My sleep that night was interrupted by short bouts of quiet sobbing. Kate is a good listener, fortunately, and after she patiently endured a rambling account of my day, I eventually slipped off. The lack of fog and relentless sun gradually brought me to consciousness the next morning. Reluctant to give up my blankets and sheets, I thought of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and her five stages of accepting death. I was certainly past the denial phase and the manner of Christian's death left little room for bargaining. Ironically, it was Christian who had shown me a hilarious but slightly profane U-Tube video about a giraffe mired in quicksand as he worked through the stages. I shook my head as I filled the coffee pot with water and decided it was a bad day to change my routine. So I leashed the dog, performed a brief inspection of the beach, and returned with a newspaper.
Kate was still asleep but Andy had just emerged from the spare bedroom and we said our "good mornings" while passing each other in the hallway. I surprised the hell out him (and myself) by suddenly giving him a brief hug. It had been a long time since I had hugged anybody but my wife. He handled it well, but I wasn’t finished.
So I turned back.
"Can I ask you you a favor, Andy?
He shrugged and managed a sleepy smile.
"I've decided to attend the memorial after all. Could you give me a ride back to the valley? Kate never really knew Christian, and I want her to have the car while I'm gone."
He paused at bit then smiled broadly, "Sure, John."
I chuckled to myself. Though barely out of bed a few minutes, I probably shocked him with both a hug and my weird request.
During the trip back to the valley we discussed random subjects, mostly about the music he blue-toothed into his car stereo. There were also silences reflecting an unspoken agreement not to talk about Christian. So we didn’t and he dropped me off at my empty house.
I spent the rest of the afternoon on edge as is I usually do before funerals and memorials. I polished my shoes, debated about what to wear and worried about how I would handle myself that evening. Not that I was afraid about losing control. Knowing how successfully I stuff my emotions, I was more afraid I would seem cold and uncaring to people who capable of overt and public grief. But I remembered Andy telling me once that I tended to "over-analyze" everything. I resolved not to think so much, especially about myself. So went out and worked on the lawn and considered various stories if forced to share that night.
But the memorial was easy, mostly due to Andy’s exact planning. And when he came to me asked about how to execute the next activity, I surprised and a little unnerved. Everyone was supposed to write a message to Christian on a helium balloon and once outside, we would release them. But he wanted my advice on how and when to do this. At first I thought he was merely being deferential, nice to the retired teacher who only knew less than 10 of the hundred or so students attending, but decided he really did want some guidance. I did what every teacher does when faced with an unpredicted outcome—I made something up. We went outside and released our balloons one by one after sharing and explaining our message. I went first to ease the way, explaining how Christian had enabled me to something very helpful but slighltly illegal with software that I had not actually purchased. Later, when I sensed the sharing was going downhill,saw what I perceived to be a problem I gave him some unsolicited advice and suggested that we wind things up. I went on to share more about myself (speaking only to bring events to a positive conclusion) and people started to leave.
I returned home that evening so excited that Icouldn't wait to call my wife. I told her how smoothly things went, how so many students had shared, indicating that my humorous story about how he had helped me with a computer problem eased the tensions and eased the way so many could share. Tell about sharing intelligence and weird habit of helping people install wifi and how it lead to some very startled reactions when he popped up live on their computers or phones.
Andy buisy, wanted him to share, how it had helped me but worried about how it might dampen the convivial spirit. I even debated telling him to lighten it up a bit but decided otherwise
Tell how he read, quote it, tell how I softened with light hearted assurance that Andy was okay, and at that point the memorial was generally over. I was very pleased with myself, probably a bit manic.
But that only lasted until when I was visited by the multiple demons of personal insecurity.
what they said, how I reacted, resolved to call.
At first the assuring light of morning made everything I had thought about myself nothing more than a bad night. But accusing voices continued became more agitated.
Tell about the calls, even the hotline.
realization one: this is what Christian must have felt every day and every night.
realization two: Besides his natural generosity, this was why he went to all the trouble to make it possible to pop up on their screens. He desperate for human contact, affirmation as a person, and this was his brilliantly weird attempt to get some, this his call for help. And perhaps because many of us were in awe of his talent and intelligence, we never considered what was going on behind the mask.