I knew a boy once, for over a decade; intimately at first, and then not so much as time passed.
We met on one of the first widely accepted social media avenues: Myspace. In a sea of over processed photos and bio box blurbs we stood out to each other, and a silly reply to a question about his middle initial was the start of it all.
"P=Paul. U=Hottie." Smooth...
Eventually, the mutual attraction combined with carefully crafted online versions of ourselves led to our "actual" meeting.
It was the end of 2004.
We were 19.
Unfortunately most of this early history has been stricken from the record. Myspace essentially no longer exists, and gone with it are the emails and passwords, as well as the back up emails and phone numbers used to recover them. I do have journals. I have a LOT of journals. But my own memories were sabotaged by the same hand that wrote them down; ripped out and ruined, page by page, due to the aforementioned "not so intimate" time.
There are bits and pieces, that for some reason, I saved. An entry on March 5, 2005 that states: "Note to self: Brandon = good friend, good kisser, BAD idea!"
Adventures through streets at 1am.
Late night picnics in garages.
Making up lame excuses to hang out. Like the one in April of that year... "it's raining, there's nothing to do outside, you should come over."
We were fast friends.
We spent days on end together, exploring cities, talking, writing, taking pictures. We were living in a perfect teenage bubble. In just a few months time, I would predictably ignore my own advice, and we'd begin dating.
It. Was. A. Ride.
I bet I could make the strongest of stomachs queasy with the ups and downs we had. We were young and passionate. We were becoming ourselves, fighting to learn who we were and how we fit in the world. We never really had concern for how we fit together.
There were a lot of lows, followed almost immediately by the highest of extravagant highs. Destructive fights, coupled with romantic gestures. Slamming doors, that would in turn be opened to presents. Crying ourselves to sleep, and digging hearts into sides of mountains... literally. Inevitably though, the highs visited less often. Our bodies grew wary, and in March 2007 he moved out of town.
In most situations this would have been the end. We would've congratulated each other for trying, admitting defeat graciously, and agreed that we just weren't meant to be. We would have gotten OFF the proverbial ride.
But this, this was our twenties.
We were adrenaline junkies... or more appropriately, drama junkies. Whenever there was a lull in our lives, whether it was a new breakup, a lonely summer, a fight with a friend, a sad song, or a few too many cocktails, one of us would reach out. There were times of despair as well, where we leaned too heavily on each other, even though it wasn't fair. When my mom passed in 2008, Brandon was one of the first to know. He cast aside a lot of his own emotions in order to be helpful to me. He was in pain too, but he put my heartache ahead of his own, and offered himself as a beacon of light during my darkest times. And then, finally, he let it hit him too; the fact that she was gone. Brandon loved my mom, and she loved him, completely and unconditionally. He was always her favorite. When she got sick she would talk about him, ask about him and how he was doing. She forgave every horrible thing that we had done to one another; she just wanted to make sure he knew she still loved him. And so, he and I suffered together, trying endlessly to pull each other up, to remember the golden moments with her, and to help each other heal. But soon it became too much to ask. The amount of support we had stacked upon each other, it was unfair. Unfair to everyone else around us, and ourselves... after all, we weren't together.
Yet, even still, we tethered ourselves to that roller coaster. Unable to really let go, still checking up on each other when things were low. And, to truly admit defeat, for the sake of honesty here, there were times we would reach out even when nothing was wrong... risking whatever good thing we had going on for a conversation. Sometimes we would throw blame and argue, sometimes we would cry, other times we would just catch up. A few times we met up in person, igniting little sparks. We began to think once again that we could survive on the tiniest embers. The worst part, I think, is that we didn't really want to try. We were emotionally unavailable, distrusting. and angry. When one of us was willing, the other was dismissive. Both of us were looking for things that neither of us could give, all the while tormenting each other with possibility.
It was hard.
But despite all the bad, our opinions of each other never faltered. We may have had unfavorable things to say at times, but in the end we still believed in one another; we were good people, making bad decisions. All of the shitty things we did were excusable in our eyes, because we were inexperienced, holding grudges, and heartbroken.
And because we never had a chance for closure.
The last conversation I had with Brandon was on July 25, 2017. It was the kind of conversation that people hope to have when there are unresolved issues in their lives. The kind where you both say you're sorry, and that you hope each other is doing well. The kind where you walk away feeling as though you can finally be happy for one another.
And there it was.
Hindsight is 20/20, but these past couple of weeks have felt like a magnifying glass on the last 12 years. I know that the guilt and sadness will subside; that the microscope under which I can feel all of our history so clearly, will fuzz a little bit, and things will start to get easier. But I will never live down not saying sorry sooner. I spent so many years shrouded in anger, when I should have just let it go. Those feelings of resentment clouded my vision and I couldn't see past them to move on and say what needed to be said. The truth is, we really were happy for each other. We wanted nothing but the best for one another the whole time, but we hid it from each other for far too long. And even though we did eventually say sorry, these are the times we can never get back.
Brandon left this world on July 26, 2017, exactly 9 years to the day after my Mother.
He was adventurous, intelligent, artistic ... and sometimes he was a little bit of an ass, as we all tend to be in our younger years. Most importantly though, he was a dreamer. Unfailingly passionate, romantic, and optimistic about what we as individuals have to offer, what we can accomplish. He pushed those around him to dream deeper, to realize their potential, and to make a mark on the world.
"It’s the footprint," he once said. "You want to make sure when you leave this planet, the mark left in your place is distinguishable from all the rest. It might not be as great as some. It might not be larger... but it’s not the size, it’s the shape. It’s the identity."
I can say with confidence that he left a significant mark. And even in this sorrowful time, there's comfort that comes from knowing this. His footprint is recognized over thousands of miles, and felt in countless hearts. For good or bad, we were lucky to have known him.
I only hope that wherever he is, he can feel that. And it brings a smile to his face, and eases his soul.
Happy Birthday Brandon.
Rest In Peace.