Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Unconquerable

Today is the 16th anniversary of my best friend's death. Last year March 1st passed by almost unnoticed by me, making me think that maybe future March 1sts would be easier than they used to be, but this year the date is hurting my heart the way it used to, and I find myself reliving the play-by-play of the "original" March 1st. Likewise, the one-year mark, back in 1996, actually wasn't too bad--I wrote Sommer a letter in my journal and really felt okay--but the second anniversary found me feeling abandoned by her and again brokenhearted by the loss. Such is grief.

That second anniversary, March 1st of 1997, I was home from college for the weekend. I remember complaining off and on all day to my mom that I hadn't felt much of a connection to Sommer lately and that that was making this day even harder. I had recently transferred to a new college, after having completed my freshman year elsewhere, and I had yet to make any friends at school. It didn't seem like too much to ask, I'm sure I pointed out to Mom, for Sommer to let me know that she was still around me. I had been so lonely that fall and winter, watching seemingly every other student on campus hanging out with their own best friend. So maybe today, two years after her death, there could be a sign of some kind: A whiff of her perfume, a favorite song of ours on the radio, a sense of her hand on my shoulder--Anything.

Sommer had come through for me before since passing over, after all. One afternoon in my high school Spanish class in those first few soul-shattering weeks after she had died--and mere minutes after my teacher had thoughtfully asked how I was doing and if things were getting any easier and I had replied, trying not to cry in front of him, that no, sorry, I thought things were actually getting harder and worse--I wearily flipped open a book of Spanish literature I had been assigned in preparation for my end-of-year AP exams only to find myself looking down at a Pablo Neruda poem titled "The Dead Woman":

If suddenly you do not exist,
if suddenly you no longer live,
I shall go on living.
I do not dare,
I do not dare to write it,
if you die.
I shall go on living.
For where a man has no voice,
there, my voice.
Where blacks are beaten,
I cannot be dead.
When my brothers go to prison
I shall go with them.
When victory,
not my victory,
but the great victory comes,
even though I am mute I must speak;
I shall see it come even
though I am blind.
No, forgive me.

If you are not living,

if you, beloved, my love,

if you have died,
all the leaves will fall in my breast,
it will rain on my soul night and day,
the snow will burn my heart,
I shall walk with frost and fire and death and snow,
my feet will want to walk to where you are sleeping, but

I shall go on living,

because above all things
you wanted me unconquerable,

and, my love, because you know that I am not only a man

but all mankind.

 
Upon reading it, I got up from my desk and carried the book back to my teacher, pointing at the poem with shaky hands. "Can you believe this?" I tried to whisper, since it was silent reading time. "Look at this! Have you seen this before?!" He quickly scanned the poem and nodded at me, understanding what I was and wasn't saying. By the end of the class period, I had memorized the poem and its beautiful lines had become my mantras. "If you are not living, if you my beloved, my love, if you have died. . .But I shall go on living. . .You wanted me unconquerable."
 
But two years later, March 1st of 1997 was passing without a sign from Sommer, and long after my parents and younger brother had gone to bed that night, I finally gave up on it and decided to turn in too.  I stayed in bed for awhile but could tell I wasn't going to fall asleep any time soon, so I grabbed a blanket and tiptoed back downstairs to watch TV in the living room. I wasn't much of a TV-watcher then--I haven't been since I was a kid--and I didn't have a TV in my dorm room back at college either, so I had no idea what was on, and I didn't care. The first channel I stopped at was showing a film I hadn't seen or even heard of before, and I soon found that it wasn't by accident that it was on: The movie was Truly, Madly, Deeply.  In it, Nina is grieving the recent death of her boyfriend, Jamie, and Jamie returns to her both to show her that he's still there for her and to help her move on with her life. This is it! My sign! I wanted to scream upstairs to my mom, but the rest of the house was asleep. I settled back onto the couch cuddled up in my blanket, stunned.

And then I was yet more stunned to hear Spanish being spoken in the movie, and to hear Nina saying to Jamie, "I know this poem." As I sat and watched, with a chill moving through me, Jamie nodded back at her, and continued reciting the poem's verses in Spanish while Nina translated them back to him in English.  I knew this poem too:


"If you are not living,
If you, my beloved, my love,
if you have died. . .

But I shall go on living."


My spine tingled. This is Sommer. Sommer is here. Sommer is here! This time, I didn't even want to call upstairs to Mom. This was my time with my friend. As loyal as ever, she had not forgotten me, she had not abandoned me, and she had not forgotten how to make me feel better. After the movie ended, I remained on the couch in the dark silent living room, just thinking. Had I come back downstairs to watch TV even five minutes later, I'd have missed it. Before heading back upstairs to go to bed later, I would tear that day's TV schedule page from the newspaper to save as a reminder to myself: Death does not end relationships. All those I've loved and lost are still with me. Love is eternal. And I shall go on living.

(The Spanish begins around the 3:25-mark.)
 

7 comments:

lori said...

I know how difficult it can be to loose a friend and I pray that God fills your heart with peace.

Val said...

Thank you, Lori. That's kind of you.

Lisa said...

You seem to really have a spiritual connection, Val. I'm sorry about your friend.

I've seen that movie, but years ago, and didn't remember the poem in it. Juliet Stevenson was terrific in that role - she's very talented.

The Favorite Things Guy said...

I'm not much of a crier, but this post made me cry. This was so very touching beyond anything I can explain.

I know this paid tribute to your friend, but in some bizarre sense, it helped answer a crucial question in my own life. What a beautiful poem! God bless you and know you're in my prayers, dear friend.

DrMom said...

Hugs--

katie jean said...

Val you are so brave to share this. And such a lovely tribute to your friend and the strong bond you share together. Thank you.

Val said...

Thank you all. :)