In a month, he will be gone from this Earth for a year. For me, you died today, the moment I saw your obituary. Until we know someone has died, they live in this forever alive bubble that gives us false belief that we could see them again one day. Until we can’t.
I started writing this a month ago. It has taken me that long to navigate my feelings and discover how I wanted to express the sense of loss I feel. Writing is the way in which I do that, and this is the platform I have to express it upon. This is my goodbye to my first puppy love. I don’t use that term as a negative. Quite the opposite, as I use it with reverence. We had a fantastic love that consisted of loving one another for who they were. I use puppy as a term of youth, not to say we didn’t have true feelings.
I had slept so soundly, in a way that I hadn’t slept in twenty years. I woke up remembering I had dreamed of Jason. It was a vivid dream that felt so real, as though he had been right in front of me. In my dream, we were on a park bench, surrounded by fall foliage of incredible colors. I asked him why we were meeting here, and he said because he knew I liked it. He then looked at me, smiled from his eyes, and told me to look him up. I asked what he meant, and he told me to look him up. I woke up, feeling incredibly rested and happy. I’d certainly not gone to bed expecting to dream of him, but what a nice visit we had in my dream.
Later that day, I felt a pull on my mind, hearing his voice instructing me to look him up. I quickly felt all the joy I’d experienced earlier leave me. The first return on the internet search was his obituary, dated 2020.
I could never stay mad at him. He made jokes about his mistakes and made sure you quickly replaced anger with laughter. He was pure sunlight to me. Bright blonde hair and blue eyes that never made me want to stop gazing into them. I was a serious student who thrived on teacher approval, and he was the class clown who didn’t care for school and was often punished with spankings or whoopings, as we called it, with a wooden paddle, for failing to complete his homework or talking in class. Corporal punishment was alive and well in Tennessee in the ’80s.
We were boyfriend and girlfriend from the sixth to the eighth grade. My father thought Jason could do no wrong. Truth be told, Jason was very similar to my father in personality, but his spirit was more sensitive and gentle. Jason worked hard in the fields in the summer, and my father liked that. He also liked the way Jason made me smile. “If he makes my daughter smile like that, he can’t be too bad.”
He was everything I didn’t have in my life. He was steady and dependable. He loved me openly and without judgement. He had lived in the same town his whole life and knew he would die there, too. I was a wandering leaf, blowing in the wind, never staying in one place long enough to call it home. I had learned to be independent and quiet. He lived life out loud, dancing when the spirit struck him, and always finding a moment to be tender with affection. I’d never experienced anything like him.
Our differences made us great friends and the points where we touched and overlapped made us always seek one another out. I have so many fun stories of my time with him, but ultimately, the greatest moment we shared was the time we had to say goodbye.
My life was tumultuous at best, and in my thirteen years on the planet, I had learned that the rug was always waiting to be pulled out from under me. It had happened many times before, but this time, I was completely caught off guard. It was early November, and everyone was preparing plans for Thanksgiving and school break. When I got home that day, my mother opened the door to tell me that I needed to start packing, as my father had left us, we were evicted, and we were going to Arkansas to see my half-sister who I hadn’t seen since I was three.
We had been evicted before. My father had left us before. I’d moved around a lot. The difference was, this time I was connected to someone that made me want to never move again. I wasn’t crazy about the small town in Tennessee, but I was crazy about that boy, and the thought of leaving him made this time hurt way worse than all the times before.
My mother moved about in a frenzied state, calling U-Haul to get a truck, smoking cigarette after cigarette as though it gave her body fuel. She paused long enough to tell me how embarrassed she was because the cop who served the eviction notice was Jason’s Uncle. He knew of me and had been very kind to her. I wanted to disappear. I knew this small town would soon be craving more information and making up stories to fill in the gaps. The story was simple–my father was poor at money management and frequently found himself in need of financial support from his mother. He’d run off to her open arms while my mother and I cleaned up the mess he left behind. I’ve never publicly said any of this, as it was always drilled into me that my life should be a secret, and no one should know what happened in our home. It isn’t easy to write.
