May, 3, 2009: “Purple”

Update 5-10-18:

Since people are actually reading this (which is unexpected so THANKS EVERYONE), I’d like to direct your attention to something that’s actually useful! Eric’s mom, Rhina, has spearheaded an incredible organization in honor of her son, The Eric Paredes Save A Life Foundation. They’ve brought cardiac screenings to high schools, risen awareness about Sudden Cardiac Arrest in young people, and saved countless families from suffering as hers has. Go there next: https://epsavealife.org

Every year, for the last 9 years, on this day I share this photo with a caption that says something but not a whole lot. I wrote this short story in a workshop, with the guidance of some wonderful people over a year ago and it gave me a lot of peace. I decided, this year, it was time to shed a little more light in honor of a person who’s given me so much of his. Happy 24th Birthday my friend.


“PURPLE”

I used to visit Balboa park with my Dad when I was a kid. Back when the trials that would soon consume our lives were just a distant cloud on a mostly sunny horizon. I practically grew up here. Walking down the wide, cobblestone streets feels like wandering through an ancient Spanish city. Where there aren’t stunning buildings, with artfully sculpted scaffolding that extend toward the sky there are trees—So many, and so massive, that it’s like you’re nestled in the heart of a forrest. The only thing more magical than Balboa Park in the daytime is the park at night. Lanterns and street lamps  give the night air a warm glow. Lately, it’s where my mind always drifts when it needs a reminder of the simplicity and beauty of this world. I love this place. As a little kid I had this idea— that if i were ever to fall in love, it would happen in this park.

And here I am. Fifteen now, very confident that I know everything there is to know about life, and walking on a summer night through those streets. But it feels like life has changed drastically from those simple times when I was a kid. The cloud that was once barely visible on the horizon is now a fixture above my head, obstructing my view of the sun almost completely. Some call it “depression”, I call it “being Russian”. And this time I don’t wander this park with my father. Beside me now stands the tall, dark haired boy who’s favorite activity the last few months has been to make me laugh—no easy feat, because I am more than a little angsty for my age. This boy illuminated my dark world just like the lanterns illuminate the streets of Balboa Park—with a warm, otherworldly glow. Too late, I would come to understand that this is that “first love” thing—in all its confusion, its drama and innocence. And, of course, minimal and awkward physical contact. He is wearing a dark purple tie and a lavender collared shirt that flatters his broad shoulders—purple is his favorite color. He looks older than fourteen, but he isn’t, so I’m a cougar. We walk slowly, savoring the moments we’ve stolen to get away from the rest of the party. Both our arms dangle at our sides, occasionally brushing, sending that familiar electric shock up my spine. Gravity seems to draw us closer to each other with every step.

I cant remember the last time I felt so unburdened by life—so simply happy. Maybe I never have before. I am one of the many kids who grew up in difficult homes. Not for lack of love or sacrifice—of that we have an abundance—but my family has been wrought with many illnesses, both physical and emotional. Most of them probably my own but whatever, not the story here. Numbness has become a pretty good friend of mine. It’s allowed me to soak up as much of the suffering around me as possible without too many side effects (HAH!). As a result, my relationship with “love” is very Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” in nature, if you catch my drift. Told you—all the angst. But looking at the boy who walks beside me now, there is nothing that I want more than to be proven wrong. 

I glance over at him and he beams at me with the smile that could pull me out of any abyss in which I might find myself. I cant help but laugh.

“What’re you looking at?” he nudges me. His vibrant laughter echoes through the almost empty street.

“Nothing. I was just thinking about how much I love it here. My dad and I used to come here a lot.”

“Yeah. Me too. But I don’t think I’ve ever been here at night,” he said. He starts to walk a little closer to me. Heat begins to travel up my spine sending a swarm of butterflies to their favorite spot in my stomach. The familiar feeling of lightheadedness threatens to knock me off my feet as he begins to close the distance. 

Suddenly, someone jumps in between us and puts their arm around me, screaming “Hey guys, we should really be getting back to the party”. Her timing just gets better and better. I try to tell myself this isn’t intentional, but I know it is. She says she loves him too, but I’m convinced that to her this is just a competition for attention between best friends, and she hates that she’s lost. Later, I’d learn I was wrong about that, too.

I roll my eyes and look at the boy, who meets them with a chuckle and a smile. “Lets go then Mary,” he says as he takes my hand and drags me reluctantly along. 

We make our way back to the party and with every step my jubilant mood evaporates into the cool night air. I no longer find his banter with the girls who constantly bombard him amusing. The heat that has risen up my spine is now white hot as the pain of jealousy incinerates the butterflies in my stomach. He notices this and immediately redirects his teasing toward me, the way boys do to make a particular girl feel special. He takes my sudden coldness as a challenge and the teasing escalates, as does my annoyance. He keeps nudging me and it feels like everyone in the crowded ballroom is screaming at the top of their lungs directly in my ears. In an attempt to get me to hug him, he accidentally knocks my cell phone right out of my hand. I watch as my brand new, shiny, red Nokia flip phone falls to the ground. The screen shatters at my feet. The heat boiling in my stomach finally explodes into actual rage. I cannot explain why but I am suddenly furious.  

