because it’s beautiful

The first thing I thought of when I read my prompt for this week’s challenge was the movie Dead Poets Society, which I was contractually obligated to love deeply when I was a teenage girl in the 90s, because for one thing, there were all those boys in it, and for another thing, it was so sad, and watching it made me feel deep and tragic. And also I had a total crush on Josh Charles, even though I think the movie was trying to tell me that I was supposed to have a total crush on Ethan Hawke. I watched that movie about a thousand times when I was a teenage girl in the 90s, but I stopped watching it after my teenage years were over, and I haven’t seen it in, oh, forever. At this point in my life, I’m a bit afraid that if I watch it, I’ll discover that it’s not as good as I thought it was, and I don’t want present me to ruin it for past me.

But you know the sad part in that movie? When Neil kills himself? I always felt like there was a rock in my stomach when his asshole dad finds his body, and then when the guys at school tell Neil’s roommate, Ethan Hawke — what was his character’s name? — and he goes out into the snow and it’s fresh and clean and breathtaking and he says “It’s so beautiful” and then throws up, well, then I’d sob. Something about that one bit always tore a hole in my ability to keep it together and I never really understood why. Shouldn’t I have started in with the sobbing when I discovered that Neil was dead?

Years after my tragic teenager phase, I finally got it, why Ethan Hawke commenting on the beauty of the snow, puking in it, and then running off always made me weep. (It is at this point that I wish I’d thought of something more cheerful to write about, and also that I hadn’t ruined Dead Poets Society for you, if somehow you’ve managed never to see it, you know, while I’m apologizing for things.)

On a snowy Thanksgiving morning nearly six and a half years ago, I got the news that my best friend had been killed in a car accident on her way to work. There was one of those snow storms that happen in Michigan at that time of year, and driving conditions were terrible, and her car slid out of control. And that morning, after I’d gotten the news, after I’d sat doubled over in the living room for God knows how long, unable to move or speak, I knew I had to call her sister, her twin, Missy. I had to know she was okay. It was awhile before I was able to call, since the phone wouldn’t stop that morning, sympathy calls pouring in from all kinds of people, people I didn’t even know had my phone number, but finally I was able to get through. “Hey,” I said.

“Hi,” she said.

And then I accidentally hung up on her and had to call her back. “Hey,” I said, “Sorry I hung up on you. I’m an asshole.” We laughed. I stood there at my bedroom window, leaning outside a bit, smoking a cigarette. I’d quit smoking, but somehow, without even really knowing how I was in possession of cigarettes — had I driven somewhere and bought them? — I had started again. I don’t remember what Missy and I talked about, really, but I know that we talked, and I was looking at the snow in the trees, on the lawn across the street, and it was so quiet and cold and still and beautiful and I started to sob, stupid, snotty, blubbery sobbing, and I said “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I can’t keep it together.”

“You don’t have to,” Missy said. I remember she said that.

Then we cried for awhile and eventually hung up.

I was shivering and chain smoking and staring out at the snow, and I don’t know what I was thinking about, because I’m sure I was thinking so many things that if someone had asked me at that moment what I was thinking, the only answer I would’ve been able to give would’ve been “Nothing.” But the snow that morning, I’ll never forget how beautiful it was, how white and pure and cold and serene. And it was in those moments of looking at something so beautiful it hurt that I felt for the very first time what it was like to be alive in this world full of so much wonder and know that someone I loved deeply wasn’t. It’s a terrible feeling, one that comes with a lot of guilt, or at least it did in my case — for a long while, I felt guilty every time I saw or felt or heard or tasted something so great I felt lucky to be alive.

But it changes, and over time, the guilt went away. These days, whenever I feel lucky to be here on this earth, alive in my skin, witnessing something so fucking beautiful that it feels like if I allow myself to take it all in I might shatter, I’m happy that I’ve learned to be grateful, to savor it all just a little extra, because I can. Because I should. Because.

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Kurt challenged me with “It’s so fucking beautiful.” and I challenged SAM with “It’s your 15-year high school class reunion, and you are sitting in your car in the parking lot.”

One thought on “because it’s beautiful

  1. What a powerful memory. My god – I had no idea where it was going, either, so that the death shocked me in a miniature version of how it must have struck you. A loss like that is appropriate to pair with Dead Poets Society. Which is every bit as good as you remember.

    Like

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