I never thought I would have to write this. It should never have happened. I still cannot believe it happened. I swear the only way I know how to process things is through writing them. So, here I go.
I’ve never lost a friend. I mean, I’ve had friends kind of disappear. I’ve lost them to distance. Some I felt particularly close to practically died to me when I left. They prefer physical connection, not technological. I get it. It doesn’t make it hurt any less. I miss them every day. I long to hear from them. To hear their voices. To see them in person. But I’ve never lost a friend to death before. I never wanted you to be the first. Never.
In a sense, I lost you three months ago. But, I could always contact you. Sometimes we’d text each other every day for weeks. Sure, we were working on a publication together, but in between the stats and edits and everything else, we were talking about our lives and still growing. I hadn’t lost you all together, just the physical part of you. I was already missing you. I had grown accustomed to it. I could still text you, though, if I was missing you a little too much. But now, I’m in a more permanent state of missing you.
I won’t ever hear from you again. I can’t send you stupid stickers on Whatsapp just to get a rouse out of you. I can’t ask you how to proceed with something about our project. I won’t get ridiculous responses from you about my Instagram stories that used to make me laugh. One day, I was sure we’d see each other again. I’d photograph your wedding. I wanted to get our lab back together and fund you two to come help me dive for my field research. I wanted you and the love of your life to come visit me in the States some day. I expected all of this to happen. You even wrote in your little note to me before I left “See you SOON!” I believed it. Now I don’t know what to believe.
I already missed you. Now I miss you even more.
You were like a brother to me. You messed with me like a brother. You got on my nerves like a brother. You took care of me like a brother. When other people thought I was “too inexperienced,” you didn’t. You pushed for me to do the things I wanted. You got me way more dives than I was supposed to get in Rapa Nui. You encouraged me to push for the things I needed. You settled me down when I couldn’t pull myself back. You were there when I was going through some of the hardest periods in my life. I hated those feelings that were coming out of me at that time. I was terrified. I was terrified that my two colleagues/friends got a front row seat to something I wanted no one to see. Ever. I learned how to be vulnerable in front of people because of you. How to talk about things that were bothering me. How to get up and keep moving forward and how to move on. How not to dwell on stupid crap. People will always treat you and others like they are dirt. That doesn’t mean that you are.
We talked about life a lot. About deep things. You were never afraid to talk about that kind of thing. You were ok taking time out of work or time away from home to talk about something important. I will never, ever forget that time you and your darling polola came down for my birthday and took me out. At that time, I thought no one gave two you know what’s about me. After being forgotten to be invited to a friend/colleague’s birthday, someone who I thought was very important to me, and then being left alone a whole week while everyone celebrated Deciocho, I was terribly sad. I thought no one cared. I didn’t care about my birthday, really. I just felt utterly alone. I was locked alone at the marine station while everyone else celebrated and forgot me. But you two didn’t. We went to a beautiful, black sandy beach, looked for birds, and went out for lunch. You bought me the best cheesecake I had ever had. I didn’t feel so alone. I felt valuable. Loved. I loved you for that.
You were so many things. You still are. You were one of the most intelligent people I had ever met. You understood math in a way many people do not. It came so naturally to you. So did research. I know you said you didn’t like research, but you were so good at it. I told you not to give up on research entirely, you had only had experience with it in one setting. You were naturally very good at a lot of things. It drove me nuts sometimes, you could just look at it and knew how to do it. It was so impressive. You were such a dang good cook. Everyone loved your food (except that hot curry that nearly destroyed us). I used to hate mushrooms. You made me like them. You were usually very good at handling intense situations. I could always turn to you for support. You thought about things others didn’t. You cared a little more. You worked a little harder. When someone asked you to remember something, you did. If I said something bothered me, you remembered. I had never seen a relationship so intimate as yours with your incredible polola. Your new tattoo from Rapa was incredible. You were the best dog daddy at the station. Your dry sense of humor was too funny, and you had great taste in music, tv shows, and movies. You were so well-rounded.
I loved that you would check on me via text sometimes. I loved that I could call you when there were issues. I loved that you made sure that things were taken care of. I could always count on you.
There are so many stories I tell about you. You will live on in them. Everyone loves when I talk about you. I promise I will keep telling your story.
Often you would be impatient. You embarrassed me. Made me angry sometimes. Made me feel like maybe I wasn’t a great co-worker. But I forgave you already for those things. We were at peace with one another. There are still people I need to make peace with.
I asked you two, my lab mates, if we could have dinner again sometime before I left. You both danced around the question. I wanted to do it, because you never know. I asked many times, and you finally said, “Brooke, we will see each other again. We’ll have dinner then.”
No, we won’t.
I cannot be mad at you for that. You didn’t know. I tried my best to get us to do it. I can’t blame myself either. But I will never forget that time after we dove that we had the best lasagna I had ever had. It was just the three of us, enjoying each other’s company. I loved that little house. I miss it. I miss that moment. I miss your lovely house, too. And your cooking. And you.
