Brighten Up Even Your Darkest Night

Last year around this time, I found out an ex-boyfriend of mine from college had suffered a crippling stroke. He wasn’t really in touch with a lot of our friends from college at the time, and I somehow became charged with contacting  our friends. We all talked online about what happened in a group chat, and got generally caught up as most of us were out of touch. This is what you do now, since everyone is scattered and your “circle” is now only defined by who is online, when. It was scary and sad and a reminder of how we are all aging and changing, and how little problems become big problems as you get to be the age we all are.

Today, my sister called me. She doesn’t call me during the day, and I don’t call her. We text or email occasionally. I had been planning a long road trip to go see her, but was suddenly stricken by a very nasty summer flu, and had to cancel the trip at the last minute. So when she called, it was unusual.

“Hey. Nick’s dead,” she said.

“WHAT?” I shrieked. I was in disbelief and yet as much as we joke about stuff, I knew she wasn’t joking. Her voice was flat and I could hear her controlling it.

“Yeah. Sounds like a heart attack. Nobody knows why yet.”

I was astounded. Another ex of mine, this one from back in my early high school days, now dead. He was only three years older than I am right now. 10 years younger than when the same thing happened to my Dad.

The grim reaper is clearly done fucking around, pulling no more punches, and delivers each cuff with increasingly forceful blows every single year.

My relationship with Nick wasn’t terribly long or famously and deeply romantic. It was, however, the stuff of American youth. He was a pizza delivery guy and a budding musician, and I became the musician’s girlfriend for not the first or last time. I was in high school and loved dating someone in college. I hung out at his college apartment on weekends, and the band came over and practiced for hours. I couldn’t wait to get to college and have the freedom those guys had, coming and going when they wanted, staying up late, drinking beer and having fun. It was a simple time and good fun. They had a pet chameleon and he would show up on people’s shirts sometimes as a surprise. I remember him learning the keyboard intro to “Light My Fire” and thinking how I needed to remember to bring ear plugs when I stayed at his place because man, you can get really sick of hearing the same notes over and over and over.

He was a sweet, simple guy. Childlike in his naiveté about life, always ready to make people laugh. Our relationship was so innocent and old fashioned he gave me his NHS key because he didn’t have a class ring, and wanted me to have something to wear as a symbol of our relationship. He was both carefree and careless, and was prone to reckless spontaneity. After the romantic part of our relationship ended, my family stayed friends with him and his family. His Dad had been one of my sister’s favorite college professors, and, small towns being what they are, we generally kept in touch here and there.

But you lose track of people. Even as we have these online communities and new friendships are born almost daily, as we expand our social circles, at least online, even if we never see the people in real life, old friends we used to know slip away, out of touch, busy living their lives. I heard he had gotten married to some woman in California with a lot of money, and moved out there for awhile—a story I can certainly relate to. Then I heard he came back to Ohio and had a new band. But not much else. Until last week, when my sister sent me a picture of Nick and his old roommate, who she used to date at the same time I dated Nick. They were getting ready to run a really long race and we joked about how bad Nick looked, how he obviously hadn’t kept in good shape like his roommate had. I guess we were more right than we knew.

I thought today  how sad it is that it’s difficult it to stay in touch with people we once used to know so very well, to be so close with. I am friends with people on Facebook who barely spoke to me in high school, and yet people I shared intimate moments with, a lot of them have just slipped out of touch. Maybe there’s no place for these people in your life as you grow and change. Sometimes people get involved with someone who doesn’t like their partner having contact with anyone they used to date, even if it was a long time ago. Whatever the reason, life cuts a curvy and seemingly uncontrollable path about who stays in your circle and who goes. And then tragedy strikes, and you’re reminded of your own mortality and how short our time here is.

Nick was a passive, gentle, funny soul. Most of the musicians I have dated are funny, complicated, creative guys but not prone to violence or machismo. But they will stand up for you if you really need it. I wrote this post three years ago about a time when Nick did such a thing for me (referred to as “Ned” in the post).  I never forgot his kindness that day.

I hope he was not in pain, and that people can soon enjoy happy memories of him, instead of sadness. I close tonight’s post with Nick himself. Thanks for the music and the laughter.