Jason called me later that night, and I listened to him tell me about school and what he was looking forward to over break. I just wanted to listen to him. He noticed how quiet I was and asked what was wrong. I honestly cannot remember if I told him then or the next morning before school that I was leaving. I have an extraordinarily good memory, but this moment is blank for me. I can only remember hurting and feeling like I needed to protect him from the pain I was about to inflict.
The next day at school, I had to alert my teachers about my move. I wanted to leave the school as quietly as possible. I didn’t like to attract attention when I exited a school. I didn’t like to attract attention at all, but being the perpetual “new girl” as frequently as I was, it was unavoidable. I didn’t plan on telling anyone about my move until a nice boy in my class commented that I seemed so sad that day. I was always the happy girl, and people notice when you aren’t smiling. We were in the hallway, between classes, and I told him. I figured I didn’t have anything to lose. He was a friend, but not someone I was very close with or knew well. His face fell and he started to cry. I hadn’t experienced this before, as I usually wasn’t around when people discovered I was no longer at the school. He hugged me, and I started to cry. We drew a lot of attention and word quickly reached Jason that I was hugging a boy and crying. He came to me immediately, and soon there were a number of students hugging the three of us. It was a profound moment for me. I truly felt that I would be missed, and I hadn’t experienced that before.
Jason was in a very quiet mood. He wasn’t speaking to anyone, and friends reported to me throughout the day that he was crying off and on in classes. I had wanted to avoid this. I felt so badly for his pain, and I didn’t know how to ease it. This was my last day at school, and I didn’t want to be there. I wanted to be with Jason, but I didn’t want to talk about what happened or why I was moving. It was not a topic I was allowed to speak about. It didn’t really matter; I was a kid and my parents told me what to do and when to do it. I was leaving, and that was it.
That night, as we were preparing to leave Tennessee, Jason’s mother invited me and my mother over so that we could have dinner and and say goodbye. I don’t know what magic Mrs. B. said to my mother, but it worked, and soon my mother and I were at their home. We all visited for a bit, but Jason was more than ready to get outside and speak to me in private.
Jason lived atop a mountain and it was very cold on this November evening. The sun was already down, and the clear night meant it was a perfect night for stargazing. We talked about what happens next, and he spoke to me in the softest, gentlest way that my confused and broken heart needed. I had no idea what was in store for me in the coming weeks, and he knew that I was putting on the strongest front that I could muster. He held my hand so tightly and told me that he loved me and would never let me go. He wanted a plan for communication and he gave directives on the need for phone calls. His mother would periodically poke her head out to check on us, making sure we hadn’t frozen to death.
We held hands, looking at the stars, astounded by their beauty, knowing that no matter where we were, the stars were going to always shine on us, creating a connection between us. He turned on a nearby radio and “Groovy Kind of Love,” by Phil Collins started playing. It was our song. I’d never had a song with a boy before. We held each other as we swayed to the music. A barn kitten crawled up the exterior of my pants and tried to nestle between us. He removed her, placing her on the ground with instruction that he needed nothing between us. The swirl of sadness and gratefulness for the moment were overwhelming to me. I never wanted the night to end. I was scared as to what would happen to me next, unprepared for the future that had no plan.
Jason pushed my hair out of my face and kissed me. It was my first adult kiss. My breath was taken away, and I felt like I was in a movie. We paused long enough for him to look me in the eye and smile in that charming and silly way that made my heart accelerate. “No matter what happens, baby. I’ll always be here for you,” he said.