Take photos of the people you love. Have dinner with them. Now. Stop freaking planning to do it, saying you will, and never following through. You never know.
I remember riding in the car with you. I remember our trips out and about to get lab supplies. I remember the coastline unfolding around us. I remember our conversations, the two of us walking everywhere trying to find what we needed. I remember that day we came home from Santiago and we listened to Neil deGrasse Tyson. I hadn’t really listened to him before, but after that I did. I loved that time with you.
You always drove fast. I forgive you for that. I don’t blame you for anything that happened to you.
I remember when you stopped smoking because you wanted to be a better diver. I had always been worried about you smoking, you did it a lot. And then you just quit, cold turkey. I was so proud of you.
I remember when you really, really wanted that Holis BCD. We tried to get our PI to pay for it, and obviously she didn’t. It was quite expensive. And then, I got a text from you that your parents had given it to you as a present. I kept the photo of it that you sent me. I was so happy for you, the look on your face when you first showed it to me was priceless. Too bad you never got that new wetsuit you needed. We asked and asked for you to get one. You needed it, yours was falling to pieces. You don’t need it now. At the very least we got you that nice mask.
We had some of the craziest conversations. I remember when we were talking about money troubles and you jokingly told me, “Well, you could become a prostitute.” There was nothing misogynistic about it, you weren’t like that. It was just hilarious. I remember having to explain “white trash” to you. Or you throwing me under the bus after saying your favorite English word was “the c word” just to mess with me and then forcing me to explain it when our lab mate asked what it meant. Or when you freaking left the word “anus” all over my computer, my notes, EVERYWHERE. Dang you were like an older brother.
My darn pen drive is still called “Broken” thanks to you. I have no idea how to change it. Now, I never want to change it.
I never saw someone as in love as you were with your polola. I will never forget the day we three lab mates were looking around the little shops at Rapa Nui for gifts. We were in a small store that sold really beautiful jewelry and you were looking for one especially for her. I pointed to one of them that I thought was beautiful and you said something that really took me aback. “No, I can’t just get her any necklace. I have to find her one that is perfect for her. I have to think about all of the outfits that she has and if it will match them, I have to think about how it will match with the tone of her skin.” I had never heard anyone talk about someone like that. Heck, I don’t even think about that when I pick out a necklace. I just get it because it’s pretty. The amount of thought you put into it was so beautiful.
We still have a publication together. It was just you and me, fighting to get it done. I so deeply appreciated that you stuck with me and that you were so willing to help. I am devastated that you left us before we could finish it. I am going to do everything I can to keep your name on that paper and get it out there for you. I will fight all by myself to get it out there. I have people here in the States who are willing to help me. I will do everything I can to get it out there, for you. The coloring book will be dedicated to you, and the next coloring book I told you I was working on will also be dedicated to you. It is the least I can do.
You truly did not like having your photo taken. After awhile, you started trusting me with it and sometimes even asked for a photo. I am glad I have those. I wish I had more. People keep posting the photos I took of you. Thank goodness I took them. That was the best thing I could have done for you.
I keep posting purple hearts for you. Purple was your favorite color. I asked you one day out of curiosity what your favorite color was, and immediately you said, “Purple.”
One of my favorite dives ever was in Rapa Nui. We were in Mataveri, and we did two dives. It was you and I together below, and our other lab mate above us. You wrote a note on the planilla that said, “Like a pro!” I will never forget that. I remember that one dive where I got too cold and was ready to kill you because I swear you were taking longer than you needed to count freaking snails while I was there shivering waiting for you to hurry up. I remember that dive where the bags disappeared and I had to calm you down and show you that I had extra pockets and you did, too, for us to store our snail samples.
One dive you said you would never forget was nearly a year ago. We needed some algae samples, but the waves were bad. I had little experience with waves at this point. I was going out with you, but the waves were huge. “Take my hand,” you told me. I grabbed onto it for dear life as a wave slammed me precariously close to a rock. You pulled me back, looked at me and said, “Brooke, you need to make a call.” I looked at you, and then the waves. And then I said no. You said you’d never forget how hard I grabbed your hand.
Before I left, I wrote notes to people. I wrote them because you never know. I wrote them because people don’t tell the people they care about that they do indeed care about them often enough. I didn’t want to leave you guessing. I had told you countless times in person anyway. One person asked me once why I kept telling them that I appreciated them and I said, “Because you need to hear it.” It’s true. I told you everything I needed you to know. I told you that you were a good person. You had been dropping hints that you felt like you weren’t a good person. I wanted to make sure you knew. The other day, I received a voice message saying that they had found your goals for 2019. None of them surprised me. I knew what your goals were before you said them. You wanted to be a better person, and I told you that you were. I hope that I helped you a little there.
