I haven’t updated.
I’ve had things to say, ideas, but I haven’t written. In fact, I started writing this about a month ago but I didn’t know how to do it, how to say it properly or, really, what to think about this situation so . . . yeah.
A month ago, my friend Caitlin died.
Now that some time has gone by, it seems easier but yet somehow even more impossible to comprehend, if that makes any sense, which according to Microsoft Word it does not as there is an annoying green line underneath this sentence. I know, Word, I know. I don’t get it either.
So I’ve wanted to write something about her, about our friendship, but I haven’t known what to say. I still don’t without sounding too schmaltzy or like a know-it-all or awkward, all things I know Caitlin would have hated, so bear with me.
I met Caitlin during our freshman year of high school. I’m pretty sure we were in some horrific math class, sitting, of course, in the way, way back, when we discovered we shared a mutual love of two men you’d probably never see in the same room: nebbish, bespectacled, anxious Woody Allen and grungy, dirty, rude Liam Gallagher. We were 14 and this is who we were both in love with.
Looking back on things, my friendship with Caitlin was really the first time I had met someone whom I felt truly understood me, with whom I felt I belonged. Later in life I would meet people and size them up based on being “one of us”, meaning people like me and Caitlin. In high school we felt like we belonged in Manhattan and that most of our glossy late 90s classmates belonged in, I don’t know, something with Jennifer Love Hewitt, and we would discuss this while she blasted and sang along to “Get Out of My Dreams (Get Into My Car)” or David Hasselhoff’s version of “Hooked on a Feeling” or “Jump in the Line” by Harry Belafonte from her Ford Taurus as we drove down Georgia Avenue. She was complicated.
We were so similar in so many ways, but she was always, always ballsier than I. Smarter. More mature. Cooler. Confident. She made me think, and as a teenager, that’s not something you necessarily appreciate or always find in a friend. In the relatively sheltered (philosophically, anyway) life of a Catholic school student, she would say things like, “yeah, I’m pretty sure Jesus isn’t coming back to visit you guys” during the transubstantiation (I wikipedia’d). I mean, yes, I now know that she was right, he’s not coming back, but at 15, she was pretty ahead of her time in . . . well, at least ahead of my time. And she never stopped being just a little bit ahead of me.
At Caitlin’s memorial service, her parents amazingly got up in front of the crowd and started talking about her; her likes, her dislikes, her personality: a little snapshot of the Caitlin we all knew and loved. It was so meaningful and really stunning to watch them be so strong and so poignant in the midst of pain I don’t ever want to have to imagine. Caitlin “lost her battle with depression”, her dad said, and as someone who has struggled with that battle, I found those words to be so powerful. “Asking someone to snap out of depression is like asking someone to snap out of arthritis”, he said. Caitlin was brilliant, hysterically funny, creative, kind and generous, and she just so happened to have a disease – one that took from her the ability to live the long, successful, meaningful life she should have been able to continue; one that happens to affect over 17 million Americans, only half of whom actually seek out medical help. Unlike arthritis or cancer or autism or diabetes, this disease has a stigma that keeps people from talking about it very openly. I know this because I suffer(ed) from the same disease, all through high school and beyond, all through our friendship, but Caitlin and I never talked about it. It was as if we didn’t have to, like it was understood, but also even between two people who felt so comfortable around each other, it was an awkward subject.
Maybe because of our similar personalities it was almost impossible for us to be very good friends to each other in the traditional sense of the word. We’d always make plans, wait one of us to flake out, reschedule and repeat, like socially anxious enablers. We’ve been doing this for years and I know I should have tried harder. When she didn’t show up to things I would invite her to, I should have called her out on it, and she should have done the same to me. But it’s okay because for some reason I don’t feel like that made our friendship any less strong. Caitlin knew so well who she was. She was unchangeable. I think I am, too, and for better or worse, I liked us.
I’ve been reading, watching, and playing a lot of things that make me think of her in the last month. She was so resolute in her opinions that there are things that I’ll never be able to read, hear, or watch without thinking of her. For some reason the day that she died I wanted to hear this song, and continued to play it incessantly for weeks:
I recently said that my favorite Beatle was “John, but I wish it were George”. Caitlin’s response was “I agree completely, as usual”. I guess what I meant (and that she understood) was that personality of a John: one always fighting for something, maybe a bit too loud-mouthed and opinionated. Then you’ve got Paul who is just simple, happy with things the way they are, and sort of lovely; Ringo who is . . . well, Ringo; and George. George just seemed to have things figured out, transcendent, like he was just able to be at peace. We both related to a “John” personality, so wanting to be people at peace, who aren’t frustrated and fighting and struggling to figure things out. I’m here, still a John, and I know that I probably always will be despite any great efforts to temper myself through chemicals or yoga or whatever. And I’m okay with that. But I think that wherever Caitlin is, she wanted me to listen to that song, and to know that somewhere, somehow, being at peace exists, and that she is.