Yesterday, for the first time in 20 years or so, I didn’t make a phone call. I didn’t call someone who’s birthday fell on Jan. 18 – though I usually got that wrong, as another one of my best friends, Trey, has a birthday on Jan. 16, so I always got them mixed up. I usually had to call Renae, my life organizer and Best Good Friend, to get it straightened out.
But yesterday I remembered clearly.
I didn’t sit around and mourn, mostly because my life allows for so few opportunities for a social life, I took it up on one and spent the day with girlfriends watching football games at a sports bar. I honestly think Erin would have preferred that – not to discount those who mourned him yesterday. He would have expected that too!
But regardless of the fact, he was there, in my mind, his birthday kind of like that song you don’t want to hear that’s playing over and again in your head.
Erin would have been 42 yesterday. My Erin. One of the most special people that ever walked the earth, who didn’t walk it nearly long enough, was born on January 18. He had legendary parties for his birthday – or I think they were for his birthday. We had a lot of parties. Perhaps some were for special occasions. Most, it seemed, were for us to just be around each other. Looking back, I think Erin knew he had to jam as much fun as possible into his life, because maybe he kinda knew – like my mom did – that his days were numbered.
On Friday of last week, on two separate occasions, I made comments about “my last meal,” kind of offhand comments about food I like. I thought, “I wonder what Erin would have wanted his last meal to be.” Probably a “fish-o-filet, heavy on the tar-tar” from McDonald’s. Or really, anything from McD’s. He’d want his grandma’s chicken and dumplings. He’d want beans and cornbread, Indian tacos, chicken casserole – something like that.
Because try as you might, you could not change Erin. You couldn’t get him to stop eating McD’s. Ever. It was his favorite post-bar treat. It was his favorite breakfast. For someone who took pride in his appearance and worked to make sure he wasn’t gaining weight, he sure liked to wolf down the McDonald’s.
Again, I think it’s because he knew. Live it up, he told himself. He wasn’t a teetotaler. In fact, his partying ways had a direct hand in his untimely death.
But I’m not sure, looking back, if Erin would have wanted it otherwise. He certainly didn’t try to change, even when he knew he was sick.
That’s not why I started writing today – I’ve spent the last several months since Erin died in this weird place where I forget every now and then that he’s gone. I think that’s a product of working where I do, the place that occupies my mind most of the time. It’s when I’m alone at night, when the dog is sleeping and the cats are satisfied, when the email is tended to and the laundry is put away, when I’ve forced food down my throat (eating has become a chore lately, but that’s a blog for another time) and I’m in the twilight of my evening, when Erin comes to me in my memory. It’s usually something funny. I have adopted so many of Erin’s phrases that I don’t even think about them being his sometimes. I think of something funny that happened at work and how I’d like to tell Erin.
Now, grief is no new thing for me, which I think has made Erin’s death different for me. You see, losing a parent kind of sets you up for anything. You can’t imagine anything hurting like that – until it does. But it’s a different hurt. It’s familiar, so you can deal with it better, but it’s a hurt tied to memories of a different kind — not the same as a memory with a parent. Erin is in most of my fun memories — memories of driving back from Tulsa on New Year’s Eve and stopping by Denny’s in Muskogee on our way home – I went to the bathroom, and when I came out, Erin was sitting on the bench with a black family, hooting and hollering, the whole family laughing. He was trashed, but they just thought he was funny. Memories of long road trips and his helping me pick out a house to buy. (We drove all over Tulsa with a Bob Dylan mix of mine playing. Toward the end of the day, he looked at me and said, “I don’t think I can take anymore Bob. I’m sorry.”)
So, so many memories. And I’m grateful for them. I wish he was around to make more – God, I wish that more than anything. I hope he knows that. But I’m so honored to have the memories I do. Erin, this person I couldn’t do justice with an explanation if I tried – he loved me. I loved him. We were true friends – he and Renae, Kathalene and I – his Tahlequah sisters. He had a million jokes for each of us, had a million nicknames. We were his girls. NOT his HAGS, for God’s sake, because Erin wasn’t that kind of gay guy. He was just a guy who happened to be gay, and he was the first gay person I knew well EVER. Because I loved him, and because of my wild, different, perfect group of friends, I was fortunate enough to get to know gay people as PEOPLE first. That’s why I have a hard time understanding why anyone would have a problem with gay people, or any people for that matter. Erin got mad at comments that he “chose” being gay. It had driven a wedge between he and his father — “Why would I choose that? Why would anyone?” he’d say. Erin taught me that we’re all in this together. We just have different soundtracks.
And on that note, Erin’s actual music soundtrack was way different than any other gay guy (or straight guy) I knew. He loved the Grateful Dead, James Taylor, Loretta Lynn, String Cheese Incident… so many more. He knew all the old gospel songs and often imitated his beloved grandmother’s hand clapping when he sang them. Oh, and he sang beautifully – really – and shared it with anyone who asked.
I loved Erin. I will always love Erin. He and I had a few bumps along the way – common for roommates who lived together for so long – but I haven’t thought of any of those days since Erin died. Another thing I’ve learned about grief is that it allows you to see the absolute best in people – and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I want to remember Erin for that laugh, the simplicity with which he lived his life, his style, his jokes, his homemade noodles…
Side story, Erin and my mom had this special relationship. I’m not sure why, but my mom adored him. When they met, they had a long conversation about the importance of cleaning the top of the Dawn dish liquid bottle. And from then on, Mom always asked about him and they sometimes just talked on the phone when she’d call me at the house. I hope they are telling jokes together with his grandma and my Nana in the Great Beyond. I hope he’s wearing an oversized flannel coat, a beautifully laundered and delicious-smelling T-shirt (the boy had some sort of magical powers with Downy) and comfy jeans. And Minnetonkas.
I hope he never, ever stops laughing.
I love you Erin. Happy birthday. You’re in my heart forever.