I'll be your jing
18 March 2011 § 2 Comments
“Do you remember the night during that “magic semester” when you told me that we probably wouldn’t be in touch much 10 years from then because you’d probably be married to an Arab man who wouldn’t be okay with it? I was really angry at you for saying that because it just seemed to be…against the cosmic order, or something. In any case, I learned to accept that possibility, but I think (I hope?) now I don’t need to.”
You wrote that to me over 8 years ago in the card pictured above, after you’d returned from China the first time. You wrote that to me when your brother – the “the most devastatingly intelligent, musically talented Midwestern white boy ever” – and I were on a break from our “relationship” precisely because he didn’t see where our relationship could go because I was unwilling and unready to turn my back on my family, religion and culture which, at the time, felt like the only choice I had if I wanted to be with him.
A year ago today, during our annual marathon birthday chat – which often led up to our annual marathon birthday phone conversation – we were chatting about our relationships and how you’d finally found a girl you could settle down with (and one I could finally approve of) and you said this to me:
Sadly, you never got to meet PG. You never got to meet the man who – the day before we had our katb kitab – was told in no uncertain terms that there were four people in the world to whom our home would always be open no matter what and you were one of them. You never got to meet the man who nine months ago was sitting on the other end of the line in England trying to comfort me as I dealt with the news of your sudden death in the Chinese desert.
Well, actually you died in a hospital in the most inland city in the world having been brought there after collapsing during a march through the biggest desert in the world. Your brother told me if it had been under different circumstances he would have really enjoyed being there, interested in walking the streets where the signs were written in both Chinese and Arabic script. He thinks I would have liked it too – that multi-ethnic city in western China – where – who knows? – some distant relative of mine might have been once upon a time. But I don’t think I’ll ever be able to go there. It’s hard for me to even think about setting foot in China. I hate buying Chinese products – unavoidable as it is. About a month ago someone on the BBC or something mentioned the Gobi Desert and PG immediately grabbed my hand and gave it one, quick squeeze. He knows better than anyone how difficult this has been for me. He is the only one to have heard the strangled wounded animal sounds I made the moment I received confirmation that you had in fact died. Confirmation that, no, they hadn’t made a mistake on the news wires. Confirmation that it wasn’t just a bad dream. He was there when I began silently weeping like a ninny in the movie theater when we went to see The Deathly Hallows because the relationship between Harry and Hermoine reminds me so much of us. He is the one who woke up two weeks ago to find me perched on the edge of the bed at 4 a.m. bawling because I had remembered that your birthday was coming up, and this year there would be no once-a-year phone call which lasted six hours and involved you falling asleep several times and not remembering a word that was said the next day when we rehashed it over a Gmail chat.
Today would have been your 32nd birthday.
In a previous blog I dubbed you Jing – the Chinese word for mirror – not because you are my mirror image, but because despite differences in gender, personality and life circumstance you were always the best reflection of who I was at any given moment. Even when we hadn’t seen each other for years, somehow you always knew just where I was in life. Somehow you always perfectly understood what I was getting at. And the moment I found out you died it felt like something in me had shattered, forever. I will never forget the sensation of having lost all feeling in my limbs, and feeling like the wind had been completely knocked out of me, and the thundering in my brain. Later on I would try to explain that moment to my sister and all I could come up with was, “You know that crushing moment in Bambi when he’s calling for his mother and the stag comes out and says, ‘Your mother can’t be with you anymore‘? That’s how I felt. Times a thousand.”
Last year, 2010, was a year of a lot of loss for me, but losing you was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to endure in any year I’ve lived so far. It is difficult to accept that you are gone, perhaps mostly because death implies stillness, inactivity, and you were one of the most dynamic and alive people I’ve ever known. Even in sleep you were awake, as evidenced by the late night phone calls I’d get from you where you’d share your ideas about a new project or artwork only to find out the next morning that – as far as you were concerned – you were asleep during the hours when the phone call allegedly took place.
You were looking forward to PG and I getting married, and were planning to attend with your girlfriend of many years – the one who had finally managed to snag your full attention, the one you were planning a family with. In fact, that was one of the first things she told me when I called her to offer my condolences and ask about the memorial service. In her lovely Chinese-lilted English she said, “He always said you were his very best friend, and we were both looking forward to coming to your wedding. But don’t be sad. He died like a warrior.”
I think you’d be amused by all this sentimental eulogizing. You show up in my dreams every couple of months and you strut around like we’re all silly for being sad. The days after I wake up from those dreams are some of my best. I feel at peace. I know you didn’t believe in an afterlife. We are here and then we’re gone. But those dreams sometimes make me feel like an admission that you were wrong about that. They’re your way of letting me know you’re still around.
But it doesn’t change the fact that I can’t see you anymore. That I can’t excitedly share a new idea or discovery with you. It doesn’t change the fact that you’ll never get to know how right you were about us remaining BFFs forever and ever cross my heart.
In the last chat we had, just two days before you left for the march and 11 days before you died, we were talking about PG’s search for a job and you said, “How about I help him find a job here in [Shanghai] and you two move here and we can be a big happy family.” And then PG, you and I (acting as conduit) agreed via chat that we would all do the Sahara march together the next fall.
You were wonderfully indulgent of my meandering stories and thoughts, but ultimately you would pull me back with an, “Ok, so what’s the point?”
What’s the point of all this eulogizing on this here blog? You and your family are part of the reason I was able to marry a farangi in the end. You introduced me to your brother because you thought we might get along. That we might end up understanding each other. And he became the “one before the one” – teaching me a lot of the things I needed to know about relationships, and myself in relationships, before I could finally settle down. Your mother, with whom I share a name, that long-suffering matriarch to three boys wished for a daughter and told me that if ever my family should disown me for my life choices that she would take me in. Regardless of my relationship with her sons. I don’t know if she ever realized how secure that made me feel. It let me know I had options. She also assured me that ultimately I would have nothing to worry about – my family would accept the choices I made. And she was right.
Knowing you has enriched my life in countless ways, but mostly it gave me security in the idea that there is good in this world. That there is heart and courage and strength. And that gave me the courage and strength to seek what I loved, to be true to myself.
People who have never had a friend like you, people who have never had a friendship like ours, might think I’m being dramatic. But that’s the truest way I can say it. You were the rock I both broke myself against and leaned on when times got rough.
So, happy birthday, Jing. You were my best friend. My confidant. My personal life coach. In many ways, my soul mate. And I will always be your biggest fan.