As I write this morning, I'm sitting out on our deck. I can hear a woodpecker pecking at a tree. I wonder if it's the same bird that just a few weeks ago was hammering at our stucco as we sat in this same spot, enjoying the Colorado morning. You pelted the bird with one of the buckeyes your mom had sent from autumn Ohio. It flew off and then landed again, continuing to peck on another side of the house. We sat, in silence. You, staring into nature and sipping your tea. Me, checking social media, emailing with my co-workers, and drinking my daily half cup of coffee. "I wish there was a coffee cup that stayed warm so that my coffee wouldn't get cold by the time I'm halfway done," I'd say. "Maybe it's a sign you only need a half cup, you seem pretty awake already!" you'd joke. You, peaceful. Me, frantic, some minor work stress would have me yammering already.
My phone buzzed, it was an old friend I rarely talk to, "Oh my goddddd, guess who it is?" One of the ones that it's probably best that I only rarely talk to. You, knowing this completely and knowing who it was, smiled understandingly and without a drop of judgment. You know how painstaking it is for me to cut off love and people I have cared about, you asked how she was. You sent her your love. I get up off my chair and scoot in next to you, throwing my arms around you, and more importantly, putting down my phone. We kiss. You tell me I taste like coffee. You like the taste of coffee.
Cuddled up on the patio sofa, we quietly admire Boulder from the top of our mountain. You sing, quoting your favorite band, "Colorado bluebird sky, we could live a mile high...Colorado, bluebird sky!" I snuggle in more, you know it's because I love when you sing. Our 'castle in the sky,' we called it. Thirty-six acres of untouched nature. You planned on making secret trails, rock formations, and forts hidden throughout the property, so that one day our children would find them when exploring.
Kira meanders through the ripped screen door, one of her doggy-boyfriends had busted through it a few months ago, and we decided to wait for the renovations before fixing it. Kira sniffs into the Colorado air, her tail gently wags as she reminds us how happy she is here, now a mountain-dog instead of an Austin-Texas-suburbia-dog.
Kira lays down on the edge of the deck, her front paws fit under where the deck's railing begins, and her chin resting gently on one of the grates. "She's so adorable when she lays like that," you say. Her ears perk as she spots deer. "They're looking for the salt-lick, I need to remember to pick one up from McGuckin's," you say. Kira watches the deer intently. She'd never seen deer in her 9-years until moving to Colorado. I grab my phone and hop up from my perch next to you and sprawl across the deck as I capture a picture of both Kira's cuteness and the deer in the distance. I send the picture to my old friend. You throw another buckeye at the woodpecker who's returned to the stucco above us, an odd act of violence considering your constant gentle nature. You miss drastically. I think it's adorable.
I hear your stomach rumble and automatically we get up to go make breakfast together. As we walk back inside we stop to watch a hummingbird at the feeder. "Damnit, I need to fill that feeder too," you remember. "I will do it right now," I respond. It's still not done. Another hummingbird arrives and scares off the first. You tell me a fact about how hummingbirds are one of the most aggressive birds despite their cuteness.
As we walk inside, we slide into our customary morning ritual. You make the breakfast salads: soft boiled eggs over organic salad greens, avocado, hemp seeds, broccoli sprouts, tomatoes, pickled-something, and any other leftovers from the fridge that make sense, topped with health tonic or a mix of apple cider vinegar, coconut aminos, tumeric, cayenne, Himalayan sea salt, and olive oil. I make the fruit salad: strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and maybe a peach or mango dressed with lemon juice, honey, cinnamon, and shredded pickled ginger. You have a distinct nutritional reason for each ingredient. I don't remember them, but trust you. We chat about our day as we glide around each other in the kitchen. I notice you glancing at the clock. You like to be in front of your drum-kit practicing by nine, and it's 8:39. Twenty-one minutes is not much time for you to eat. You like to move slow, especially in the mornings. "You should chew each bite at least ten-times in order to get the full nutritional value of the food," you'd remind me often as I wolfed down my meals. One of the very few things we differed on was our pace. Why did you die so quickly, Teddy? Why didn't you take your time?
