Cullowhee, NC. 2003. Rickey and I had not spoken in two weeks. Following a fight over his attempt to illegally fill a forged prescription for pain medication, I had been ignoring his phone calls from Augusta, Georgia. I wanted him to feel like he was losing me, like his behavior was destroying all we'd ever had. And if he didn't get his life together, there wouldn't even be a friendship left. I wanted to make him suffer a little. How immature it seems now. How stupid it seemed immediately after the phone call.
When his father's name flashed the incoming call on my cell phone, I assumed it was Rickey. That his cell phone had been turned off yet again. That he was using his father's phone as he had numerous times before. I remember the last thought I had just before I heard the Earth crack in two: "Ok. I'll talk to him now."
The thing that perplexed me the most after Rickey died is that no one else's world came to a deafening halt. The Western Carolina Men's Basketball Team still left for their WCU Canadian Tour a few days later. My best friend still left North Carolina a few days later for her role in "Mother Divine," which WCU was producing in New York.
After the funeral in Augusta, our friends went back to their lives, and much to my amazement, life went on around me. And my mother temporarily moved into my apartment to fully devote her time to helping me get on with mine. Brushing my hair for me or running my baths whenever the simple act of looking in the mirror would bring me to tears. Giving me pedicures while I stared at the ceiling. Finding shows on television when the remote in my hand idled listlessly on the TV Guide Channel. Forcing me to eat when I actually valued the sharp hunger pangs that dulled the intense pressure crushing my heart. It's like my mind could only accept so much anguish at one time. As if soothing the throb in my stomach, allowed my mind to fully bear the agony in my chest. I preferred to feel hungry.
Much of the day after - and the days in the wake of - his death are blurred in my mind, but some moments are clear, defined in the creases of my memory. I remember laying in the bathtub and listening to a repetitive drip ripple on the surface above my feet. If I focused on the tiny sound of the drip and magnified the echo in my mind, I could make the bathroom tiles stop spinning.
I fought sleep because each time I awoke, I had those first fuzzy moments where I had to realize he was gone all over again. There are few things worse than having a dream where everything is alright and waking up in a reality where everything isn't. And then more tears. I cried so much that I began sobbing to my mother about how I didn't want to cry anymore. It is a painful thing to cry because you can't stop crying.
Terrence, a member of Rickey's former basketball team and a good friend of mine, held fast in his vigil by my side, literally and figuratively. On that first night of the rest of my life without Rickey, Terrence sat in the living room with my roommates all night long while I laid motionless in my bedroom between brief fits of tears and even briefer moments of restless sleep. He sent letters and postcards from Canada during the basketball tour. He called every morning and every night. And when the team returned a few weeks later, I could feel him reading my moods. He and I still wonder how that innate need to take care of me sprung out of no where.
That day, after I received the devastating phone call from Rickey's father and news spread across campus, Terrence was at the foot of my bed immediately after basketball practice. Unlike everyone else who tried to touch me, hug me or offer consoling advice that day, he sat there unmoving in the evening darkness of my room for what may have been an hour. I can't remember how long. I know that he listened to me cry. That he listened to me breathe. And then he listened to me cry again. I know that just before he left my room and joined the growing group of friends and a few university staff gathering in the living room that he said something I will never forget. I have carried it with me since.
New York, NY. 2008. As I walked to work this morning, the front pages of every newspaper featured Heath Ledger. The wake of the day after. And while the world is pausing long enough to read the latest news of his untimely death while they sip their coffee and google updates during breaks at work, I know that other headlines will take his place tomorrow. He'll have a few things that Rickey didn't, like memorial tributes at this year's awards shows, entertainment television documentaries chronicling his last days, and piles of flowers on his Soho doorstep placed delicately by fans. But all of the normal things will continue.
I remember wanting to scream at the world for all the things that I no longer felt mattered. Getting out of bed. Hearing the trash man on the curb. Seeing the postman deliver mail. Life went on.
That's life. It makes history. It repeats itself. It brings back memories. It is what it is, if that means anything at all. I don't always like where it takes me, but I try to hang on through the ride.