Yesterday I received news that an old friend who had been fighting cancer for over 20 years took his own life. He was the first person I ever fell in love with. Teenage love. The kind you feel when you are immortal. The days were long and belonged only to us and all the trouble we could find, which was usually plenty.
I met Corby at my first job. He was the baler and I helped run the conveyor belt at the recycling end of the garbage dump. I was 15 and obsessed with anything 1960's. Corby was tall and had long beautiful brown hair that he would nervously tuck behind his ears when he talked. I was head over heels.
Teenage love must make a very specific mark on your psyche. I think my brain was permanently tattooed. Occasionally it would uncover itself, coming up in conversation with new friends or triggered by senses. One time, walking through a department store with an old girlfriend, we were approaching a display of the fragrance Sunflowers (remember that?!) and she said "Oh....watch out.......", because she knew I would be flooded with memories. Like Bunny says in Tom Robbins's Jitterbug Perfume, "Fragrance is a conduit for our earliest memories, on the one hand; on the other, it may accompany us as we enter the next life. In between, it creates mood, stimulates fantasy, shapes thought, and modifies behavior. It is our strongest link to the past, our closest fellow traveler to the future … Fragrance may well be the signature of eternity."
And music, of course. Mark Joseph Stern describes its effects in a Slate Magazine article: "The period between 12 and 22...is the time when you become you. It makes sense, then, that the memories that contribute to this process become uncommonly important throughout the rest of your life. They didn’t just contribute to the development of your self-image; they became part of your self-image—an integral part of your sense of self.
At the end of our relationship, Corby rejected me. First love, first rejection. I insisted we remain friends and I would heartbreakingly hang out with him and his new girlfriend. All smiles. Life goes on. Then I moved away. Corby was diagnosed with Leukemia. I went to college, traveled, got married, had a child, got a divorce, became the artist I had imagined I would become. When I was in college I would have reoccurring dreams with Corby in them. I thought of him often, and always on his birthday. I found him on Myspace, but didn't connect. His hair had turned white from the cancer treatments his body was thin and frail. We finally reunited on Facebook last year and I cherish the conversation we had on messenger. He said to me "Thank you for the pep talk and making me feel better, I could always count on that from you, always a glass half-full woman."
I had always imagined we would eventually hang out again one day. He could meet my son and we could have a few laughs about when we were young.
This morning I sit alone in my studio. It's been snowing all night and it continues to snow. I hear my neighbor outside shoveling. Scrape...scrape...scrape... The heat kicks on. I'm surrounded by bills that need paid, paintings that need completed. Yesterday, before the news of Corby's death, I painted and listened to NPR. Politics. War. Love and Hate.
My friend Jake, after losing another of his close friends way too soon, wrote something on Facebook less than 2 weeks ago that is exactly what I want to say.
" Hug each other. Take care of each other."
My deepest condolences go out to Corby's friends and family.