Since at least ninth grade, I've never failed to think of you the week of your birthday. Matthew's birthday, skip two days, Mark's birthday, skip one day, your birthday. You and I were never much for talking on the phone, but, every year, I sent love spiraling into Scott County, Tennessee for your birthday. I never forgot.
At the approach of what would've been your thirty-ninth birthday, I didn't have a fixed point for sending love, and it hurt me. I hurt all over, to be be honest, from furrowing and clenching and fighting the urge to curl up and sleep (or die) in the shape of a comma. No good end. Just indefinite pause.
And I've seen you more in death than I had for many years in life, but I don't much know how to talk about this...or about my strange, knot-rendering grief. In my everyday life, there's no one who knew you...or me, as I was when we were pre-teens and teens. I don't know how to explain: you were neither relative nor love interest, ever, and we hadn't been close friends for twenty-couple years; still, your presence in the world steadied me.
I talked to Carlena a couple weeks ago, which helped because she was there for some of what you and I were. And then, the day before your birthday, I talked to Erin Quigley; I was in her company, and she's known me long enough to have determined I'm either not crazy or crazy but worth loving unconditionally, anyhow. I didn't know quite what to say to Carlena or Quigley, but both times, the release of air and liquid made me feel less like a pressure cooker and more capable of deep breath.
The day before your birthday, I lifted my little son onto the back of a pony and thought how happy you'd be to see it, and just on the heels of that, I decided to believe you could see it.
Then our little party walked into the woods and stumbled upon a gingerbread house, and I laughed with delight because gingerbread houses are part of our reality; I have made it so. I chose, in that moment, to believe you could see us in our sun-dappled spot in the woods. You're eternal! Maybe you're free from the confines of space and time, now. Maybe you're more with me, now, than ever. At the very least, I carry part of your story, and it's mine for the telling.
Armed with these thoughts, I stood before Erin Quigley's mirror the next day, your birthday, and decided to use my own eyes as a fixed point for sending love. I took a deep breath and said it; with all the love in my heart I said: "Happy Birthday, Jason!" And instead of entering me as I'd imagined they might, my words rose and scattered like a cloud of fluttering cabbage whites, making their way to (all the places) where you are.