Five years feels like some sort of milestone in grief time. Five years is halfway to ten years, and maybe at a decade you feel like you’ve officially moved on. A decade, after all is a different measurement of time entirely. You’ve kept living and healed while the person you loved just stopped. The pain becomes less about their absence, because you have grown accustomed to it. The pain becomes more of an occasional dull ache where your friend was. You wonder what their life would be like now had they chosen to continue living it. What would they have accomplished? Who would they have grown into? I think about Talya whenever I’m back home in North Carolina. In the delicious humidity, listening to the cicadas sing, out with friends in the places we loved, I wonder what that precious time would be like if she was there? What quirky, weird jokes would she make? How would she have brought extra love and light to our time together? Lucky for us, the years have cycled through to where she is able to bring such joy to that time together, even in her absence.
I loved Talya’s voice. In the days after her death, we all talked about her singing, and huddled together around the few recordings of her singing we were lucky enough to find. I loved her weird ass humor. Case in point: The time I convinced everyone that we simply had to watch the awful disaster movie 2012, with John Cusack. Amidst the ridiculous CGI wrought explosions, and cities breaking apart for no other apparent reason than it being well, 2012; extras for the film, useless to the plot aside from suffering indignant deaths onscreen ran around like chickens with their heads cut off. I drunkenly pondered aloud: “What would you even do in this situation if it somehow happened in real life?” Without missing a beat, Talya replied “I’d run around yelling ‘help help! I don’t want to die a virgin!’ and just see what happened”. The room burst into bellyaching laughter.
I loved the way she would try to translate the nonsense phrases I got stuck into my head into German and say them back to me. Like the time we got fixated on the phrase “Honey I shrunk the Führer”. Where the fuck did that even come from? Were we watching World War II movies and Disney movies in the same day? Talya started saying it in broken German, and I could not stop laughing. ADHD children all grown up that we were, I forgot about it shortly. In the following days, Tuesday absolutely forbade Talya from repeating it back to me, despite my insistent asking. He knew that he’d then be dealing with both of us glitching out and repeating it into forever, or at least until we got distracted.
I loved Talya’s kindness. I am not sure I ever heard her say an unkind thing about another person, a true rarity in the world. I also cannot recall anyone having anything unkind to say about her; even before she died, which is even rarer. Talya was unique and so adored by everyone around her. At the end of the day was still in so much pain, that she chose a permanent ending to that pain.
Maybe I’ve finally come to respect that choice. I hate saying that aloud.
Five years ago today I couldn’t imagine a future where Talya’s death would ever hurt less. Heather Talley and I sat in the garden outside of Rosetta’s at the wake and she asked “Where is the threshold? When do our hearts just finally break?”. I thought maybe this was it. I couldn’t envision a life where we’d all moved on to the degree that we have. All that was to be felt was a big, awful, empty now. Like trying to catch our collective breath and figure out what deal to make with the divine to get Talya back from beyond the veil, or stumbling home drunk and sobbing up Lexington Avenue was just what we do from now on.
And then five years passed in a flash. Night still followed day and the world kept spinning. Life moved on, albeit a little darker. I sometimes wonder if I used Talya’s death as an excuse to continue down a path of hardening my heart, but I don’t know if I would have survived that year if I hadn’t. When we talk about Talya now, it’s with an air of fond remembrance instead of soul-crushing despair. Because goddamn, she was so, so funny, and so weird, and just so kind. It is an overused phrase, but I’ll use it anyway: There will never be another one like Talya. I’ll talk about the life she lived bravely, and the qualities she embodied until the day I die.
Maybe some day I’ll finally be done writing about her every August 9th.