Today, my heart is broken. Some people that touch your life just become part of your journey. Diontae and I met in the summer of 2015. He had transferred to Olive Branch as an Assistant Manager and I was a part-time head cashier. We were the new kids, so we closed together a lot. When you spend as much time with people as we did, you make connections.
Diontae became my work husband. We kidded about this all of the time, but we had each others backs. You all know the person. The one that you go to complain to so you don’t take the stress of the job home to your family. The person who just GETS the struggles of the day to day grind of your store. You learn each other’s kids names, talk about your families, dish about the newest gossip.
I thank the stars for him at that time in my life.
I left that store in April of 2017 for personal reasons. At the time, he was my direct supervisor. The first person I called when I walked out of my store was him, my work husband. He understood why I did what I did. Yet I felt horrible, because I was losing an important person in my life.
I came back to the same company in May of this year, just at a different store. The first time I called him for some information for a customer at my current store, he told me that my old position was open and that he wanted me back. Every time I spoke to him, he’d say the same thing.
Today my heart is broken.
My first work husband is dead. He left behind a daughter and a family that loved him deeply. He also left behind a work family that loved him wholeheartedly.
Today, the world is a little less bright without Diontae in it.
I’m not usually one to do stuff like this. I’m the creeper lurking in the corner wanting to make friends but never approaching anyone.
But I have a story, and I need to let it out.
I was your typical Midwest teen in 2006. I was 15, went to the movies with friends, spent all the time I could in the band room or wandering around the pastures surrounding our house. Life was pretty good. Then came that fateful day in February.
My half-brother got arrested for murder. My dad and I always knew he’d end up in an institution somewhere. He wasn’t raised in a good home like me and he had a hard life; we thought he’d get some time for burglary or car theft.
But never this.
After he was arrested, all these issues from the few years when he lived with us surfaced again, all the abuse he put me through before mom came home from work. My school never did Sex Ed, I didn’t know. For years they were buried…he hadn’t lived with us for awhile, but when he was arrested, the memories came back.
But I never told anyone, until now.
I failed my first class ever that year. I just didn’t see the point in doing any work when spring came around and my brother was in court and here I am in school while the people around me are complaining about how the school food sucks or how some teacher took their cells. On the outside I was the same as always, but inside I didn’t know who I was anymore.
I made it through the year, when my mom yelled at me about my D grade, I thought about ending it that night. Just swallowing a bottle of pills, but I was able to get online and talk over all the stresses with my internet. Life was stabilizing again.
Then came the day I can never forget, and I still have trouble talking about.
June 11th 2006, 8 o’clock on a Saturday morning, I got a phone call from my best friend.
She told me that 3 students from our school and our Spanish teacher were lost in the ocean while swimming on a school trip to Costa Rica. The body of one of the students had been recovered already.
Sunday, they recovered the body of one of my closest friends. The third student was recovered Wednesday. Sr. C wasn’t recovered until Friday.
All I remember for those summer days was sitting in front of the computer refreshing news pages, hoping and praying that maybe Andrew, Jessica, and Sr. C were still alive, then it was Jessica and Sr. C, then just Sr. C. Finally it hit me. Four people I knew, went to school with, acted in plays with, sang in the choir with, played in the band with, learned from.
They lived in Kansas and they drowned in the goddamned ocean in Costa Rica.
It was 2 days before my 16th birthday and instead of going to a movie with friends or something on a Friday night I was sitting in a hot crowded auditorium with some friends and Andrew’s brother, crying, wishing it was all just a dream.
Saturday, I didn’t get out of bed. Sunday, my mother prepared all my favorite food for dinner, a beautiful cake, my sister was there, I didn’t eat anything. I got a car. I didn’t care.
Later that week, I was on a bus full of high schoolers heading down to Texas for Andrew’s funeral. Everyone thought I was okay, I acted normal for my friends. But when they played Amazing Grace at his funeral I lost it. Amazing Grace? What’s so amazing about a 17 year old losing his life?
The freshest memory of Andrew is sitting with him on the floor of the band room on the last day of school listening to Good Riddance by Green Day. Any time I hear that song, even now, 4 years later, I cry.
Then I went off to college, started smoking to get away from my crappy roommates, slept any free time I had. I didn’t have a social life outside of band and my dorm room.
Next year in college, I rented a house with a friend of mine, and I started cutting again. One night, I finally left scars. The next morning, I called the schools Mental Health Services, the next day I was talking to a therapist. I told her part of the story, how my brother was a murderer and my best friend drowned in the fucking ocean. How I almost scratched my arm raw on the first day of classes because I’m so nervous in new situations. How I’m always afraid that the worst is going to happen. She didn’t try and give me coping mechanisms or advice, she just gave me pills.
The pills made me feel nothing, I went through that semester feeling like a shadow. I tried to tell her that I didn’t want the pills, she said they were the best option for me. So I stopped. They weren’t helping the depression, the anxiety, or the suicidal thoughts. I was on my own again.
During spring break, my significant other of 4 months cheated on me with another friend. She had the dignity to tell me but it didn’t really help. I started drinking, and picked up smoking again. I failed all my classes.
