Little sweetheart, I was thinking of… a bunch of skeleton keys we found and a whole drawer of wristwatches and another of costume jewelry, the one and only time when we were at my mom’s lake cottage they day we arrived after her passing. There was a kind of storage room, it had actually been the garage but had been made into an addition, and it was full of things like this that someone would eventually have to go through and sort out. You were sitting in the living room on a rocking chair by the big windows looking out at the lake and I kept bringing these little treasures in and giving them to you because I knew they were things that you’d like and my mom would love for you to have. She so wanted to have a sweet wonderful girl like you to share things with. She never had a daughter, little sweetheart, and she would have loved spending more time with you, I know. Just like my grandpa, her dad, who never got to meet you. I think I often told you what kindred spirits you and he are. I bet you know that firsthand now.
There wasn’t time to go through everything in the storage room that day. We’d only just arrived and we had the funeral to plan and everything. We weren’t even staying at the lake house. That was my mom’s little get-away cottage. Her proper house was about an hour away and that’s where we were staying and getting everything taken care of. I’d just really wanted you to see it. And even though we were exhausted from traveling and every single emotion, we got in the car and drove out there before it got dark so you could see. By the time I was just sort of cursorily looking through the storage room, we were really getting ready to go back, getting ready to leave. We’d spent most of the time out there in the backyard by the dock, rolling up our pants, taking off our shoes and socks and dangling our feet in the water. I don’t know how I would ever have gotten through any of it without you there, although I didn’t ask or even dream that you would come.
When I got the news that my mom had died, I was in London and you were at home in San Francisco. You were the first person I talked to, the first person I told. Of course. Of course. It was the middle of the night in England. And you and your mom helped get me on a plane back to New York and then on to Michigan. Then you flew yourself to Detroit and waited all night in the airport to meet my morning plane. And you were at my side every day for a week while I buried my mom. Who does that? Oh, my little sweetheart...
We spent the last bit of that late May afternoon dangling our feet in the water off the dock behind my mom’s cottage. And I told you that I couldn’t believe that she was gone. I imagined how overjoyed she would be just now at our visiting together. That I could picture her right now coming out of the house with a tray and a huge smile on her face, so happy, and asking us “how about a root beer float?” I don’t even know why I thought specifically of that. It just came out. But I could I picture it.
Later, after we’d come inside and after you’d looked through some of those things I mentioned - the skeleton keys and wristwatches and everything, we packed up and started the drive back and as we drove we spotted a little roadside ice cream stand. It seemed fated. We had to stop. And we both got root beer floats, remember? Except you were trying to be sensible, so you got yours with non-fat frozen yogurt instead of ice cream. And it was terrible. So, we shared mine. I can’t remember why I didn’t just buy you another one! Probably you wouldn’t let me.
I remember driving a lot that week. I don’t remember where all we had to go. Just running around getting things ready for the funeral and the memorial service and being there for the visiting hours and everything. I can’t remember if I told you this while were driving back from the lake that first day or if it was later when we were picking up your dress and my suit from the dry cleaners or something. I remember exactly where we were - going up the big hill by the hospital - but I don’t remember if it was that day. But we were driving right there and I said to you that whatever happened now, I needed to be with you more. I knew it was the most important thing in my life. To be with you. More than flying around to London or Seattle or Boston or LA and working in the theatre. More than writing. More than the band. More than anything. I knew I needed to be with you more. And I told you that. Even if we were going between New York and San Francisco every other week, it needed to be more.
I thought of this at the time, and I’ve thought of it since, today and everyday, and it comforts me some - that you and I were never apart for longer than three weeks ever from the day we met until the day you were taken from me. I wept every time we parted but we always already had another plan, knew exactly when we were next going to be together, when we were next on a flight to be in each others arms and that it never was more than three weeks away. But just then, I told you I needed to be with you even more. That I had to. Even if it was only a matter of time and all our projects - shoot the short film in San Francisco in July, record the next album in Brooklyn in the fall, do one play in The Mission after New Years, the next one in New York in the spring, shoot the feature in Davis that next July, you move to New York that fall (a whole room of your stuff was already here... and still is!) - I needed to be with you more. We had our plans mapped out. We’d be together for all of it and then you’d be here. You told me you wanted to live with me. And that’s what we were doing - having a life together (and just like you had a whole room of your stuff already here, you had a whole corner of your room and part of your closet full of my stuff there, too!). And in a little more than a year, it could even be more and every day. And I could see that. But even so, I knew in that moment that I needed to be with you more. And I told you. I told that, my little sweetheart.
Sometimes, often, when we suffer great loss, what’s important comes to the fore and everything else falls away. All the trivial and meaningless evaporates and we understand what’s really important. And I know you know that. More than anyone I’ve ever known, you get that. Not only because you’d lost your beloved older brother Jesse less than a year before I met you but because you had so many health struggles of your own all the way back to your childhood. I’ve never known, let alone fallen so deeply in love with, anyone so keenly aware of their own mortality and hence so ready to do things now. And to know what was really important. I needed to be with you more and I told you that.
