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.
It’s that time of year again, where I write about you, or write to you. Four years ago tonight you texted me, late at night. I didn’t answer until the next day. By then it was too late. I hope you at least read the reply before you went.
I still have two bottles of mead that Roth and I brewed with the last of your honey. We brewed them in that awful haunted apartment on Grail Street that you and Adrien helped me move into. I’ll never forget the look on your face when we walked through the front door the first day and saw the acid-nightmare graffiti that the hippies who lived there before me left scrawled all over the walls.
“We need to paint all over this shit before it comes to life at night and eats you.”
We all laughed. It was funny in that “Maybe it can’t get any worse than this” way. There were a few months in that apartment that were alright. I liked living alone there. Some days I hid too much. Some nights I was really good at keeping myself occupied.
It was sweet when Molly moved in too. You only came over once more because the place was so creepy. I always look at that summer now in that like they were the last few good months we had before you died. You know how it is, when you end up dividing time in that before and after a person died way. Everything before they died just looks pristine and feels light, even if that wasn’t actually the case.
I felt haunted by the spectre of your death and it’s aftershocks for a full year. It manifested it self physically and I had to leave North Carolina. When I left North Carolina, the mead continued to ferment with Roth in the home they took me into when I got too sick to stay at Grail Street. I came back a year later and we bottled and labeled it. Then we spent the night we creeping around town like nocturnal fairies in the late night heat, delivering the bottles to your friends and loved ones. I think you would have appreciated the design. There was a lot of glitter.
I still have mine. I haven’t drank them yet. Whatever broke in my heart and brain in the aftermath of your passing still won’t allow me to drink alcohol, despite the fact that I maybe stayed drunk for an almost heroic three days straight in the immediate aftermath of your passing. Now I just can’t do it. I’ll start to feel sick and dump the rest of my bottle out. Even last summer, I tried to drink a bottle of hard cider on the banks of the French Broad with Ed. One of my favorite places, with a person I cherish. I took two sips and felt nauseous. I dumped the rest of the bottle into the the rushing water, thinking of it as an offering, and feeling comfort in the thought of all rivers leading to the Ocean.
Or worse, when the alcohol hits my bloodstream and I start to feel that sinking terror that I felt in the aftermath of your passing. You know that gnawing, deep dark existential terror we all feel at some point. We stare into nothing and worry that maybe just maybe, we live our lives for nothing, suffer, and then go into oblivion at the end. There is nothing else. No rhyme or reason, just chaos, violence, and darkness. That feeling happened a lot after you died.
The winter after you died Adrien and I had an end of the world party for ourselves on December 21st, 2012. You know, the night all these annoying ass new age crackers were telling us that the Mayans said the world was gonna end, or change, or whatever. It seemed like nobody could really decide which. I wasn’t sure if I cared. I just knew I was in pain a lot of the time and I hated everything.
We sat in my room on Grail Street. I was cleaning. Cobwebs lined the corners of my room. I didn’t knock them down. I thought of spiders as company. I put things that had belonged to the boyfriend in boxes to throw out. You had lived with him when you passed away. We broke up shortly after your death. It wasn’t sad. I was just ready for something else, and clawing to get away from him.
After that, then I read the runes. I can’t remember what they said. I only remember that it was no comfort. It thought back to a few months before you died in the summer. The day was too hot. You were crying alone in your room. I had never heard anyone be in such pain. I asked the boyfriend if he thought we should go comfort you.
“She’s fine. She just does this sometimes. I’ll check on her later” He said indifferently.
I had to leave because it was too agonizing to hear you hurting so much. I will probably regret not saying anything, or at least offering to bring you snacks, water, just fucking anything for the rest of my life. I thought about that day, and told Adrien I’d be right back. I took the boyfriend’s stuff out to the curb and threw it unceremoniously into the garbage.
Adrien sat in my bed drinking beers. As if he could tell what I was thinking, he mentioned you. Of course. It had only been maybe four months at that point. We talked about you a lot. All of us did. I’d like to think that you could somehow see how utterly beloved you were. I mean, seriously.. People were literally painting the town with your name. I also think you might have been embarrassed. I don’t know. Adrien was so sweet and assured me that they didn’t believe in oblivion, and that you were finally safe.
I just didn’t know. I just didn’t know anything except I missed you and you were gone. The nagging feeling that you had gone into oblivion just wouldn’t subside.
That darkness and emptiness swirled around the apartment all winter. We saw ghosts, but they were all scary, and none of them were you. Maybe you were just so ready to leave earth. I never really blamed you. And who would wanna spend the afterlife visiting the fucking Grail Street apartments, anyway? Sometimes I worry that I spent so much time being miserable in that building that my spirit is just going to gravitate back there when my time is up. Don’t worry. I’m doing everything I can to avoid that outcome.
That last summer in Asheville, mold sick and more depressed than I had ever been, I’d think I heard voices in both my waking hours and my dreams. I never knew if I was hearing an actual malevolent force, or if I just had to personify something that took you.
I got too sick and lost too much of my mind to stay at Grail Street. I moved in with Roth. Sometimes the voices and the panic would come to me there at night. I would lie in bed and claw at a now irregularly beating heart and pray for it to just beat right again. Some nights it just wouldn’t stop raining. The terror would get to be too much and I would lace up my boots in the night and speed over to Ed’s house to hyperventilate in their bed until daylight crept through the blinds. We were both terrified that my heart would somehow stop and death would come for me as I slept.
When I did sleep, I started to sleep with a loaded gun under the bed. I kept a baseball bat in the passenger seat of my truck. I would walk through downtown like a ghost haunting myself; eyes to the ground, fists clenching and unclenching. It was time to move on. It’s not that you were Asheville, but the pall your death cast across everyone I knew became to consuming to stay.
It took two full years of you being gone and a move across the country to feel any sense of lightness about you. Rachel, C-80 and I climbed a mountain on the anniversary of the day you left. We got to the peak late in the afternoon. You cold see for miles around. I whispered hello to you, and I told you how much I had loved you.
And that it was nice to see you again.
Maybe it took going to a place that was just too beautiful for words to feel like there had been anything else but pain and death for all of us.
And I hope you could see it. I really do. Because places this beautiful deserve to be shared with the people you love. And goddamn, were you ever loved. Not just by me, but by everyone who encountered you. Nobody had a bad thing to say about you. That’s a rarity in something as viciously petty and rife with shit talking as the radical queer community.
Every year, I write about you or I write to you. I post the same haunting photo of you. This year won’t be any different. I’m not ready to drink your mead yet. Maybe I’ll give it another six years. In 2022, it will have been ten years since you left. You’d be turning 38. I’ll be 41. If you were alive today, you’d be turning 32 this year. I still don’t resent you for choosing to go. I say it every year. Your death and it’s aftermath devastated me in a way that was almost awe inspiring. It broke me down and left me in pieces in a moldy room.
It broke everyone.
The only choice as to forge ahead through the ruins and reconstruct ourselves into newer and better people. We’ve all got to do that work for the rest of our lives. I know my works in that realm are far from complete. If anything was to be gained at all in the aftermath of your death at all, it’s to be inspired by the level of kindness, deep love, and humor you brought to your friends.
I hope to one day be able to bring even a fraction of the kindness and light to those I love that you showed everyone around you.
It hurts to become. It hurts to outgrow. It hurts to grow back.