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Eric Engel

Ever in bloom

His name was Kevin. I met him my sophomore year of high school. He was the brother of one of my best buddies, and so arrangements had to be made. I remember the first time we ever spoke; he introduced himself as if we were long lost friends, but with a James Dean cool kind of thing going on — unaware of whether I was accepting his invite because he knew I already had. We were lifers thereafter.

I used to go over to his house for the remainders of many afternoons, lounging on the couch to the tune of some of Ma’s gourmet cuisine or outside scattering across the pavement in pursuit of a hacky sack lost in flight. He was like the sun-stricken branches just outside the windowpane of my personality, hanging so bountifully that I could sense his presence each time I was out and about and of use to the world. He was what you call one of a kind, a characteristic I see in every sun spotter whom I consider to be a brother, if not in face then in fundamental.

I wish I could see him again, to look at him and wrap him in a big bear hug because I didn’t take the time that I could have toward the end of things. The last time I saw him, I smiled his way, shook his hand and thought the same old thoughts. And it crushes me. That’s because I live with the image of Kev in my head. That’s all I have left of him, along with a bad taste in my mouth because it doesn’t seem physically proper for a functioning body to cease.

I miss him because he’s just not here; he’s not here in the flesh. He’s not here to make me laugh or irritate me or invite me out on an adventure. Through Kevin I’m understanding more about the gift that’s given. Life is a gift of an undetermined time frame, and his appearance here was fabulous, it was just what I needed. He was a good friend of mine, and so it’s very hard for me to relinquish my desire for his presence.

Each good friend that goes leaves the rest of us confused. Like we should do something but don’t know what it is. Like we want to do something but aren’t allowed to. The pen is pressed to paper, and yet no words appear on the page.

His name was Kevin. He was a friend of mine. We used to run about, looking for the excitement in each other, and I wish he was sitting beside me right now. There’s a guilt that weighs on me for his family, and I would like to somehow step in for Kev because he’s not in a position to do so himself any longer. I want to rush over there and show up with the humor and the swag and the moves that Kev had, but we’re all different, and that’s what hurts the most.

I feel their pain when I look at them, and that amplifies mine. The realization that their pain must be even more severe than mine is a true awakening — a thought that’s hard to recognize because it’s so immense. I do not know what they are feeling, and yet I want to act as if I do. I want to act as if this is a problem that I can solve. To just be able to remove their remorse because their remorse is clouding their memory of their joy. It’s doing that for all of us.

I don’t know how to react sometimes to this understanding, but if I had the chance I would grab my boy and tell him that I love him and that I never wanted him to leave because he was such a righteous guy, and that he drank too much and was easily influenced ... but that’s not my right. It’s not my call to tell someone else how to live their life, how to be. It’s my call to be their companion, to be a shining light outside of their window, to offer ideas that they may not have thought of, to challenge the ones that they had, and to accept them as they are. To look at them as a unique thing in my life that makes me understand things better through their influence — so much so that I look forward to it, I cherish it. That’s how I look at each of my friends, and I struggle with the idea that Kevin’s knowledge made specifically for my ears has come to an end.

He will no longer ever be capable of talking to me or walking with me or blowing up my phone with additions to my perspective. I assume I have a lot of time left here, and so I imagine that I will always, always want him to be the next person through my door, even though he won’t ever make it. That battle inside me, it’s just that, it strains my abilities as a dreamer because it sacrifices my hope for an everlasting connection to now, something I sense in most everyone I’ve ever known. Now I am living, and so tomorrow I again will live. But he didn’t, and so I realize that I won’t; but I’m not scared of that. I’m excited to see the Lord, but as each one of my loved ones sails off, I will be sad that they are not here to listen to me tell them about my excitement.

I’m sitting around an empty bonfire, and each time I close my eyes to recall a great moment between the two of us, I have to then open them and realize that it’s only me sitting there. That’s why I miss him. He always added so much to my ideals, and the fact that he still does is amazing. He gives me a better sense of purpose, not to live for him but to live with him; to know that he still affects me; that he influences me; that he is here, right now, being mentioned with great respect, and therefore great admiration.

He has not fled from my memory, nor my heart. Just my view. He exists in a new form now, so I use this emptiness around me, at times when it would just be the two of us, to think about who he was, what he was, what he did. As my brain settles and my heart smiles, I realize I could never lose him to the unknown, and due to the fact the available options do not include here with me in this great stir we created, I see him in a place much better than this. I see him in the trees. I see him in the stars above. I hear him in the wind. I feel him touch my face as the flood disperses from my eyes, and I know that he is here. He’s no longer the Elvis-impersonating, Mohawk wearing, inked up box of free spirit that he once was, but he is here.

Maybe this is what God meant when he created us in his image. To be sensed even if we are not seen, to notice both the puzzle and each missing piece. We are not alone, even if we stand beside no other because what has been is, and what is shall always be. I miss you, dude, because I know you when you are here.

His name is still Kevin. He is still a brother, a son and my friend. He is still worth a story. And I hear laughter in the leaves that flutter past me in the breeze in a dream of a walk through the garden.

Eric Engel, formerly of Tiskilwa but now of Peoria, can be reached by e-mail at eazywritin84@yahoo.com.