But I am stronger now. I switched schools and I’m back to living with my parents. I don’t really see my friends much anymore, but I’m becoming who I need to be. I’m trying to learn to cope with my feelings in a good way instead of just bottling them up inside.
I’m 20 now, an age Andrew will never reach. I haven’t seen my brother in 4 years. I can’t trust anyone farther than I can throw them (read: at all) but I am becoming me. I’m changing the path of my life, some days are bad, some days are good, and some days I wish I could crawl under a rock. I just have to keep telling myself that everyday is worth it, that I am worth it, and that in the end I will be me.
And maybe in years to come when I look back at the last four years of my life I can smile and remember good things that happened instead of seeing this crater left by that summer.
I want to kick the dog. I want to scream at the baby. I want to pull out my hair and punch holes in the walls. I want to ram my car into something, anything. I want to choke the birds who are singing and tell the Universe to fuck off because how dare it be a sunny and beautiful day today. How dare the world keep spinning now that two little boys are to grow up without a mother. I have this untapped chasm of rage I didn’t know I could possibly feel.
I guess I met Stef when I was thirteen or so, which would have made her twelve, but really, I felt like I’d known her forever. She was one of those people that the moment we met, it’s like we bonded instantly on some molecular level; like we were made of the very same stuff at the core. It’s rare that it happens, two people who simply know each other like that, two magnets pulling toward each other, instantly attached, but when it does, you can’t forget it.
And I didn’t.
Everyone loved Stef. She had this shine about her, something rare in a teenager, that made you want to be near her; like if you stood close enough, some of that sparkle, that inherent goodness that radiated from her would rub off on you, and for awhile you would be better for knowing her.
I am better for knowing her.
Stef was one of the first people I knew that loved me for who I was, warts and all, and even now, seventeen years later, I think she may be one of the only people who genuinely will ever love me. Maybe it’s because she understood me in a way that most people don’t. Maybe it’s because she was my first real friend. Maybe it’s because that was her gift; her shine. I don’t know.
She walked tall, confident in her shoes, while the rest of us awkward teenagers struggled to figure out who we were, Stef always knew who she was. I learned that from her.
When my boyfriend slept with my friend, she was the only one who chewed him a new asshole. In a world where I had never had a soul on my side before, Stef was always firmly there, Team Becky all the way. She would have cut a bitch for me, no questions asked, because she was my friend and she loved me. Maybe other people had families that would do that for them, but I never had that. It had always been me against the world. I learned how to be a friend from Stef, too.
She was there when I’d gotten pregnant with my first son, holding my hand when his father, too, cheated on me. Again, she was the only one who stood up for me. I never told her how much that meant to me.
Shortly after my son was born, she got pregnant, too. Excited, we planned for this baby, a boy. When her son was born, the sparkle she’d had went out and was replaced by a sadness I couldn’t touch. Always a party girl, she took it to new levels, trying to drink away her pain.
No one knew what to do.
We tried to reach her, but nothing seemed to get through. She tried rehab, three times. She was hospitalized. Tried medication. In the end, she kept returning to the bottle, drowning her sorrows in a fifth of vodka. The only friends she had left were the late-night sort, the ones who didn’t care about the Stef I loved so dearly, the ones who didn’t know my friend as she had been.
She left me a message at the end of December from a pay phone, having no phone of her own, just out rehab again. Stef sounded good, optimistic, even, offering to get together for some coffee and a playdate with her two boys and mine, sometime in the near future.
That message came too late.
I got that message two days after I buried my first real friend. One of the only people who may ever really love me.
February 10, 2008, I got a call from Stef’s mom, telling me that Stef had died the night before, in her sleep. Liver failure, cirrhosis.
Stef was 26 years old and left behind two young sons.
I’ve never been able to write about her, although I’ve tried hundreds of times. I’ve deleted thousands of words because they were simply not enough. There are no words eloquent enough, true enough, real enough to express the kind of person she was. And getting her wrong is not an option.
I loved her. I love her.
I miss her so much that my heart hurts some days. I’ll probably always feel like there’s a part of myself missing now that she’s gone. That magnet, the part of me that was connected to her, that’s still looking for that other half and it’s gone forever. I’m lucky to have found someone like that in the first place.
Sometimes, in pictures captured when I am truly happy, I can see a certain expression on my own face that is pure Stef, and it makes me smile and laugh a little, because it reminds me of the e.e. cummings poem: i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)
This site is dedicated to you, Steffie. When we meet again, and I know we will, I can’t wait to tell you all the things I never told you when I should have. For knowing you, I am better.
