To Blaze: Wish You Were Here

I’m in one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. Ojai, California: a hippie resort town filled with yoga and apothecaries and intuitive healers, all things I usually scoff at. But my memories in this place formed before I was skeptical, cynical — a teenager — back when my parents would drop me off at day camp so they could go to the spa. When I was older, I would ride a rental bike down trails shaded by oaks and bay laurels, passing dog walkers and elderly couples and feeling like I was the fastest thing on earth.

It wasn’t until tonight, staring down from the edge of the Los Padres Forest into the Ojai Valley, watching the hills hug every bit of warmth from the streetlights and houses below, that I remembered being here with you.

This was the first place we ever traveled together. My mom loves to adopt my friends into her fold, and to support these efforts, she started letting me invite a friend on family vacations. Of course I picked you. You’re my best friend.

We shared a loft together in the vacation rental. You would yell at me when I shook you awake before 10am. I would make fun of you when you had to wear a rashguard to protect your skin at the pool. We listened to horrible music. We talked about which teachers we hated. We cooked together; well, I made you cook for me. Everyone always talks about how great of a chef you were. I think your food was good, but my palate isn’t all that refined, so what does my opinion matter?

I don’t actually remember how your food tasted on this trip, but I do remember us picking oranges from some of the trees next to our house.

“Are we allowed to pick these?” you asked.

“I don’t think so,” I said.

You shrugged and opened a paper grocery bag, beginning to fill it.

“It’s not like they have cameras.”

We picked those oranges just out of frame.

We went other places too. Never anywhere far, nothing out of state. Most of the time we stayed around Newport, and you would drive all the way up to visit me. I didn’t drive. I still don’t drive. Now that you’re not here, I don’t get around much.

You were so stubborn and particular. I was too. We both liked to pretend we weren’t. Our friends would say we acted like an old married couple. I could imagine us as such decades later, aged by the sun and fattened by your food, just without a marriage certificate.

We argued about little things. In high school, you complained about my boyfriends. You were right. When I stayed with you in Philly for Thanksgiving, I disagreed with you about directions to the farmer’s market. I was right.

Behind the little squabbles, you understood me like no one else. I would mention my mental health casually around my other friends, joke about it, but when my anxiety was making me spiral I would call you. You were always up past midnight, willing to FaceTime me and keep me distracted.

I would rattle off my racing thoughts. You would listen. You wouldn’t know the answers to my problems, but you knew that wasn’t what I needed.

“Have you seen this?” you’d say, tapping on your keyboard and sending me a link to a YouTube video. Something like “MAKING A 3 FOOT WIDE DORITO!”

That worked better for me than any SSRI.

I would like to think I helped you too. I know you wouldn’t be comfortable with me talking about your personal life, though, so unless you come back to haunt me/give me permission, I won’t share them here.

Tonight I am sitting alone, writing for the first time in a year, missing you so hard.

I’m so angry that you aren’t here. I am angry at Sam for thinking he had the right to take my best friend away. I am angry at the people who made Sam who he is. I am angry at myself for not being able to feel happy. I am angry at you, the one person I would want to talk about all of this with, for not being here.

I am looking down into the Ojai Valley tonight. From here, every spot of light seems to hold some story with you in it, tucked between the mountain where I met you and the mountain where you died.

And now I am in the middle of that valley, looking up. And I am wondering how the hell I’m going to climb this mountain without you.