to death --- the in-between stories of sadness, happiness, triumphs, and tragedies. Yes, it would be so much better if he was still with us, too.
As I pulled into their hotel parking lot, I thought, "Wait, has it been 20 years since Kristen graduated?" Actually, it's only been 18 years this spring. Jason, Asha's father, graduated 20 years ago (my first senior class). It's all surreal - this time thing. I see my students as kids - they are forever 15, 16, 17, and 18. I still picture Kristen on the green couch early on weekday mornings purring like a cat, organizing her world for post-high school life, and simply being brilliant (and always in love and protective of her little brother).
So much --- dash --- has occurred since.
|Bry/Bri - he spelled his name wrong|
Mary couldn't eat with us, as she had arrangements for the wedding, but Kristen, Asha and I had time to be silly for a while. I was the big thug standing in the way of pool time, but Ausha was a great sport...even said, "It's okay. We'll have time in the morning where I can swim, too." Ah, we found out the pool stayed open until 11 p.m. and I suggested they take full advantage of that fact until the very last second.
A year is quickly approaching, and it won't get easier. It will get harder. It will get calmer. It will wave in cycles. It will never make sense. It will be what the -- dash -- has brought.
And I'm remembering, in the last messages Brian sent me, the pictures of his two cats in three consecutive photos. The first said, "We," the second, "Dove," and the third, "You."
We dove you, too, Brian.
It would have been great to see you again. The joy, however, came from your sister, your mom, and your niece. You are missed. You will always be missed. And of course we're still angry, lost, confused, frustrated, and sad. But the place you hold in our hearts remains the same.
Shoes & elephants.
I would love to smack you upside the head, but also to hug you. Be an angel for us, kiddo. We can use it.