by LAURIE on DECEMBER 5, 2010

Today was my best friend’s birthday.  She died when I was 22. It was the first time anyone I was close to passed away, and I didn’t take it well.   None of us did.

Actually, it surprised me that I woke up today thinking of her birthday, because it has been so many years since I’ve remembered it on the actual day. She has been in my thoughts all day now. How fitting that I am here in Philly, today, meeting with people who can potentially make my dream come true. I’m chasing my castle in the sky — getting published. And here she sits, on my shoulder. I should have known.

I wrote the short story below about my friend Katie Katie (no, that’s not a typo) when I started to take an interest in writing back in college. So, now it’s come full circle. Thanks, bub. This one’s for you…

Tribute to a Friend

It was 4pm. In all reality it was 5, but the recent time change had stolen an hour so the shadows were reaching their peak. I rolled down the sleeves of my jacket as a chill hit the air, and stood in my own eternity looking at the stone. It was 4:02

The mist that had started to rise as I passed through the gate was growing denser with the twilight hours. It swirled up slowly, engulfing my ankles, and lulled across the grass, around and over and between each epitaph. Surely it was my imagination, but as the earth’s pores let out its steam, the pungent odor of decaying flesh filled the air. I stood fixated, pulling tight the coat around me as if to ward off some unseen evil.

“Oh, knock it off,” I mumbled to myself. “This place is no more evil than your own backyard.” I patted the two Michelob Lights that I’d shoved into my pockets and settled myself directly in front of… it.

It was my best friend’s birthday, and I was bringing her a beer. The sad part was that I had brought two, opened them both at the same time, and placed one on the ground at the foot of her headstone. It had been two years since I’d been to this place. Two short ones at that. And I had to laugh as I looked around and said, “Well, kiddo, you haven’t changed a bit.” And then my head hit my knees and I cried like a baby.

I don’t know if I went there that day out of a sense of guilt or of loyalty: Guess I never will. But nonetheless, there I sat in approaching darkness. Row 32, aisle 3.

“Listen… I know I haven’t been here in awhile. Well, I haven’t been here at all… A few times but – well — it’s not like I could forget your birthday or something. Ya know?” Phil Collins flashed through my head. “No Reply At All.” “Jesus. Listen to me talking to a rock.” I took a long swig of my beer and waded through my myriad of thoughts.

“Ya know – I read your name on that damn thing and I still don’t believe it. I feel psychotic sitting here but we always said the big 2-1 would be a Hell of a party. Some party…

I guess I’m really here to say I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I haven’t been here in awhile for one – do you know how long it took to find you? I just can’t bring myself to come to this place – it’s just so… so… here.” I looked around me and drowned in another chain of thoughts. James Taylor had brought me there that day. I drove home from work with the radio on – who doesn’t? Don’t touch that dial 102 WKTU – and James asked me “Ain’t it good to know, you’ve got a friend…?” And it hit me. And then I lost it.

“It’s not like I forgot about you or anything… you know that, right? It’s just that, well, it all feels so superficial, doesn’t it? I mean, wouldn’t it to you? I come here, drop off a flower and sit and cry… I figure… what the Hell’s the point? You’re not here… It’s not like I’m here for a visit with some tea and a chat, right? Look at me! I’m sitting here talking to myself basically. It’s not like you can answer me or anything. Understand?

Listen, Kate, You were my best friend – always were, always will be. You were like my right arm… You were the person I talked to and trusted and partied with – and then you just up and died and I had no one to tell. Sometimes I just pretend that you’re on vacation so I don’t think about it that you’re never coming back. I still see people now who don’t know and say “Where’s your other half?” And I feel compelled to tell them to fuck off – but I can’t because then who would I laugh about it with? I can’t come here. I just can’t. Just to look at a damn stone with your birth date on it? I can’t do it… I’m sorry, but I just can’t.”

I caught myself before any tears fell and got up to leave. Hands shoved in my pockets, I slowly backed away. I turned my back on that stone, that grave. Then, I walked toward the gate, never looking back. And I knew at that moment I would never return.

I left the beer bottles there that day. One full one and one empty one, standing there side by side. They stood there together like old buddies saying I’m sorry and I forgive you and Happy Birthday all at once.

When the groundskeeper swept them up the next day, I’m sure his only thought was that a local drunk had left his garbage once again. He would never know that those two bottles stood for years of friendship and laughter. For vacations and smiles and tears and understanding. He would never know that those two bottles were a tribute to a friend.