“There’s a trick to the 'graceful exit.' It begins with the vision to recognize when a job, a life stage, or a relationship is over — and let it go. It means leaving what’s over without denying its validity or its past importance to our lives. It involves a sense of future, a belief that every exit line is an entry, that we are moving up, rather than out.” — Ellen Goodman
I write this fully aware of the danger one may encounter when writing about their experience with others. Especially when, in this particular event, the other is not present to have a say in the words written about her. I do have a small inclining, however, that if the other were still alive, she wouldn’t mind and, in fact, would assume that I would write something about her. After all, writing was the impetus of the relationship that carried on between Kelly Adams and myself. The professor offered a challenge to the women in the class to write a story that countered, if not responded, to a semiautobiographical piece I had written about a date between potential lovers. Kelly was the woman that took the challenge.
Any of you reading this who are writers may understand how critiquing writing can deepen the interpersonal relationship between two people, and because of our brief exploration into each other’s literature and views on the opposite sex, talking about those views in person was seamless. Kelly knew of my thoughts on dating and enjoying the company of women and I knew of her assertiveness, both physically and intellectually, with men. So, if we were talking, it was because she believed my thoughts and perhaps words were worth investigating. After class one evening, Kelly and I found ourselves on a short walk; accompanied with the walk were witty conversation, laughter, and slight flirtation and I had managed to provide all thee in such quantity and quality that I was given an invitation to go salsa dancing. Being ill equipped with the feet, hips, and knowledge of movement with regard to salsa, combined with the distractions a gentleman encounters on Halloween night, I decided to decline the offer.
And this, dear reader, is where time and distance defeat memory. I will try not to romanticize events that were not in any particular way “romantic,” however, this brings up the difficulty of defining a relationship that requires no specific title. What other than friends could I classify the relationship I shared with Ms. Adams? Friends with Benefits? No. Ideally, all friendships are mutually beneficial for the parties involved. What is the point of the relationship, if both individuals do not gain some form of social currency? There were no property titles such as boyfriend or girlfriend. While the verbal, physical and mental aspects of the relationship were worth privatizing, there was never a commitment of monogamy, or any conversations regarding keeping the parts of our bodies we enjoyed between the two of us. We enjoyed the company of each other too much to let our relationship only live between our sheets. So, that leaves us with friends, and I remember when I realized how fortunate I felt to be considered a friend of Kelly’s.
I was merging onto the 5north from the 94west when Kelly returned a phone call I had made to her the previous day. I was alone, and explained the nature of my earlier phone call. “I just wanted to say I appreciate your friendship and I love you.” On the other side of the phone, I could hear the sound of a smile, her face turning red, and accompanied with a stealthy swallow she, without missing a beat, uttered the words, “I love you too.” The tone in her expression had a slight indication that she knew, even before I express the sentiment earlier, that she felt the same way and that our mutual expression of Devine Eros did not need to be sobered with explanation.
Over the course of the friendship, we spent afternoons at La Jolla cove with lunch, a bottle of wine, and, as usual, fulfilling conversation. Each time we held court together we, without romantic pressure, enjoyed each other’s company. But, of course, we had our fair share of miscues. We experienced cycles of silence that were sometimes followed by an abundance of sharing physical space. The cycle was not always equal on this front, but when the cup was being filled, it runneth over. The amount of silence never interfered with our ability to pick up conversation, touch and friendship as if we had made it a point to indulge in them every day. Despite the number of times we fell out of communication or stepped on the other’s toes, we never had an argument, spoke to each other unkindly, or judged the other person’s shortcomings. It was one of the rare relationships I’ve shared with someone that rewarded me with full verbal liberty. There seemed to be no end to what I could confess to Kelly and no end to which we would offer ears for our guilt and hearts to lay on.
I remember the first time I noticed something was amiss in Kelly. I had no promotion of suicide, but a deep feeling that there was something that could, if awakened, stir the pot. During our exchange of ears, she told me about struggles with her family, her father in particular, scars left from previous boyfriends, and issues with a male, who was, in what seemed to be a marriage on the decline. Listening to the cross she had to bare, I saw something in her eyes. I can’t offer a poetic description of the look, but what I can say is, her eyes were clearly signaling that the thought of suicide had been behind them. Of course, when writing about the implications a glance may or not have possessed can be tricky. Am I sure I was as cognizant of the contents of the look then as I am now? No. Was there a look that I do remember to signal some sort of fleeting thought of potential suicide? Yes. Perhaps, due to naivety, I was unable to put two and two together and carried on with our conversation. After the bill was paid, we made our way to the door. What happened to spark the following events still are unclear, but I do remember a slight lack in peripheral vision, a muting of the noise around us, and somehow, which shouldn’t be a mystery, but a causality of the loosening of the tongue through wine, getting lost in kisses. I’m not particularly sure how long we stood in embrace without noticing whether the other patrons were watching, were bothered by our public display of friendship, or how long we were at Wine Steals, or every detail of conversation, but that night still resonates with me every time I see someone displaying the eyes that could resemble the event foreshadowed in the eyes of Ms. Adams.