One of the last things I talked to my mom about was my dad’s briefcase. My dad died when I was really just a kid. My dad died the year I moved to New York. You really were just a kid. You were 11! The last Thanksgiving I spent with my mom, my brother brought over some things he had in his garage, a couple of things he thought I might want. I always rented a car and drove out to see my mom at Thanksgiving and then she’d come back in the car with me and stay in New York for a few days after. So, that was always a good time for my brother to clean out his garage - I had a car, so I could take things off his hands and with me. He gave me my dad’s old briefcase. I recognized it immediately. It was a heavy old thing, a metal one, sorta. Very 70’s. He used to carry all his student’s papers and blue book exams and things like that in there. Because I was a writer, my brother thought maybe I would like it. That maybe I needed a briefcase. I didn’t know anyone who carried a briefcase anymore. Maybe lawyers. Did Jesse have a briefcase, little sweetheart? That would make sense.
Anyway, I took the briefcase home with me and stuck it on a shelf. I didn’t really know what to do with it. Then one day, months later, I opened it and it was full of memorabilia - photos and newspaper clippings and notes and one of my dad’s plaques for “Teacher of the Year” and a whole bunch of crazy tie clips and cufflinks and nicknacks. I took some pictures with my phone because they were all really offbeat, vintage oddities. I thought it might even be more likely that they were something of my grandfather’s - my mom’s dad - than my own father’s. I emailed the photos to my mom - it was the last conversation I had with her before I left for London, the last time I talked to her - and she told me she wasn’t totally sure. She thought they probably were my dad’s but she’d have a closer look when next she was here to visit…
Just a few weeks after my mom’s funeral, you came here to stay with me, little sweetheart, and I showed you all the stuff. I knew you‘d love it, just like the skeleton keys and wristwatches, and you had two great ideas. One was for me to use the briefcase as a gig bag for my guitar set-up - all my stomp boxes, all my effect pedals daisy-chained together. That there might even be a way to make it into a pedal board with the top detachable and the front panel folding down flat, so it could open up and be set on the floor next to my mic all ready to go. The other idea was, you really wanted to make some of the nicknacks into jewelry. I thought that was a great idea and I saved it all for you. I’m still saving it. I still am. This place is full of things I’m saving for you just as you left them. A closet full of clothes, your side of the bed, a corner of the refrigerator with some of your favorite treats and salad dressings and diet sodas. Lots of your treasures and little tools are here all ready for you. I’m saving them always. Because there’s still so much to do.
I remember you telling me that you have a very pretty picnic hamper at the house in Davis and that we could make a delicious lunch and pack it all up with a blanket under our arm and go for a hike somewhere lovely and have a nice long picnic together. Maybe even fall asleep in each others arms and take a little nap outside in the warm California afternoon. We haven’t had our picnic yet, little sweetheart. I want to do that with you. There are so many things yet to do together.
And there’s this picture of you that I found. It’s like something out of The English Patient. It’s you with some big goggles and a scarf wrapped around your head Bedouin-like from your first trip to Burning Man. I’d been called back to New York for jury duty and then was stuck in rehearsals for a play, so I couldn’t go but I was surprised that you were even going. You’re not crazy about hot weather and are very wary of the sun both because of your exceptionally fair skin and your extra susceptibility to all kinds of cancer including skin cancer due to the amino suppressants you have to take twice daily to keep your blessed little life-saving transplanted kidney and pancreas working so beautifully. I was surprised you went to the desert but you liked it. And you wanted me to come with you next time.
You told me all about it. I remember exactly where we were when you told me. We were walking back to your car parked on a side street in downtown Davis. That heavenly tree-lined haven, the beautiful little college town where we often retreated for days to uninterruptedly enjoy each others company, cooking, napping in the garden, watching our stories wrapped up in each other on the big comfy couch, sleeping wonderfully in each others arms under the pretty canopy in your bedroom, the distant freight trains lulling us to sleep at night and the pretty birdsong gently waking us in the mornings. (Not too early!)
I remember you excitedly telling me about Burning Man that day as we walked back to the car from that frozen yogurt place you liked. And you told me that you wanted me with you there next time. That we could sleep during the day when the sun was hot and at its zenith. We could sleep in our tent or maybe even an RV. Then after dusk, get up and go through the desert exploring the festival through the night. Maybe tooling around on bikes. You’d seen people do that. You were on foot that first time but maybe we could take bikes.
I’m like you, little sweetheart, not crazy about the idea of sand dust and desert weather, the heat and the sun. And I worry that I wasn’t enthusiastic enough when you told me that day. I worry about a lot of things, little sweetheart. I’m so heartsick about anything I ever may have done that didn’t seize the moment with you. That there could ever be even a moment of doubt. I love you with all my heart and soul, my little sweetheart. And I always always will. I don’t understand how time works or where you are just now exactly but we have so many many more things to do. All the things we talked about and planned and even more we haven’t thought of yet. And I want them all. I want to be with you. Desperately so. We’ve so many things more to do together, my little sweetheart. Please let them, let us, come to be. Forever.