Well sometimes I go out by myself
And I look across the water
And I think of all the things, what you’re doing
And in my head I paint a picture

Dear Valerie,

How are you?

I’m not great, this time of year is always hard for me- for all of us, if we’re being honest. Ash still gets choked up. Nina’s never gotten over it.

Not that I’m over it. I’ll never be over it. When we lost you I put it away, I shoved it in the pocket of my jeans like a receipt and sometimes I find it again in odd places.

I’ll be somewhere and a song will come on or I’ll see something you’d like and the grief comes like pins and needles, crippling me temporarily in a Forever 21 dressing room- but sometimes the grief is a massive wave that threatens to drown me inside the Target on Jefferson and Cota. Sometimes I talk to strangers about you like you’re still alive and it’s a wonderful lie I get to live in for five or ten minutes.

It’s rude of me to talk about myself but I don’t know how to ask you how you’re doing. Sometimes I pretend that you’re in hiding. I pretend that you saw something you shouldn’t have- Like that the mafia had infiltrated Sac State’s frats and now you’re living somewhere under an assumed name. I pretend one day I’ll see you. I’ll be in Edinburgh or New York or Vientiane and there you’ll be. We’ll lock eyes and recognize each other and you won’t say anything because you can’t, but we’ll both be relieved.

Sometimes, in my dreams, you come to talk to me. We’ll be in your old dorm or the ice rink in Culver. You tell me it’s okay. You tell me you like it because now you can play pranks on people and no one can see you. You tell me you throw M&M’s at security guards at the Westside Pavilion.

I want to tell you that you’ve missed so much since you’ve been gone-but for everything that has changed, we’ve stayed the same. I’ve stayed the same. We are exactly as you left us only older and it’s almost like a part of us died, too.

There’s a grave in our hearts, now. Where you should be a terrible fear has sprouted up and taken root. It grips me in the middle of the night.

I tried to tell a boy about it. You’d like him, by the way. He lives in the building from Hot Hot Heat’s “Goodnight, Goodnight” video- Remember that one? We thought it was in Hollywood but it’s Downtown. I’ve been in the CVS in the video. My car was broken into in the parking lot above the KFC that Steve Bays walks past. I think of you. You’d like it but your dad would never let you borrow the Lexus to go down there. I wouldn’t blame him.

But anyway, one night we got in a fight when we were both too full of whiskey and resentment. And I wanted to leave; To storm out in a terrible bridge-burning display. But then I didn’t. I couldn’t.

I tried to explain, I did.

All I could mumble was, “I don’t want you to ever have something you didn’t get to say. I don’t want to have anything I didn’t get to say.”

I couldn’t bear to walk out of that apartment. My fear held me in place. It sat right under my ribcage, squeezing me until I could barely breathe let alone speak. Suddenly I was terrified of leaving and never speaking to him again; Of not telling him that I loved him and his haphazard interior design and funny roommates and how he smelled like Tide Detergent and vanilla. You’ve taken up such a spot on my soul that there hardly seemed to be room for anyone else. I hope I never have to make room for someone else.

Because I never got to tell you how much I loved you. I told you all the time but it wasn’t enough. I didn’t say it right. I said it light and easy, like it didn’t mean anything- but it did. I said, “I love you,” but that’s not what I meant to say.

I meant to say,

“I would trade anything to hear your voice again.”

“I have cried for you more times than I have watched Jurassic Park.”

“I will never go to the Troubadour again without you.”

“You were too good for us.”

“I have a tiny dish of dirt from your grave and I talk to it like you’re still around.”

“I’m so sorry. You will never know how sorry I am.”

“God help him if I ever see him again.”

“I should have done more to deserve your friendship.”

I tried to explain to my friend why I was writing this. I said it was tradition. I lied.

I hope this finds you, somehow.

I hope enough people read this and say your name and somehow you know how much you are loved, still.

I hope that it will bring you back to us, if only in a dream.

I love you, Val. I miss you every day. You were extraordinary.

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