Kelly and I were in the midst of a silence period, when I received an email that she was starting a group entitled S.O.L. The group, whose acronym stands for Students Of Life, would be compromised of a group of polymaths that engaged in exploring different aspects of life. This period of silence partly happened because I was in a new monogamous relationship. I did, however, make it a point to check my email for Kelly’s updates just to see if she were o.k. During this period, she seemed to be fully functional and even moved to Seoul, South Korea to teach English. We never had a chance to talk during her time in South Korea; however, she sent emails with attached journal entries that updated friends and family about her travels. I’m not sure why I never read her journals, but, if I had, I would have been able to see the happiness that seemed to be contradicted by her underlined personal torment.
Months went by before I realized Kelly’s emails stopped coming. I’ve heard stories of mothers being able to “sense” when a child is in danger, and the ability to sense such a thing was something I doubted until I had that same sensibility. I decided to check Kelly’s Facebook. We were not friends on Facebook, but I knew she had one and I would occasionally check it as part of my routine of checking in on her. To my astonishment, her Facebook had been deleted. I know what it’s like to have the wind knocked out of one’s stomach, but the feeling I had was more of a depletion of every feeling, thought, and emotion from my body. I wasn’t panicking nor had I any sense of urgency. My entire being was suddenly empty. My next steps were not taken to create some from of “closure,” but to affirm what I knew was inevitable. I googled searched “Kelly Adams death” and within a matter seconds, the search engine notified me that the woman I once shared Devine Eros with, a little longer than year before was, in fact, no longer a member of the living.
I felt the presence of death and despair occupy the room next to me. There were neither tears nor sounds. I could only hear all of the things that make a human “human” escape from the pores of my body. As hard as I tried, it wasn’t easy for me to put myself in Kelly’s mind. I could only see the parts of me that became parts of her providing moisture in red underneath the ground she laid upon.
Being someone that I assumed had an appreciation for the ironic, I would not have thought Kelly would end her life the way she did. A friend of Kelly’s told me that Kelly, among other things, had not been feeling like herself in South Korea and decided to end her life by jumping from a tall building. I was surprised, however, that the English major would have decided not to kill herself because of the clichéd symbolism that one could find within her self inflicted demise. I couldn’t figure out why Kelly jumped from a building, at what was seemed to be the pinnacle of her life, in Seoul, South Korea after jointly starting a group called Students Of Life. I do admit to contain some bitterness about not receiving a phone call or some form of consultation, but I had no hand in bringing her in the world, so I suppose I can not attempt to act as if I should have been consulted when she wanted to take herself out. Perhaps, I felt that if I could have earned a personal meeting, during one of our silence cycles, to discontinue our habitual kissing, cuddling and sharing beds, then it should have been fitting that our mutual relationship to breathing would warrant a letter of resignation as well.
It took me over three years to read her emails and journals from South Korea. Once I did read her journals, it became clear that Kelly was under an unsustainable amount of stress. In her writing, she expressed having a deficiency at remembering sequences and patterns and teaching requires both skills especially when one is in a country without knowing anyone or speaking the language. There were times when she describes what I can only conclude to be anxiety, exhaustion, physical pain and self-disappointment in times of error, and since I was working in education within a similar capacity in the States, I could have offered Kelly a pair of ears.
Kelly, for me, was a lesson in friendship, the courage to kiss when afraid, the fingers when one lets go of ego, and the discovery of beauty in broken hearts and broken women.
So, here I sit after the literary lionizing of Kelly’s death, that I am introduced to my coda on closure and how I will never have hold of it. The conversations we had on aim are no longer available, the text messages have been erased, and memories of she and I will be kidnapped by age. As I grow older, my memory of Kelly will grow less and less. Soon, there will be little left of the memory of our friendship and very much like, the pieces of her left in South Korea, the memories that I do have will die and evaporate into the areas of my subconscious.
I do, however, reflect on the importance of the Kelly’s epoch in my life. Thinking about our time at the cove, I can see the way in which the waves rebounded from the rocks below our blanket. I can hear the conversations of people nearby pretending not to notice us. I can hear her laugh blending in with the visage of the sunset, and in the midst of the dying of her laugh and the setting of the sun, the grass seems greener.