Jason and I would write and call one another over the next year. He always wanted to know when I was coming back. “When are you coming home?” he would ask. I’d say that it wasn’t home for me anymore, and he’d say that wasn’t true. When we talked, it was as if I had never moved. He kept me updated on his work, school, and friends. He wanted to know what was going on with me, and it was difficult for me to talk about my home life, so I didn’t. I knew that if he really knew what was happening, he would be angry at his inability to make things better for me. He truly was someone who wanted to make things the best they could be for those he loved. I knew I wasn’t moving back to Tennessee while I lived at home, and I had no desire to move back when I went to college. I knew that the best thing to do was to let him move on. I stopped calling as often, and he followed suit. I hadn’t heard from him in few months, and out of the blue, there he was. “Hey, baby.”
He’d just gotten in from a baseball game and wanted to know what was new. I was angry with him for calling. I told him that I was trying to get over him. “Well, good thing I called. You aren’t supposed to get over me,” he replied. I could hear the smile in his voice. Knowing I’d probably never see that smile again hit me harder than I was prepared to acknowledge. We quarreled. He didn’t understand why I wasn’t over the moon to talk to him. I told him I just needed to close that door. I stressed how important it was for us to be realistic. He grew angry at my distance and he asked if I wanted to talk to him again. I said no. We both hung up the phone saturated in anger and sadness. I really missed him, but I knew I’d never return to his world, so it was easier to let go. I didn’t really have a choice.
Fast forward to my first year in college, and I called him. His father answered the phone, and we talked for a bit, as he was happy to hear from me. He passed the phone to his wife, and we spent time catching up and laughing about old times. She was remorseful that I’d never moved back and expressed that Jason would be so happy to talk to me. She kept stressing that if I had stayed things would have been different for everyone, but she didn’t elaborate. Jason would need to call me back, as he was at work.
I’d busied myself after that call and wasn’t sure if I’d hear from him, but true to his mom’s word, he rang. I didn’t have Caller ID, so when I picked up the phone, I did so blindly. I said hello and heard him smile before he said, “Hey! Hey, it’s Jason! Mom said you called! I can’t believe you called…” and he took off talking a mile a minute. Years melted away, and we were two kids laughing and catching up. He grew serious when I asked him what his Mom meant about things being different. He explained he was about to become a father.
I smiled. Jason had wanted kids since we were in the sixth grade. I know that sounds odd, but he always looked forward to being a dad. The details of his saga didn’t matter, for I knew he would do the right thing by the mom and the child. We talked about my being at college and how, by all measures, our paths were going as planned.
We both expressed how we’d missed the other over the years, and he asked if I’d ever “found another blonde haired, blue-eyed boy” to replace him. Nope. Never had. He was pleased at that. We spoke about the letters from each other we had kept (letters I still have). We ended the conversation with laughter, and I could feel his love and friendship as though no time had ever come between us. It was the last time I ever spoke to him. I would go on to see his brother and have communication with him for a bit, but I never spoke to Jason again.
When I discovered that Jason had died, the ice cold reality that I’d never have the opportunity to have the chance to see him, either by plan or circumstance, hit me on a level I couldn’t have expected. People we’ve not seen in a period of time live in a realm of possibility. We might get together one day. We might run into one another one day. When they die, that moment will never happen. Never. The finality of that is a harsh lesson to hold in your heart. I suddenly realized that I had hoped to see him one day and discover how it all turned out. Death destroys hope.
I’ve always been in love with the stars, but I find myself looking up and smiling at the energy I believe was added to the universe on the moment of his death. He is infinitely beautiful and a guiding light. His energy exists in the stars now.
Jason, I’m grateful for having known you. I’m honored to have been loved by you and to have had the opportunity to love you. I hope you had more days of joy and laughter than you ever had of sorrow. Thank you for being the boy who taught me that I didn’t have to fear the love or touch of another. Thank you for always making me feel beautiful and giving me the gift of your smile and supportive ear. Thank you for running to my defense when you felt I’d been harmed, and thank you for never hurting me. My sweet, groovy kind of love, thank you for seeing me. May you rest in peace and love.
I recently had the pleasure of attending an online painting class, and this is the result. It really couldn’t have been more perfect.
The class I took, for those interested, is by Artist’s Palette Durham Region and Vera Malitskaya