“Maybe you should just leave me the hell alone, go find someone else to drive insane!” I scream. I had a tendency toward theatrics, even back then.

“Mary, Im so sorry. I—“ he tries desperately to apologize. I’ve never seen him so genuinely upset. And I can’t figure out what I’m so angry about. 

“No, please, just do me a favor and don’t speak to me. Ever.” 

I pivot on my heels and storm out of the ballroom and into the courtyard to wait for my friend’s parents to pick us up. My eyes burn as tears fill them. I stare at the street that just moments before had been the magical place of my imagination. Now through my blurry vision I see potholes and crunchy pieces of trash being scattered by the wind. Why am I so angry? I would not understand until much later how afraid I was, terrified that the butterflies in my stomach were just wasps in disguise, just waiting for the opportunity to puncture my insides. 

“Mary”, she quietly walks up beside me. “He feels really bad. He keeps asking me to tell you how sorry he is. And—“

“What!”, I say, more harshly than I intend.

She carefully places her arm on my shoulder. “He says he thinks he’s in love with you.” Her voice is small, defeated. I should feel bad for her but it just so happens that I can’t feel anything at all. The color drains from my face. The heat that kept me from shivering in the night air melts. Something else arises from the numbness to take its place. Something like disgust. 

“Tell him thats too bad.” 

The next three months are an uneventful blur. The numbness does not completely dissipate. It merely settles into the background, a quiet undercurrent carrying me through my days. My energy is delegated between three activities. Dance. School. Sleep. I talk very little, seek out isolated corners, and listen to a lot of My Chemical Romance. 

Today is Friday, I think. I sit across the table from my father now, having lunch at a seafood restaurant near the ocean. Its around noon. My dad enjoys a glass of Russian River Valley cabernet sauvignon complemented by a grilled cod. I’m not really sure what we’re talking about. I’ve been pretty shitty company lately. My phone buzzes—the same red cell phone. I look at the name on the freshly replaced screen and ignore the call. Irritated, I continue to eat. A few moments later, the phone buzzes again. A voicemail this time. 

“Hey Mary. Could you, um, could you please call me back? Um, ok bye.” the voice trembles in my ear. 

I’ll be seeing her in just a couple hours, I’m not sure why it can’t wait. But she sounds strange.

I excuse myself and walk outside. I round the corner and find myself in a garden. I am swallowed by a rainbow of roses. This setting totally clashes with my angsti-ness, but because I’m a very mature and enlightened fifteen year old I take a moment to wander through the garden anyway. The sun has warmed the cool ocean breeze that brushes against my cheek, making my skin tingle. I take in the flowers that seem to watch me, curious about the intruder. I open my cell phone and dial. 

“Mary?” She answers the phone immediately.

“Hey, are you ok?… He.. He what?” I ask. A truly incomprehensible giggle escapes my lips—to this day, that reaction blows my mind. She’s still speaking but I can’t hear because Im laughing. Hysterically. “Are you kidding?” In my core I know that she is not. Heat rises up my spine. I haven’t felt heat in weeks. My audible laughter expands, a balloon with too much air, about to pop. “What?” The laughter somehow navigates its way outside my mouth and circles back into my ears. It digs its way through my skull like a worm in an apple. “What?” It bounces off the walls of my brain. My chest. My heart. Like my whole body has just turned into the punchline of a really depressingly Russian joke. “What?” The scent of roses fills my nose and burns the inside of my nostrils. “He what?” I repeat. “Ok, yeah. I’ll see you later…mhmm.. thanks. Bye.” I flip the brand new shiny screen closed and stare at it. 

I find my way back into the restaurant and resume my place across from my father. A new glass of wine rests beside his plate. I sit down on the hard wood chair. It is less comfortable than I remember it. My father looks at me with confusion. 

“Eric died”. I know that my lips are moving but it doesn’t feel like my voice. “His heart… He had a heart attack.” The voice is hollow. As it speaks it seems to open up a large black hole inside me that is pulling everything inside it. With the pronunciation of every syllable an organ is torn from its place in my body and swallowed by the black hole. This continues until there seems to be nothing left to tear apart. Until my skin feels like a coffin holding nothing inside it. The flood of tears would come later. The hurricane of rage would come later. The earthquake of guilt would come later. For now there was just a whole lot of nothing. Not numbness—that I would welcome—but complete desolation. This would last months. 

Life, however, does not end for those who survive loss. Time passes. As with any landscape that has endured a terrible fire, something will grow. Any person touched even briefly by love will spend their entire life transformed by it, whether they like it or not. The years that followed Eric’s death were even more difficult than the years that preceded it. On many occasions I questioned my ability, and sometimes even my desire, to get through it. In those moments, where before I had nothing but a thread to hang onto, I discovered that now I had something else, someone else, to hang onto. Him. The boy who may or may not have died from a heart that I broke drags me reluctantly forward in death just as he had in life.

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