Amidst a half dozen partially finished sculptures, loose blocks of clay and luminous powders in little jars, tonight I am remembering very vividly my tender inspiration behind all of this. In moments like this despite a large to-do list and bed time slipping beyond me, I do what I am led to do. I share my heart. And tonight I share Christopher.
When I was 8 years old, I (along with the world) lost my childhood friend Christopher. He died unexpectedly in a very sudden and tragic accident. To read about that experience and my journey into adulthood without him, you can visit this link: http://themidnightorange.blogspot.com/2010/04/why-i-sculpt-child-angels.html Tonight I am not here to talk about his death and how it impacted me, but his life and the very profound imprint it had on mine. Last night I fell asleep murmuring to my husband the dozen or so memories that I can recall of Christopher. It has a stinging effect, that limitation of my adolescent mind and the things it didn't hold onto. Had I known that was all the time we would be given together, I surely would have collected our moments like carefully netted butterflies and tried to delicately hold onto all of them.
Of my limited list, I remember that we were learning about palindromes in class and Chris thought of the word "Aha". I never say that word out loud but think it all the time. It is a private word for me, he gave that to me. I remember on Valentine's Day he gave me two Valentines and I knew he buried me in his heart. I recall beating him in the 2nd grade spelling bee. He spelled "believe" wrong and I didn't know how to spell it either but somehow the letters found their right order. How ironic and meaningful. Believe. And I do, Chris.
I have one saved that is so touching to me that it glows. We went on a class field trip to Becker Farms and he sat next to me on the bus. Chris and I had the most chemistry when we argued and teased each other but this day I think God set aside a quietness for me to hold onto. On this day Chris put his head on my shoulder, and with each bump in the road I thought how uncomfortable it was because of how hard his head felt on my bony shoulder, and I hoped we never reached the farm so it would stay there all afternoon. It was a moment that defined to me how close we were, because I knew it wasn't comfortable for him either but he left it there to retain that closeness with me. We were at an age where boys and girls didn't like each other but I felt on that bus ride that we loved each other in the purest way that one child can love another. Later, he stayed near me in the orchards and I helped him pick his apples because he was so small. I pulled the branches downward and Christopher reached for them one by one. That was the exact image that recoiled in me when I learned of the accident and his death. Christopher, in his smallness, reaching for his apples. How very, very little my Chris was; the nature of his death so unfair.
Within seconds or minutes of learning he died (time and shock have a deceitful partnership) a second image came to me. It is the only memory of us that I wish I could burn. In my mind's eye I see Chris standing in the aisle of the school bus getting ready for his stop. It was the last day of school before summer vacation, and it would be the day before he died. Energy radiated from his core, it always did, and his vibrancy coupled with the excitement of the summer he thought was ahead had him over the moon. Christopher was doing kicks and spins in between the seats. The last thing I ever heard him say was "I am Rafael!". The last thing he ever heard me say was "You're too much of a shrimp to ever be a Ninja Turtle". That was it. With round eyes that harbored surprise and a shadow of hurt he just looked at me and the bus stopped. I saw his body sway forward slightly and then upright again from the inertia, and then he turned and got off the bus.
Final words, and at that time I felt clever for saying them. Tonight I feel as wrecked thinking them as I did the day I learned he died. In the blissful ignorance of childhood, I did not know the high price of a moment or the cost of my own words. Each year follows the next and thoughts of my sharp tongue prick the colorful ballooning memories I have of him and let out some of that sweet air. And when you grasp at air you come up empty handed. Sometimes I think that is where all my other memories of him wept away to.
A woman wrote to me a few months ago because she was touched by a blog entry I had written about him. She said that for me to have carried him with me all these years and have spread his legacy so tirelessly was something remarkable to the extent that she wondered whether destiny meant for us to be soul mates. It was a darling concept except that I always associate that term for partners and lovers and it does not capture the innocence and purity of what Christopher and I had. He is truly, deeply, my forever friend.
Chris, a thousand times I have gone to bed wishing I could bury those last words in place of you. There is not even the scent of doubt in my heart that you have not forgiven me, and yet I am so indebted at times I feel I could never climb out of this guilt to reach you. Tonight I want you to know that sharing your legacy is my gift back to you. From the very first angel sculpture I made of you, and the hundreds I have made since for others, you have been the round eyes behind my own and the true inspiration for me to follow a path leading me to the joy and sorrow of others. It is because of you that others have found both comfort and a sense of peace. You were special to the point of bursting and when I don't have any more words to describe the wonder of you, I mould them with my hands. God wrapped the most extraordinary being in the package of an 8 year old boy and tonight I want you to see how different my life is because you were and are in it. Two decades ago we picked apples in an orchard, and I now realize that we truly had no idea the depths of what we were harvesting. Always I miss you.