August 7th is my least favorite day of the year. I dread its arrival. Even when I’m not keeping up with the days, there’s this feeling I get in the pit of my stomach letting me know that it’s almost that time. Four years isn’t very long when you’re dealing with grief. I still remember which room I fell down in when I got the call. I remember the only response I could come up with was, “Is this a joke? Do you think this is funny?” I asked her over and over before hanging up on her; I didn’t say goodbye. I couldn’t make a sound. I had to call my mom. She would know what to say. When she answered, I couldn’t even explain what had just happened to me. I sat on my end, speechless, while she said “Ashley? Is everything okay?”
I texted her immediately after hanging up with my mom. No response. She was obviously sleeping, it was late. I’ll do the same, we can laugh about this tomorrow morning.
That next morning came fast, and it came with a bang. The voicemails, the texts, Facebook alerts off the charts. Still no response from her. Her phone is dead, but man, she’s going to light these people up when she finds her charger.
It was that unhealthy state of denial that consumed me for so long, but when it finally disappeared- then came the anger. That’s an easy place to get stuck in when somebody you love passes away. I spent so long trying to make sense of it all. I was looking for an answer that wasn’t there. Naturally, I would try to convince everyone (especially myself) that I was okay, I was one of the tough ones. It wasn’t true. I couldn’t shake my own cynicism, and I didn’t want to. I wore it like armor to show myself that the world wasn’t pure anymore, because without her in it, how could it be? I couldn’t allow the world to become clear again because then that would somehow mean that it was okay that she had died. It wasn’t.
It will never be okay. I understand that now. I will never let her go, but I eventually reached a place where I gave up on the anger and hostility. I finally understand that it’s okay to let go of that. It doesn’t mean that I’m letting go of her.
One thing I’ve never really told people about was our last conversation. I remember that an acquaintance of ours had recently passed at a young age and I asked Caitlin, “doesn’t that scare the shit out of you? Not knowing when it could happen? Not being immortal?” And she turned to me and said, “Not at all. Ashley, we are so lucky we even got the chance to experience a day on this Earth. I mean, look around, what more could you want?” She was always that brilliant. She was always that optimistic. She was everything I aimed to be. Ironically, she’s the one that helped me get through this the most. It’s strange the way life works.
These anniversaries will always be hard for me. This will always be the day that my world changed forever. The day the sun seemed a little less bright. Laughter a little less sincere. Happiness a little past my reach. Death is always hard, but extra so when it touches someone before their time. Up until that day, I had spent nearly 19 joyous years never understanding why people used the phrase life isn’t fair. It seemed fair enough. I had never lost anything greater than a pet. My innocent, candy-filled mind couldn’t grasp the feeling of loss. I’d been dodging it my entire life. That was the day I went numb. Reality sunk in. There’s no more dodging these things, they are going to keep happening. Each one putting more and more strain on your sanity. How much more can you handle?
There’s no trick to this stuff. I tell this to people a lot – as well as to myself every day – you’ve got to keep going. Even when you don’t want to. You’ve got to put a fake smile on your face for the rest of the world and get out of bed every day, even when you don’t want to. Eventually, getting up becomes easier. Eventually, you feel normal again. You will never feel the same, but this is a new kind of normal. Something is still missing, but you know that everything will be okay.
In loving memory of the greatest friend I ever had. You’re with me every step of the way, CBK. Thanks for making me a better person.