It's funny to imagine, but I have become intensely nostalgic for my high school self. I'm trying to remember that person that would spend hours on end in the darkroom in the D wing and ask complete strangers to model for her shoots.
I taught myself how to play the guitar and I wrote poetry. I watched all seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in just a few months and acted in no less than four school Shakespeare productions, often memorizing large portions of the script regardless of whose lines they were. I took classical voice lessons from a mysterious retired woman, with a propensity for vividly colored lipstick, living by herself in a peculiar little house. I learned to sing in German, Italian, Portuguese, French, and old English with the technique and cadence of an opera singer. I published a piece of prose writing called "My Darling Clementine" in my high school's literary magazine. It was already too late when I realized that I had unwittingly written it with the sensual detail of sexual innuendo and unrealized romantic potentiality. As another member of the editorial staff read my work aloud at a meeting, I had a to leave the room because my face was turning a deep shade of crimson. I visited MoMA and the Met as often as I could and started to be able to feel my way through the rooms and galleries and halls like a house owner might walk confidently through the dark to their kitchen in the middle of the night to fill a glass of water at the sink. I saw Marina Abramovic sitting tall and still and regal in her bright red robe and I saw Alexander McQueen's otherworldly costume-ish designs in a popular exhibit generously titled, "Savage Beauty". I shot dozens upon dozens of roles of film as I studied William Eggleston, Diane Arbus, Richard Avedon, and more than anyone, Cindy Sherman. I loved Cindy Sherman. I read about her, watched movies about her, and emulated her. I have contact sheets filled with self portraits staged as film stills. I wore wigs and did my make up and bought clothes super cheap at thrift stores to become each character in each portrait. I learned how to use a tripod. Cindy began her collection of film stills as a college student in Buffalo and they eventually made her famous. At the end of my senior year of high school I got to see her magnificent retrospective at the MoMA.
And then for some reason it all stopped. I stopped shooting film, I made friends, I started a new life in a new country halfway across the word. I started matching my pants with my shirt and grew out my hair and stopped supplementing my wardrobe with clothes from estate sales. I stopped watching TV almost entirely and stopped singing as well. I called people to make plans and talk and socialize. I invested myself into group initiatives, activities and gatherings. I became a unit head at my sleep-away camp after two summers as a bunk counselor. I took leadership positions on campus and in my community; I blocked out my calendar so that there was not a free moment to spare. I rolled, bulldozed, through my life without stopping or taking time to notice if I was tired or happy. I fell in love over and over and over again, and my heartbreak was outweighed by my absolute passion for those that I found around me.
And then Ezra died.
He died and suddenly everything stopped making sense--it sounds cliche, I know--and I was abruptly lost in a way that I never have been before. It was not a matter of shifting or adjusting to face a new challenge. I knew this immediately because I could feel my heart in my chest ripping itself open every single minute of the day. I can still hear myself wailing and moaning on the floor of my room the first morning after he died, loudly enough that the entire hall could hear me behind their closed doors in the silence of dawn. That was the first morning, of many to come, that I had to wake up and remember all of our anguish anew. I can feel my neighbor squeezing my hand as we sat on the floor of my room after she came running through my door, hearing my screams and sobs. I can still hear her talking to me as she packed my things for Boston. I remember walking to my closet at her instruction and pulling out every black thing that I owned and forcing it into a duffel bag lying on the carpet. I will never forget every single public place in which I cried, uninhibited, that day. In the shuttle to Boston, in the Starbucks where I waited for my train, in the train station where I spoke to my mother on the phone, on the platform where I bumped into a family friend that I had grown up with. His son had been best friends with Ezra and we could both remember them running through the house together, pausing to speak with us on their way out the door. His son who sat next to me at the funeral and held me as I sobbed, loudly, uncontrollably. I cried more on the commuter train as the afternoon sunlight streamed onto my face through the window. I saw many fathers on that train that I recognized from playdates and sleepovers over the years, men that both Ezra and I had grown up with. We mostly ignored each other and did not comment on the tears that stained our cheeks and made our eyes red and swollen. I cried with renewed intensity when I got off the train, falling into the arms of my best friends mother, there to pick me up and bring me to her house. We cried into each others hair and I was relieved to be with someone as heartbroken as I.
And now I am here. And now four months have passed and just a few days ago I looked into the red, swollen eyes of Ezra's mother and hugged her as I wondered what right I had to claim this grief. But just last night hot tears where streaming down my face again as I tried to remember a conversation between me and Ezra that my memory has let disintegrate in his absence. Just last week I fell to the ground outside of class, staring at my phone, comprehending the news of another murder. Another attack. Another American tourist killed. It was so similar, it felt so similar to when I had fallen to the ground in the middle of my class room and screamed as I listened to the shaking voice of my friends, their voicemails piled up on my phone. Their voicemails tolling death like a bell and pleading me to call them back as soon as I got this.
This has nothing to do with Ezra. Ezra with his handsome, silly smile and childish impudence when I disappointed him. Ezra with his big big big big big heart and his affectionate teasing and his deep care for his friends whom he loved so goddamn much. Ezra who came back late and missed curfew his first night as a counselor because he was on the phone with his girlfriend and who rolled mint into rolling papers so that we could smoke it after a staff meeting one night. Ezra who asked me earnestly if I was mad at him and earnestly if he could help and earnestly how could he improve. Ezra who needed me to teach him how to make an omelet because he wasn't sure how. Ezra who I bragged about constantly to anyone who would listen, and Ezra who I showered with all of my love because he was one of the most special people I had ever met. Ezra who got so mad at me one day that he didn't talk to me until the next morning at breakfast, after I changed a part of a song that he had worked on for the campers to perform. Ezra who remembered one time when I got in big trouble at a house party in high school and who told me that he liked me better for it. These are some of the things that I fear I'll forget and I'm even more afraid that I won't have a choice in the matter.
The truth is I am starting to understand that I will never feel the same again. That's how this thing works. My feelings don't just evaporate and disappear because I don't pay attention to them. My grief and heartbreak still encompasses every waking moment of my life, exerting more or less influence over my emotional state depending on the given setting. I miss Ezra and I feel for all of my loved ones who miss him as well. Life only "goes on" to a certain degree when you lose something as precious as we did. Life goes on in a new way, stretching on like a road, only this time there is a hole in it filled with the kind of sadness that leaves a physical mark on the heart.
Ezra has been gone for the length of two full summers at camp. Two full summers. I can't help but think about his campers, the ones who will return to me again this summer with their bags and their memories and their worried parents just a hand-written letter away. What will we tell them? Will they ask about him? How will he fit into our summer lives filled with free swim and ice cream now that he's gone? I want to honor him; I want to do what he would want. I want to sing my heart out and swim with the campers every afternoon and go above and beyond to show those around me all of the love that I am capable of showing. There are a lot of times when I feel so wrapped up in the sadness of losing him that I don't think I am capable of expressing my love anymore.
This summer is about bringing with us the warmth and energetic spirit that Ezra expressed wherever he went. This summer I am going to try to follow the example that he set as a kind, generous and thoughtful member of our community as best I can. I think he will be proud of me.