Will My Sorrow Count?
I lost two friends to suicide in the same week, 32 years after I lost my dad the same way. The first was a beloved coworker who lit up any room just by buzzing through, the second was my best friend from childhood, Tracy. She was fearless, imaginative, accepting, and showered her love on every living thing around her. But when my dad died all those years ago, I lost Tracy too, the circumstances of his death too painful for me to return to the strip of houses on Scherer Road, surrounded in front and back with open space, where she lived near Dad. Time passed and Tracy’s family moved, and I spent years wondering and worrying what happened to her. Then came Facebook. After 30 years, I got to see Tracy again. I got to hug her and tell how much I loved her–finally. When you’re 12, you just don’t say those things to your best friend.
At her memorial service earlier this week, I learned something new. Or remembered something I’d forgotten. Tracy wanted to be writer. There is not a speck of doubt in my mind that she had the passion and talent to do it, but what she didn’t have was time. From what I gathered from the outpouring of love her family and friends shared with those of us who mourned her loss, she spent her short time here making sure her kids and grandkids knew how much she loved them. When her big brother spoke, the first thing he mentioned was where Tracy grew up. Where Tracy and I grew up together. Longview Farm, an abandoned turn-of-the-century horse racing track, complete with barn, stables, mansion, workmen’s quarters, and that ritzy hotel that is now underwater, a place where we could disappear and let our imaginations entertain us until our empty bellies finally drove us home. I learned that her love of exploration never left her, as it has never left me. It’s a gift our shared childhoods gave us both.
I tried to write this blog post a week ago, a couple days after she died. I’ve had bouts of depression throughout my life and turned to God a couple years ago to make sense of that undercurrent of sadness that just never goes all the way away. A friend told me that God never wastes a sorrow, and I’ve used that belief to make sense of so many things that I never understood before, but the sorrow I felt at my own father’s passing? I wished it had somehow saved my friends. I wanted tally marks for the number of lives that had directly benefited. It didn’t work that way, but I know God’s using my sorrow, and that of all those who loved my friends, in other ways. It’s impossible for me to accept that anything other than beauty will rise from these losses.
So this blog, instead of focusing on the sadness, is now about memories. I’m sharing something that I one day wanted to share with Tracy in book form. It’s a section of the first novel I ever wrote, one that in many ways, celebrated my childhood with Tracy and her brothers and sisters. Turns out she made her dream of becoming a writer come true long before me…the photo above is her, as I remember her, spilling her love onto everything else before herself. She’s posing for her first published piece in The Kansas City Star, written when she was 10.
The excerpt below, from my unpublished novel, takes place at Longview Farm, that wonderland where Tracy and I felt no limits, a place we never dreamed time would touch. Maybe one day it’ll be a book after all, because my memories belong to Tracy too.
Out of the barn. Into the chill. Surrounded by towering oaks that warned us with their howling to turn back. Turn back now…
I’d followed Tracy like a slasher movie bimbo investigating a noise in the basement.
I smelled winter. A week after spring had come and it suddenly smelled like winter. Maybe it was the closed-up must in the barn, but down here in this little valley of existence that thrived a century ago, all the pushing and prodding of new growth was nonexistent. So many people had forgotten this place, and spring was ignoring it too.
Tracy rounded the corner of the barn and ducked under a splintered gate. The wind swirled her hair. I ran in a crouch behind her. She gestured to the old hotel and pressed her finger over her lips.
Like I could speak even if I wanted to.
“It’s in there,” she whispered through the wind.
She hunkered down, gave me a thumbs up and made a mad dash for a fallen tree at the end of the brick drive. She motioned me over. Who were we? Batman and Robin on the chase? I lunged for the nearest fence post and stalled. My heart was a time bomb.
I craned my neck to look up at that ancient two-story inn. It was a perfect habitat for cultured ghosts with sophisticated means of torment. Wrought-iron railings flecked with splinters of paint framed the balconies. Streaks of rust bled down the walls from flowerpots bracketed to chipped stucco. And a garden patio off to the side where Tracy was hiding behind that dead—
Where’d she go?
My trachea went postal. I gasped. The wind slapped my hair around.
I scanned the front of the hotel. Holy crap! She was right up there on the freaking porch. Ducked under a window. Getting all cozy with Casper.
Tattered screens flailed. Curtain remnants darted through broken panes. I didn’t want to be alone.
Tracy. Yes, Tracy. She’d rescued me at school, two times. Good things come in threes. I bolted past the fallen tree doing my best TV cop sprint when I heard it—
Creepy, foreboding, church balcony organ music. A prelude to the ghost’s arrival. I didn’t wait to hear the clanking chains or the maniacal laughter.
The path of my sprint instantaneously arced away from the hotel. Away from Tracy. Away from Elmwood Farm. My arms pumped like a thoroughbred’s legs. Head for the hill, my brain commanded. I ran past the cows and never once looked back.
I could only hope Tracy made it out of there. Hard to tell when you’re running like the very flames of hell are reaching out to char your legs into crusty chunks of human jerky.
I leaned panting against the fence we’d first climbed. The old wood creaked under my weight.
My house. My humble sky blue house with wind chimes and rainbow whirligigs. Home sweet home.
Rest in peace, friends. And dear Tracy, learning that you spent your final years as a hospice nurse doesn’t surprise me a bit. Always taking care of others. But you’re home now, and you can finally relax in the arms of God. Thank you for the years we shared.
If you are thinking of hurting or killing yourself PLEASE call 1-800-SUICIDE.