We finish the food prep and sit down at the table together. We chat about what yoga class we want to go to that day. We would go to yoga together a few times a week, but also felt comfortable attending classes independently, always honoring the practice, teacher, and timing that worked for each others mood or schedule. You fill me in on the latest detail about a rehearsal or upcoming gig. I'd offer my thoughts or request a song for the setlist. I'd let you know how many pages I was planning to design that day for my magazine. I'd tell you about a certain interview or celebrity we were featuring and read you a pull-quote I thought you'd like from the content. Whichever one of us felt less crunched for time would offer to do the dishes. We'd say "I love you," hug, kiss, and then part ways – you down to the music studio in the basement, me up to my office upstairs. Morning ritual complete.
Yesterday was really hard.
I haven't 'heard' from you in a while. I saw the bear over a week ago. The high of your memorial has passed, and a dreary lull has set in. Your friends who all flew in are now gone, back at work. I'd been asking to see a fox for over a week, with no luck. I've only seen two foxes ever, so it's no surprise.
When we first started dating and were still long-distance, you went on a hut trip with a group of friends. You told me a story about how it was late at night and you all decided to go on a long hike. Most of the people had been drinking throughout the evening, but you were sober and led the way. You all hiked up Vail mountain, the moonlight reflected on the white snow as your guide. You made it to your destination, only a few people left in the group, most having turned back along the way, probably ready to pass out or refill a flask. Once at the top, you told me how you sat down on a rock or a log to eat a Kind-Bar, you snacked nearly every hour. Suddenly, you noticed a fox standing very nearby. You slowly held out the bar, and shockingly, the fox came and ate it, right out of your gloved-hand, then darted off. You were incredibly moved. Since then, you decided your spirit animal must be a fox.
Months later, when I was visiting you in Boulder, we went into a gem shop and read about animal totems. I read you the fox and the bear. I felt that you fit the bear description more, and later, purchased you a Native-American bear carving which I'd strung to a necklace and given you for your 34th birthday. But I knew you still loved the fox, especially after that incident.
A year after I gave you that gift, yesterday, your 35th birthday, I went into the Bill Cronin Goldsmiths with your Aunt Ginny. The aunt that I'd deeply connected with every time I'd talked to her during your life. The aunt whose incredible book I inhaled, feeling as though I was reading her intimate journal. The aunt I called that night of the sirens and the detectives as I watched the ambulance pull away from our house, the EMS refusing to let me ride along. The aunt who caught me in the hospital, as I fell to the ground screaming, after a stoic male nurse ushered us into a windowless, chair-less closet and said, "David is no longer with us." His name is Ted.
Ginny and I went to the jewelers together to hear the story of the engagement ring you had designed for me. I was doing OK yesterday morning until I walked through those doors. A girl who worked there said, "Are you Sami?" Her voice was thick with pity. "Yes." I started to cry. She told me how sorry she was. "Thank you," I muttered, my most repeated words of the past couple weeks. The jewelers, Bill and Carrie, took us and a box of Kleenex into the back room. They told me about how they are generally so lucky to work with people during the happiest times of their lives, during the birth of new partnerships, the anniversaries of love, the precious moments. Not deaths before engagements. "Nothing like this has ever happened," they tell me. I'm relieved for that, relieved that no one else has had to feel this despair. But why me? I thought that a lot yesterday.
They told me how they see couples all the time. They see men choosing rings for women daily. And because of that, they have an eye for the 'good ones'. You were a good one. We were a good one. They told me that you took more care and interest than most men in the process of creating this beautiful ring: designing it hand-in-hand with them, incorporating diamonds from your grandparent's broach, and choosing a flawless center pear-shape stone, just like the one I'd shown you. You were going to pick it up last Thursday. Five days after your death. They cried. Ginny cried. I cried. Probably some of the only tears of sadness that have ever hit the floor of that goldsmith shop. This was not how it was supposed to be.
