Not too long ago, Chiisuta wrote a brilliant node entitled It's always a good idea to tell people you love them if you do. That may seem like a readily obvious concept, something akin to saying “It’s not a good idea to forget to breathe”… (sadly, it often turns out not to be, but that’s an issue for another write-up)
Alright then, tell the people you love that you love them. Got that, will do.
But what about the people that you don’t love?
I graduated high school on June 1st (I swore never to let on here how old I was, go figure) and over a third of the people who crossed the stage with me were people I had known for at least 7 years. I had been “best friends” with almost every one of them at some point or another. However, with me being who I am and the high school experience being what it is, by about sophomore year I had isolated all the people I knew at school to close-acquaintance status. They knew some of my secrets, we interacted every day, but I was not that concerned with the thought of never seeing them again. I would have gone out of my way to help some of them, I thought some of them were truly great, interesting individuals, but I didn’t really love those people.
Nevertheless, they were a constant fixture in my life. Some people I liked and respected - some people I didn’t. While it may be true that those of "student" age will have many more of these sorts of relationships in their daily lives, (that’s the only age I’ve been so far so I can’t say for sure) I know that every one of us can think of at least one person who fits in this category. What do you say to one of these people? What do you say to someone you think of as a great person, someone who makes your day better just by being the one who sits next to you for an hour a day in math class, or the neighbor down the hall you share a conversation with on the elevator ride each morning…
What do you tell them? “I don’t love you but I think of you highly and I really appreciate your presence in this part of my daily life – I’m glad I share this time with you and not some other person who is not as good of a person as you are.”
That’s not the kind of thing we say. We take these people for granted in a way. You would find this to be another “duh” concept if you ever stopped to think on it for one moment. But still, do you ever tell them? Do we ever do anything about these people we take for granted? The ones that make our lives better, just for a moment? No. Not really.
OLIVER, 17, died peacefully Wednesday, July 3, at Duke University Hospital from complications after surgery, surrounded by family and friends.
Oliver. I’ve just come from his memorial service. We were planning a big party for his eighteenth birthday - it would have been July 14. So close.
Just over a week ago I was discussing the merits of taking a year off before starting college with some friends. The commonly held opinion is that although we all wish we were doing that, although we all think it sounds like the most fun option, we also think that said option would be so fun that no one would go back to college. There are always some eye-rolls for the people who say they’ll go back after a year. “Yeah, right,” we respond to them, laughing.
One friend in particular was the topic of conversation that day. We were especially amused at his decision to spend a year promoting his band rather than going to school. He had sworn that if they didn’t become famous in a year he would start college and we all found that hilarious. He was not the first person we had known who said that, and none of his predecessors had ever become famous… or college students. We all agreed however that this guy was better (at both music and school) than the other people we’d known and that afternoon we wished our joint luck to him in his endeavors.
Two years ago my math class became more than my math class. They became my good friends, every one of them. We hadn’t had assigned seats or anything, but everyone sat in the same seats the whole year anyways. To my left since the first day of school had sat this girl a year older than me, Macy. Macy was very quiet in class. I didn’t know her well - we hadn’t been friends for years.
When I moved across town after 6th grade I had to switch middle schools. The first day of my seventh grade year this cool eighth grade girl said she liked my t-shirt and offered to show me around. She introduced me to all her friends (the older, cool girls). I was one of the only 7th graders who got to go with them to sneak cigarettes behind the woodshop at lunch, or to skip class and walk to the pizza restaurant up the road. It was only a month or so before I found my real friends, but if not for Macy’s friendliness those first days of school would have been much rougher. (It was a pretty rough school.) I hadn’t spoken to her more than a few times at parties since then, but Macy never lost her inherent sweetness, despite the fact that she also never lost her buzz. But we all have our vices, right? Or perhaps Macy just loved everyone else that much more than she could ever love herself. I never could figure it out.
Macy’s rebellious streak was most likely inherited. Her older sister, though also an overall “cool” girl, had had a daughter in high school. But she had graduated and gone on to college anyway. Now she was older, and getting married. Macy, like everyone else, got a little tipsy at the wedding. Afterwards, back at their house, the wedding reception was ending and she asked her parents if she could go out with two of her best friends. Her parents said no, they had a fight and she went anyways. Steve, her boyfriend who was driving the car she left in, knew she had been having difficulties with her parents. Not wanting her to get in anymore trouble he asked if it was okay with her parents that she was going out. When she said “no,” he turned the car around to drive her back to her house. They were still in her neighborhood where the speed limit is 12 mph. She angrily decided that she did not want to go home, and chose instead to jump out the car, a stunt her older sister had been known to pull when she was younger.
So Macy jumps out the front passenger seat of a Ford Explorer Special Edition going about 10 mph. She should have hit the ground running. But her foot caught on the running board, (gotta love those SUVs) and instead she fell, hitting her head on the curb. Steve and his friend scooped her up and took her back to her house. By the time they got to the hospital she was in a coma.
