Someone I used to love died on Monday. I found out on Tuesday. The obituary was published on Thursday. Today, Saturday, his family and friends will mourn his loss and celebrate his life with a memorial service.
Funny how time works. It had been 6 or 7 years since I had spoken to Nash. Five years since I had seen him. Maybe 3 years since I had gotten a reliable update on his life.
But if you truly loved someone, they never really leave you. Of course, I am happily married and expecting my first baby. I had not missed Nash in many years. Nash was not a common thought in my mind. But he was a regular thought. Always a good thought.
Relationships end. All of them, actually. Some of them end with death. Some of them disintegrate slowly until they hold no really meaning anymore. Some of them crash and burn with the fire of a thousand suns. Ours sort of did a little of both of those last two, and then the embers burned for a while while we both tried to learn how to live without each other.
We were young. I was 16 when we started (he was 19), and I was 18 when it ended (he was 21). But it was real. At one time, he meant everything to me. And even though our relationship didn’t last, and even though we were unable to remain friends, I always held him in the highest respect. Nash had an immensely profound impact on my life. Not too many people knew me both before and after Nash – not well, anyways. But he changed me. Made me into who I am today. Taught me so much about myself during such a vulnerable time as a young woman.
The bad times toward the end never mattered to me in the long run. What always mattered is the good times. I have fabulous memories of my time with him. And great stories. I would defend him to anyone. Go ahead, try me. Real love marks people. You get to choose whether it is for the better or for the worse. I chose the better.
When I found out he had died, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I was on the phone with my husband, and he received a text through the VMI grapevine. “Are you sitting down, Charlotte?” he asked. I felt like I was standing on a beach, facing shore, and an unexpected wave hit me from behind and knocked me into the sand. Every single memory bubbled up to the surface all at once. Except in a second, they went from making me smile quietly to myself, to choking me with grief.
This was an uncomfortable moment for me. I had no idea how I was supposed to react on the phone with my husband, having found out my ex passed away. So I got off the phone to try to compose myself. I was on my lunch break at work, so I called my mom. “Mom, I just found out Nash died.” That was all I could get out before I burst into tears.
Brian texted me throughout the day asking me how I was doing. Everything was ok, I said. Then, when he picked me up from work (one of the cars was out of service on Tuesday), I just lost it in the car.
I had never thought about what it would feel like if Nash died. But I can tell you, if I had, I wouldn’t have expected this much grief. It is odd. I hadn’t known or seen him in 5 years. I hadn’t spoken to his family in several years. I had no plans to reconnect with him in the future. And we essentially shared no mutual connections anymore. But when I used to think of him, I always thought to myself, “I hope he is happy, now.” And the hope that he was made me smile. But now, when his face pops into my head, it makes me overwhelmingly sad. Sad that he left the world long before his time. Sad for his family. Sad for his friends.
The grief came from a lot of places, which I do not need to discuss here. And it was not melodramatic. In fact, a part of me feels that I don’t deserve to be so sad, since I hadn’t known him in such a long time. But I am trying to make peace with my grief. To realize that it doesn’t have to be rational. And I am trying to remember, death brings people together, humbles people, swaddles them in bereavement and memory. A lot of my grief is coming from my love for his family. For his mother and sister. All of whom were so important to me. They were my family, too. For those couple years. And I think about them often. My heart reaches out to them now. I simply cannot imagine what they must be feeling.
Tuesday night I went to sleep after a lovely dinner (that I didn’t have to cook because Brian thought I might not feel like cooking…smart man) with my wonderful husband. I had a dream about Nash. I was me, as I am now. Married to Brian, pregnant. For some reason Nash came and picked me up to hang out with a bunch of the old crew. We went to the river (the James River in Richmond) and everyone was there. I can’t remember much of the middle of the dream, but it was odd because Brian was supposed to be joining us at the river after he got off work. In my dream, Nash didn’t speak to me. We just spent time together with the old group of friends, climbing rocks and hanging out with friends. Right before I woke up, he turned to me and just looked at me for a little while. Brian had not arrived yet. He looked down at my belly and he put his hand on it and just looked at me. He didn’t have to say anything. And I looked at him and said, “I am happy now, Nash.” And he smiled and nodded. I woke up at 3 am, and had to leave my bedroom so I didn’t wake Brian up. I could not stop crying.
If I believed in things like that, I might’ve thought it was a message from beyond the grave. A moment of closure. If I believed in that sort of thing.
So in his memory, let me sing his praises. As I knew him 7 years ago, which is all I can do. This is how I have always and will always remember him. I don’t know who he has been for the last 7 years, but this is who he is to me:
Nash was a wonderful man. He was a loyal friend. He was a loving brother and son. He was fun. He knew how to be silly. He knew how to look at you like no one else in the whole world mattered. He was a great listener. He was fascinated by people and the world around him. He had a thirst to experience that world. And in a lot of ways he did. He liked to dance. He became a vegetarian for a hot minute, because I was a vegetarian. Once, he and Troy killed a possum, defending Hannah’s and my honor (or, rather, Sammy’s- the family dog’s – honor). He took care of people. He helped his friends when they were down. He was romantic. He had a great smile and a great laugh when you really got him going. He was a great gift-giver. Family was everything to him. Commitment was very important to him. He loved to cook. He loved to eat. He knew how to slow down and appreciate what was in front of him, even for a moment. That was such a gift – it was one of the things he taught me.
Life isn’t black and white. Things happen, and you can’t explain them, and you can’t understand how you feel about them. This was one of the most difficult and confusing times of my life so far. I am not very good at expressing my emotions, and I am not very good at sorting them out when they run high.
But I have had 5 days to think about how I feel and this is what I have come to. I am profoundly sad. For his family and friends, and for him. My chest physically hurts just thinking about it. I have cried more in the last week than I have in a very long time. But, in remembering him as he was, I am so grateful. I am filled with gratitude that I got to be a part of his life, even for such a short time. I am grateful for what he taught me – good and bad. I am so grateful for my time with him and his family, because it propelled me forward into the life I live now, which is happy and full and perfect. I love who I am, because of Nash. And that would be hard to explain unless you had known me for a very long time. He deserved to live a long and full and wonderful life. And, since it was cut short, I can only hope he got some of that full and wonderful in there.
To his friends and family, I cannot imagine your grief. My sincerest most heartfelt condolences go out to you, today – and every day, as you celebrate his life. I wish I could be there, today. I am there in spirit.
And to Nash, thank you.
When you truly love someone, its kind of like fire. It burns brightly and impressively in the beginning. As the flames become less showy, the fire actually burns hotter. If you tend to it, stoke it, feed it, it will burn hot for a long time. But some fires are best put out or allowed to perish on their own. When the flames go out, the ember is left to fade and die. The fire is gone. The heat is gone. But the wood is never the same. The flames leave their mark.
Rest in peace, Nash.
*goodness these photos are old. and all i have from that time. we were so young…sheesh.