I went to yoga again yesterday. I remembered how we had gone to yoga together on my 30th birthday this year. No one else had shown up for class, so it was a private for just you and I. I knew that, no matter how hard it was, it was important to go to yoga on your birthday. For you and for me, our ritual. I went to a different studio and a different teacher than I had a few days ago when I'd returned to my practice for the first time since this disaster. I'm being incredibly careful with the classes I choose because I'm so incredibly vulnerable right now. Elizabeth joined me. We went to the back. Her on one side, a wall on the other. Before your death, I was front and center, now I hide. The class didn't go as well as I expected. The room was packed, mat to mat. The music was loud, lyrical, and sad. The teacher had us balancing a lot, on one foot, with bound-arm variations. I sensed immediately that I don't need to be balancing in yoga right now. I don't need to be on one-foot, with my arms wrapped asymmetrically. My life is already the most chilling, bound-up balancing act I've ever experienced, by far. I need to be low to the earth, on two feet, grounded. I want to hug the earth for security, not try to fly. I was flying two weeks ago, soaring. And I crashed.
After yoga, on my drive home, I was crying so hard that it looked like I was driving through a storm. I pull over, unwilling to drive recklessly. I cry loudly and call out your name. I punch the steering wheel and scream at the heavens. Why??? It's his birthday!!! I realize that I'm really, really missing you, my best friend. I think about how during yoga, the teacher had played the same song that she had a couple weeks before. I'd come home and you'd asked me how class was. "Good. But she played the world's worst song for yoga," I'd answered. A quiz! You lit up, and started guessing. "Krishna Das?" You joked. Knowing I liked him, you always referred to him as drunk Eddie Veder.' "Wagon-wheel!?" Getting warmer. I couldn't wait, "FREE-FALLING!" "Noooooooooooooo," you replied. We laughed. Who would I tell these stories to now? Who would I tell that this time, not only had she played it again, but it had been a cover, sung by a woman, which obviously topped the badness-chart in comparison to the original.
I wiped my eyes and drove home. I cried the whole way, the most crying I'd done in a few days. Helpless, woeful, and really sad. Keeping my eyes wiped only to look for other drivers on the road and mostly, a fox. I was exhausted, but knew I had to pull it together. I was going out with thirty of your friends for sushi, your all-time favorite meal, to celebrate your birthday. Without you. I sure hope they serve sushi in heaven.
Dinner was touching. I quietly wondered what the turnout would have been if you were still alive. Uni was ordered in your honor. Quail-egg shots were slurped. Boat after boat of sushi arrived. I ordered some of your favorites, even though they weren't mine, like saba and tobiko. I thought of you as every piece of roe exploded and gushed in my mouth. A cheers was made, "To Ted's life! Kampai" Glasses were clinked, smiles all around.
I couldn't do it. I excused myself to the bathroom. I wasn't ready for their smiles, I want your smile. The girls knocked at the door. The girls who just a few weeks ago were the girlfriends of your friends who I was just getting to know, but now are my roots and my lifeline and so incredibly important to me. They hugged me, understanding. No words needed.
On the drive home I was so tired. Luckily, I've been able to sleep a lot throughout this nightmare, completely exhausted. I keep telling myself that it's you helping me get through the nights. I am not certain, because there's no way to prove it, which drives me nuts. But I try to have faith that your soul is snuggling up with me every night, guiding me to sleep, and holding me in your wings as I dream peacefully and wake up with no memory of what I've dreamt. Strange, because I used to always remember my dreams. So, I curl up in the back of the car as Kevin drives and my dad sits shotgun – they talk about music and I drift off to sleep like a baby in a carseat, rocked by the rhythm of the road.
Suddenly, Kevin yells, "SAMI! Wake up!" I shoot up, we're nearing our driveway, angling around the last turn on our road. Off to the right of the road, where I instinctively looked, stands a small red fox. We make eye contact, then he disappears into the darkness.