I used to wonder how long mine and Emily's story would last, in all its different iterations and incarnations. From friends, to best friends, to lovers, to being engaged, to being estranged, to being strangers.
From survivors, to people looking for a fresh start, to people who alternatingly wondered why things even stopped in the first place, to people who re-learned that lesson the hard way.
From introductions in a high school auditorium, to staring out the window of a Greyhound bus 7 years later, wondering why I bothered.
It never seemed to end, just change, and I wondered aloud on many an occasion, sometimes to others, sometimes to a bartender, sometimes to the ceiling, how long this tale would be when the final chapter closed.
The answer, as it turns out, is about 13 years.
Emily died July 19, 2012.
And all the people who loved her most, through all the sundry chapters we all wove together, found out on December 13th. Very nearly five months later.
By the time we all realized what had happened, all that was left was a black and white thumbnail photo and a vague obituary on a Mobile, Alabama newspaper's archive. A vibrant girl, now just a list of accomplishments and survivors on a screen, with not a soul in the guest book but a generic church condolence.
She deserved better. In a lot of ways, in life and death. The former can no longer be helped, although god knows some of us tried. The latter I am writing to rectify, in the only way I know how, right now.
Because she deserved a eulogy from people who knew her when. One that I know she didn't get, because whatever happened that night, and in the days that followed, we weren't there. We didn't even know. So I'm doing it now. Because this one time, I want to try and give her what she deserved.
I owe her that much.
Because her life was not the sum of its parts. Because her journey, ANYONE's journey, should not be defined by the mistakes that she made. Because if you knew her like I knew her, you knew that past all the scar tissue that accumulated, and all the genuine evil laid upon her by many of those she chose to let in closest to her, past the pain and everything that came with it, there was a poet. There was an artist. There was a genuinely talented writer and a biting satirist. There was a mind like a steel trap and sense of humor sharp as any sword that she was not afraid to use in the slightest.
In her was a fire so bright that it blinded me from the moment I saw it, it warmed myself and so many of us on dark coastal nights at Hiller Park, it killed me to see it dim, and it drove me to the brink of emotional collapse and madness trying to rekindle it, after the darkest of influences all around her had taken their toll.
It was a fire that myself and others, especially Tasha (god bless ya, dear), believed in enough to try and build again until each of us simply could go on no longer. It is a bitter day when the demands of your own life and the cost of trying to help a dear friend desperately in need can no longer co-exist. But such was the faith and loyalty those of us who knew her best felt she had earned. The poet, the dancer, the writer. We...I...always had to believe that they were still in there somewhere.
And that if I had the energy to give, and she had the need, there should be no debate. Once the anger of chapters that have no place here now had died down, there are, at the core of it, few people I have fought harder for.
I had my final conversation with Emily in June. It was difficult, hard to tell if even the embers of her past self were there. But through the haze of her chatter and pained ramblings and sobbing, there were always glimpses. A glimmer of hope in a maelstrom of paranoia and fear and panic. I made a note to check on her again, and she sent me a Facebook message afterwards, an upbeat one at that.
A month later, she was gone. And time got away from me, and the usual time-lapse pattern of our communication led me to think nothing of it. Until today.
Today, when I am eulogizing one of my oldest friends, my ex-fiancee, five months after she died, isolated from anyone who could have brought that news home to any of us.
Mental illness took a girl who could write Tolkien elvish and scream along to Tool, who could write poetry and talk to fairies if ever anyone could, who was sensitive and caring to the point that she often took in too much of the world's pain, and it deprived that same world of her light, and her continued growth and evolution in to someone who could have been truly amazing. If you take nothing else from my ramblings here tonight, take this:
Mental disorders, severe depression, schizophrenia, these are not things that just "happen" to "crazy people." They are serious afflictions, impacting people who are surrounded by those who love them, and who don't know how, or don't have the resources to be able, to help them. It is a horrible thing to watch. It is a horrible thing to hold someone's hand through. It is a horrible thing to not be able to protect them from voices and demons inside their own minds. It is a horrible thing to have to sit beside someone's bed to sing to them as they sob themselves to sleep. It is a horrible way to drift away from everyone and everything you once loved. And it is a horrible way to die.
I know money is tight right now for everyone, but if you feel so moved, in Emily's memory, there are charities out there that try to help, that try to develop those resources or at least further the understanding of the enemy. I have linked a couple below, but I am always open to suggestions.
If you can give, bless you, maybe you help spare someone else this struggle. And even if you can't, thank you for indulging me, as I try to capture the good that was Emily, one last time.
May she finally enjoy the peace she deserves. http://www.afsp.org/http://www.nami.org/
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