May your shine always be warm, like Stef; like the evening sun.
we met 4 years ago on a grief site, called “beyond indigo.” there were about 5 or 6 of us who all came on at the same time, and we were a nice, tight little group. (these internet sites can be great…in the middle of the night, when you feel awful, someone may be on. even if no one is on, someone has written about feeling as awful as you…helpful. very.)
she is very spiritual. she follows the sufi path. she told us all in a post about an “ancestor ” shrine, so i made one for tom. and while it is mostly dismantled now it helped me. it was such a wonderful idea and i learned and grew from it.
anna’s loves name was ishaaq, and he led groups, and loved life, and was gorgeous. they played and sang together at their meetings (i am probably getting terminology wrong here, but it does not matter) he, and she, both seemed so wild and free to me. and that’s in a spiritual sense. there were problems. he had diabetes, and died from complications of it. she has major vision issues, which have left her disabled, and yet anna is a remarkable artist.
it just comes from within her. she is a shining spirit, to me, to many people. she dreams of ishaaq, and they are beautiful dreams. she never thought my “winks” were silly. i’m grateful to her.
here’s one of my favorite anna facts: many people in her religious tradition seem to take new names. she has a friend who posts on FB as Shaqeena Nonofyourbeeswax. (again, i may be a little off, but you get the picture). that is a cool friend. anna is cool.
i guess, in reality, we all are, but she is, in reality. she has ovarian cancer. she had an operation and chemo, she was doing well, and now it’s back. and faced with a decision of more chemo and shitty quality of life, she chose hospice and pain management and, quite possibly, another lovely year…another walk around the sun.
(i now wish something that anna taught me to people for their birthdays….”a wonderful walk around the sun”)
you really can just be friends online these days. we’ve never met, but we have a connection. we do talk on the phone, and i’m always glad when she calls. it breaks my heart that she has to go through this. it makes me so happy that she has the friends that she does who do, and will continue to, support her. i think that her spiritual tradition is amazing about death, about crossing over and about soul-mates and eternal life. when she called me to tell me she said “i’m going to be the first to see my soulmate”…i knew what she was saying. in that instant i felt happiness for her.
i know anna is facing some rough times. i know she will get help from hospice and her friends, family and religious family. when she makes her transition she will be “handed off” into the arms of her beloved ishaaq. and her friends will be sad that she’s gone, that her gentle, creative and loving spirit has left this world.
i will be too. i’m her cyber-friend.
one day we’ll meet, on another plane. maybe she’ll be there wearing one of her incredible dancing outfits and she’ll sing me into another world with her sweet voice. maybe she and ishaaq will be there and they’ll bring tom to me, having befriended him on the other side.
i wish anna peace and strength and love.
i know she’ll have all of those things as she moves through her life.
When I moved back from Indiana to my hometown, I was starting my sophomore year in high school. It wasn’t so scary because I knew a lot of people and had kept in touch with a few friends. I was welcomed back like I had never left. I just kind of folded back in.
One of the new friends that I made was Steve, who one of my friends tried to set me up with. Steve was funny and short with a big smile and even bigger feet. He dated my friend Jackie for awhile until, for some 14-year-old reason, they broke up. Steve asked me out and after okaying it with my friend, we started dating. We dated through Valentine’s Day, had our first kiss at a school basketball game, we had our share of inside jokes, and talked on the phone every night. We were inseparable.
After we broke up, we stayed best friends. He knew everything about me, we shared a locker, we still talked every day, joked and laughed and hung out at the park. He was still my best friend.
Steve called me 14 years ago this morning and told me he was going fishing with some buddies. I told him to have some fun and asked him to call back later as I went about my day. He didn’t call me and I didn’t call him – I figured I’d always have tomorrow.
Early the next morning I got a phone call from another friend. She asked me if I had read the paper or watched the news. For some reason, I said yes even though I hadn’t. I was 15 why would I want to read the paper or watch the news?
She told me that one of the two boys that had drowned the night before was Steve….
They still couldn’t find his body…
I don’t remember hanging up, I don’t remember saying anything. That day is a blur. I remember crying so loudly that my aunt called my mom home from work, I remember leaving with some friends and driving around making up crazy scenarios about where he really was and how he was actually okay. It helped us get through the next few days.
We all knew he wasn’t coming back.
Three days later, Mighty Mississippi coughed him up twenty miles from where he went under. I don’t know why, but knowing he was out of the water made me feel better. Now I had closure.
In the days before his funeral, a bunch of us hung out at his mom’s house, sharing stories and talking about him. His visitation was the hardest one I have ever been to. I watched all my big strong guy friends break down in tears, some of them fell to their knees at the casket, which we had loaded with all sorts of goodies for him to have in Heaven.
I remember the sitting room had this mirror – it was called an infinity mirror or something like that – and every time I looked in it, I felt better because I felt like I could see right into Heaven. I really wished I had one at my house.
The funeral was harder than the visitation, his family played his favorite song – the song we’d called “ours.” I talked about him, which I am so glad I did. Then we had to say goodbye.
I have been to the cemetery a few times in the last 14 years, but I have never been strong enough to go to the place where he was when he drowned. I still talk to him a lot. I think about him all the time. Over the years I have lost touch with his family but would want them to know that they are in my thoughts every day. I loved him and still do.
Some times I will dig out my folder that has all things Steve in it and I will cry, and laugh, and remember. I am still scared of the river; I try to avoid it especially in certain places. I have a hard time going over the bridges but every time seems a little bit easier.
I decided the best way to end my post about Steve would be to end it with a poem I wrote for him. It won first place in a local poetry contest. That was a great way to honor him.