That Monday at school I was sitting in math class next to Macy’s empty seat discussing what had happened. Someone yelled “Oh Shit!” and jumped up out of their chair, pointing at Carl’s hat which was lying on the floor. Carl had been the one to hold Macy’s head in his lap as Steve drove back to her house. His hat had a sizable amount of blood on it.
It was Friday of that week that they took her off life support. In another month she would have turned 17.
Today at Oliver’s service a good 300 people turned out to pay their respects. I can still count the funerals I’ve been to on my fingers, and about half of those were for older people. There is a markedly different feeling pervading the air after the death of someone so young. The worst part is watching someone’s parents deal with burying their child. After a few of the people who had loved him had spoken, the members of his band came forward to give us a bit of what Oliver loved best - music. They played one of his favorite songs, “Leaving on a Jet Plane.” I had seen him cover it live on numerous occasions. The fact remains that it is a pretty sad song to play in memoriam, but Oliver loved it when the crowd sang along with his band, so everyone who knew the words sobbed them out. The worst part was next. They played the recording of Oliver singing a song he had written recently called “Forever and a Day.” Though I have had his CD on repeat since I heard the news, it was a shock to hear his voice suddenly fill the room.
Macy’s death, after a week of waiting and hoping, hit the whole community pretty hard. Sitting in math class shoved the truth of the matter right in our faces. Luckily, our teacher was not insensitive to the situation. We did our pre-calc, but we also talked. People our age aren’t supposed to die – we don’t know what to think when faced with the death of one our own. I found some of the best conversation in the boy who had sat to my right that year. We realized that we had had many of the same thoughts and fears and reactions. Macy’s empty seat to my left was particularly hard. We both agreed that we were glad in a way that we hadn’t been closer to her, glad it wasn’t our best friend who had just died. At the same time this line of thought repelled us - we wished desperately that we had taken the time to get to know her better when suddenly hit with the finality that now we would never be able to know her at all.
June 7, I spent a while talking to Oliver at another friends pool party. The next day we commiserated online about migraines – I get them sometimes and he had been getting quite a few recently. Unknown to me he had an MRI scheduled for the next day. The scan showed a brain tumor. I don’t know the details. He and his family decided not to tell anyone until after the biopsy, in case it turned out to be benign.
He went into surgery the first day of July, a Monday. The night before he had told his dad “Don’t worry about me, everything is going to be alright.” The surgery went well, and the tumor was revealed to be operable, so they went ahead and removed it, rather than just doing a biopsy. It was even a benign tumor. Then the doctors found a blood clot, and not five minutes later it burst.
Wednesday, July 9, while my friends and I were discussing Oliver’s decision to take a year off from college for his music, his parents were making a much harder decision. At almost the same time that we ended our conversation with the conclusion that Oliver had made a good choice and that we wished him luck, he was being removed from the life support machine.
Two years ago, Oliver’s message to me in our yearbook included the words “… I’m glad you sat next me in math this year. There won’t be anymore empty seats in our future. I hope you’re around when I get hurt one day because you’re smart and I trust you to take care of me…”
I’m sure I wrote something comparable in his yearbook that year. We had classes together over the next two years, and we shared many friends. He was one of the guys in the group I usually went out to lunch with, or to parties or to the beach. We were never as close as we had gotten those two months in math class, but I always counted him as a friend. I keep expecting someone to call me and say “It’s not true.” I keep expecting Oliver’s screen name to pop up in my buddy list, followed by a message with such words of wisdom as “Elvis loves you” or “Never pet a burning dog.”
Half of me feels lucky in a way that I hadn’t been closer to him. I’m glad my best friend is still here. The other half of me wishes desperately that we had had more classes together, that I had called him twice as many times… After our conversations about Macy I know that he would have understood both halves of my feelings.
What I’m left with is knowing that I never said to Macy “Thank you for being nice to me when I was young and scared, even though you didn’t have to. Thank you for being so sweet and friendly every time I crossed paths with you after that.” Or to Oliver: “You have the most beautiful smile. Thank you for being so constantly ready to share it with anyone you encountered. I was glad beyond words to have you to talk to in those horrible months after Macy’s death. I was also glad beyond words to have you to make paper airplanes with every day in physics the next year. After Valentines Day, when you serenaded anyone you could find with a love song, all the girls agreed that you were “totally hot.” In all honesty, you were, but it was your brilliantly good-natured personality that made you so. Thank you… for being you, I like who that is.”
I would certainly say those things and more to Macy and Oliver had I the chance to go back and repeat some of my moments with them. But will I tell the other people I don’t quite love just what it is they do mean to me? “Hello, I appreciate you.” I like to think that I make it clear to the people I hold in high regard that they do mean something to me, even if I am not especially close to them. Maybe I do, maybe I don’t. In all honesty, I probably won’t say the things I think aloud, even now. I will however, think about the people in my life a little more. Be careful what you take for granted.