I hate that people are going through your secrets. That it’s all in the open now. You wanted those things kept private. You were a very private person. I don’t want people who barely knew you to know every little thing you meant to keep yours. I am so sorry I cannot protect your secrets. I am so sorry I cannot be there to protect you. I am so sorry I cannot be there to defend you. You would have told me, “Don’t worry, Brookie. It’s ok. Don’t worry about stupid stuff like that.” But still.
How fitting that your last textual message to me was, “Don’t worry, Brooke.” And of course, mine was a stupid sticker of Spongebob with a rainbow. After that, I sent you a picture of some otters that you will never see.
I used to have you to turn to about these things. Now, I don’t. I’m so far away from you. I will never, ever see you again in this world. I want to be there so badly. I’ll never have that closure of being there for you. I’m sorry. I know you would have said that it was ok, that you knew I still cared.
I’m so alone. I am mourning by myself. I long to be there with everyone else, to support them and to be supported. I feel so isolated. I desperately need to talk to someone who knew you, and I mean actually knew you. The real you. Who experienced you. Everyone is caught up in their own mourning. I cannot fault anyone for how they grieve. You don’t get to chose how you grieve, grief does. I feel so selfish for feeling lonely and for feeling like I need their support. I don’t expect everyone to drop what they are doing and care for me, but I do wish someone would call me. Talk to me. Something. Anything. I appreciate the people who have reached out, though. But I am so lonely here and so sad and in so much pain and feel so unseen and so selfish for feeling that way. They are hurting, too. I don’t get to say that they are allowed to hurt more or less.
While they all stayed with one another through that first night and all that day, I had to force myself to try to sleep so I could drive the hour to my site the next day for work. I only dreamed of you. I sobbed in my sleep. I shook for hours after finding out what happened. I had to get up early, drive to the middle of nowhere, put on a brave face and teach kids about science. I did it for you. Even as a text message about you from someone who should have told me earlier flashed across my screen as I played “Laurel vs Yanny” to mess with my kids’ ears, I put on a brave face for them. And for you.
I couldn’t think about you while I was in the car for an hour. I couldn’t cry. I had to distract myself and protect myself while on the road for that lonely hour. I ended up sobbing in the back dock at work. I was miserable. I wanted to be there with everyone else. I felt invisible. People didn’t know what we had.
I was worried about my friends. “Don’t worry about ____________, they have…” and the list went on. Yes, they did have a lot of support. I didn’t. And it was agonizing. And I feel selfish for feeling that way.
“People just don’t see that you’re hurting. It’s not tearing you apart like it is _______.” Yes, it is. It’s tearing me to freaking pieces. I just show it in private. Just let me freaking grieve how I am going to grieve. Everyone’s grief is different. It manifests itself in different ways. People can’t see my grief or understand it over text messages or stupid Facebook posts. Let people grieve however they need to, without judgement. Their grief doesn’t affect mine. We are all grieving.
I saw myself in a mirror yesterday at the store. I looked horrible. Dead in the eyes. Pale. It scared me. It saddened me. I’m sorry. You just meant a lot to me.
I haven’t called anyone. I don’t want to intrude. I want to do what’s best to help them grieve. I can’t fault someone if it hurts too much for them to call me, answer my call, or even talk to me. I’ll stay strong for them, and for you. At this point you’d probably tell me that’s stupid, just call them. And yet, I can’t bring myself to hear the long dial tone only to hear no one pick up. I don’t even know what I would say if they did.
I hate this. I hate everything about this. I am so deeply upset for your polola. My pain is deep, but hers is deeper. I told her you loved her. That you knew she loved you. I cannot take away her pain. But, I still want to be there for her.
I remember the last time I saw you. You took me to the airport. You were the last person I saw before I left Chile. As you drove we talked about life and talked everything out. We reached an understanding. We were on good terms. You, me, and Chai glided through the Chilean landscape towards that airport I had a love/hate relationship with. The last time we were there, we were there together. Now, it was only me. But in your car, I was calm. I was so happy to have those last few moments with you. When we arrived, I told you that you knew I loved you like a brother. I told Chai I loved him, too. You gave me a hug, we took one last selfie together, and I watched you and Chai leave. I sobbed after you left. I am so grateful for that time.
I don’t want you to go. I want you to be here forever. I want you to go get your Masters degree and get married and live your life. I want you to be surrounded by people who tell you you’re important and that you’re valued. I wish you felt more of that. I know you felt alone sometimes or like people didn’t like you. I hope you felt better about yourself in your last few months. I hope you weren’t questioning it. I hope you are at peace now.
I will miss you. I will never stop missing you. But, I will move on with my life. That is what you would want me to do. I will be sad for awhile. It will hurt. It will hurt more because I feel like I lost you and never had the chance to see you for even the briefest second before you disappeared. But, I still have you. You live on in videos, photos, saved text messages, and memories.
I love you, Joon.