There’s a section in the old Simon and Garfunkel song “America” that always makes me feel a twinge of melancholy: “‘Kathy, I’m lost,’ I said, though I knew she was sleeping/ ‘I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why.'”
For many years, I had a friend named Kathy. But in my song, it’s Kathy who is lost.
Saturday August 13 marked the anniversary of her death. She died eight years ago, on a hot summer day, when she was just 27 years old.
She was 18 months younger than I was. I had just turned 29 when she died. She died when her only child, a baby boy named Mason, was four months old.
Each summer, as the anniversary of her death approaches, I begin to feel a little anxious. I always think about all the “what if”s and the “she never got to”s. As I get older, the list grows longer. “She never got to watch her baby take his first steps,” I thought when Andrew began walking a few months ago. “She never got to take her son to kindergarten,” I thought to myself last Thursday, as I walked out of the school building after leaving William behind in his new classroom.
All those lost years, all those lost experiences, all that lost potential, all that lost love. I can feel the nausea rising in my throat.
So much has happened in the eight years since that terrible day when Kathy’s husband and mother agreed to turn off the life support machines. Many of her other friends got married, had babies, got new jobs, got older. Kathy’s older brother has a daughter now, a darling little baby girl named Katharine. Kathy’s husband eventually remarried and had a baby girl. I have two children. We have kept on living.
We have kept on living, even though a Kathy-shaped piece of our hearts died eight years ago.
I have mostly gotten accustomed to it, but every so often, I think about the fact that I will never get to share a memory with her ever again. And my heart seizes up for an instant. My daily life is good, very good, and then I realize that days, even weeks, have gone by and I haven’t even thought about her, and she’s still not coming back. And I feel guilty.
This past Saturday, I took my young children to a quirky local street festival in East Nashville called the Tomato Art Fest. I pushed the baby in his stroller through the crowd, and I bought a chocolate-chip popsicle for William. We wiped the sweat off our foreheads and from the back of our necks, and we drank big red cups of strawberry-watermelon lemonade, with the ice cubes mostly melted. When we’d had enough of the heat and crowds, we piled back in the car and went home. It was simple and fun, enjoying a festival with my kids–the sort of experience that gradually becomes a mild, pleasant memory the farther away we get from it.
I wish my friend had lived long enough to have more of those types of experiences. And I wish everyone who loved her–loves her–had gotten to have more of them with her.