Love Hard Today, for Death Rules the Avenue

In our thread yesterday on passionate homosocial relationships Juaquin Murrietta related her own experiences. They are particularly moving. Don't read this if you're at work, and you're subject to be moved to tears:


My closest friend died June 10, 2009. She was 62 years old. She dropped over dead of an aneurysm in her brain. No warning. 

We express ourselves differently now than women did in the 19th century, but I'm wondering if I really felt differently or feel differently. She and I met when she was 16 and I was 18, on our third day as freshmen at Stanford University. She was a little tiny thing, but very determined. She announced to me upon our first meeting that we were to be friends, and she was certainly right about that. 

We were separated almost all our lives. After we graduated from Stanford, I got married, and she moved to Massachusetts, where she too married. We never used the telephone a lot....she didn't ever have money, and long distance was expensive, back in the day. Then, it was paper letters. (When she died she left an entire box of my old letters.) Then, email. When she died, we were emailing about twice a week. 

Her daughter told me that she didn't think her mom would have survived, if something had happened to me. I'm still trying to figure out whether I have survived the corresponding loss. I realized after she died that at any given time I spent perhaps 65% of my interior time composing letters to her. I'd see something that would interest her (she was supremely intelligent); I'd see something we'd discussed (and there was almost nothing we didn't discuss in those 46 years). 

Or I'd think of some argument I'd made that I wanted, now, to nuance, part of that endless, reiterative, lifelong conversation. Without her I don't know what I think, any more. I'm married to the love of my life; we have four adult children and four grandchildren so far. She too was married, and has three grown children, and now a grandchild she didn't live to see. We're not talking sex here, people. Was it love even? Or was it identity? 

I can't write long emails any more, not to anyone, or long letters. All the letters were to her. I never talked about her; my husband was surprised, when she died, at my reaction. She talked about me all the time, apparently..... The Zen folks tell a story. Once there was one who played the harp skillfully, and a friend who listened skillfully. Then the listener died. The musician cut the strings, and never played again.

This really helped me. Especially the portion about constantly writing notes for, as Tennyson would say, one removed.

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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