It's time. Time for me to talk about the most difficult day of my life - the day that made me realize that nothing else that could ever happen to me would have as much impact, import, pain, or emotion. I need to talk about it. I need to exorcise it, in a sense - not so much to get rid of it (that could never happen), but to give it air, to bring it into light. Ironically, it's a day I wouldn't take back for anything.
Those of you who knew and loved John (and me as well, I guess), be warned: This will not be an easy read. It certainly won't be an easy write. How do I even begin? It's such a heavy burden that I can barely lift it most days.
The week before John died, he was barely conscious for the most part, not quite cogent when he was, and fairly incoherent (largely due, I think, to the absolute weakness of his waning body). Contrary to what anyone, including me, might think, the hardest moment wasn't when John died. It came a couple of days earlier.
On Saturday, May 5th, two days before John died, Timothy and I were sitting with him. I held his right hand in my own two and Timothy did the same with his left. Timothy and I were mostly silent, with some quiet conversation here and there. Suddenly, John opened his eyes. Timothy said, "Heyyyy, Buddy!" It seemed to sharpen John's focus. He took a moment to look at us both. Then, with surprising clarity of mind and speech, he asked the question that has seared and scarred me forever, "Am I dying?"
I recall hearing the sharp intake of Timothy's breath, and it was all I could do to answer through the sudden rush of my tears, but I owed the man all the honesty he'd ever given me. I replied, "Oh, my Dearest Love. I'm so sorry. Yes, you are." John began to weep too, and said, "Oh no. No no no. I'm not ready." I told him it was okay, that he didn't have to leave until he was.
In quieter moments, I'd been talking to his other best friend, Roxan, who passed away in 2002. I'd been asking her to be there for him, to take his hand when the time came, because I knew how scared he was. I told John as much that afternoon.
"I've been talking to Roxan. I asked her to be there for you. I know you're scared, but she's waiting and she's so excited to see you again. If you see her, you go ahead and take her hand. It'll be ok. I'll be ok, I promise. You've been so brave and you've fought so hard. I know you don't want to leave, but your body just isn't going to let you stay. I love you so much. I will always love you so, so much. So, you give Roxan a big hug for me. And if you see a big man with the lopsided Black family grin on his face, probably holding a fishing pole, shake his hand. Tell him his little girl loves him and misses him..."
At that point, I couldn't go on. My tears fell to mingle with the tears on John's face. So Timothy picked up the flag and marched on. "It's ok, John. It's all going to be ok. Barb's gonna be ok. I'll be ok. We're here for you. We're here for each other. I promise I'll keep an eye on your family, and I promise that I'll make sure Barb is alright. Be at peace, Buddy. It'll be ok."
John seemed to take some small comfort from his words. He said, "Going to Hawaii." (He had asked Timothy months before to spread his ashes on Mt. Haleakala.) Timothy said, "You bet. I'll do it for you." John said, "Mmm-mm. Both. Both go." If I thought I'd lost it before, it was at that moment that I completely fell apart. What an incredible honor to be included in that directive.
Timothy said, "We'll both go. We'll get you there, Buddy. Be at peace, it'll be ok." And he just kept saying that in his soothing voice, "Be at peace, it'll be ok." He said it over and over again until John calmed down and drifted back to sleep. Both of us still holding his hands, weeping, loving the hardest, deepest, most beautiful love of all. I have no idea how much longer we sat there like that. At some point, I remember holding on to Timothy and weeping and saying, "That was too hard. That was way too hard. Oh my god, I wasn't prepared for that." I think Timothy brought forth a snot-filled, harsh laugh from me by simply replying, "Fuckin'-A."
John didn't open his eyes again, until the evening of May 7th, when he opened his handsome brown eyes to look at me one last time, and then took his final breath.
That Saturday was the bond that sealed my friendship with Timothy forever. He's as much a man of honor as John ever was, and he's stayed true to his word. It's easy to understand why they shared such a powerful friendship for 31 years. With any luck, T and I will carry it along for another 31 years. At least.
What, in my entire life, have I ever done to be so blessed to have known the people I've known? I haven't even mentioned the Johnson clan. They amazed me over and over again that week (and since) as well. But, that's another post - my keyboard is already sodden with tears.
"Even through the darkest phase
Be it thick or thin
Always someone marches brave
Here beneath my skin"
~KD Lang, Constant Craving