Two years ago today I had the day off from work. It was a Monday, Columbus Day, and I was lounging in bed with my laptop, wasting the day away on MySpace. I remember clicking on your page and saw that you had uploaded a few new pictures sometime over the weekend. I clicked through them, and found the one of you, me, and Jesse. I smiled when I saw that your caption for the picture was “I love these two”, and I typed back a quick “I love these two, too!” and hit send. Today, that comment has still never been approved and posted because by that time… two years ago today on a Monday morning… you were already gone. At the time, I just didn’t know it yet.
Two years ago today I remember getting the phone call that told me you were gone. I can remember every word of the conversation as if it were yesterday. Jesse asked me if I was sitting down, and when I assured him that I was he then broke the news that you had been killed the night before in a car accident. I remember being in shock, and accusing him - and hoping – it was nothing more than a sick, practical joke. I half expected you to pick up the phone and say “Obviously we’re joking Niff! Be ready, we’re coming to pick your ass up!”
Two years ago today, I picked up the phone to call Kristen and tell her that you had passed away. I wanted her to hear it from me… her cousin… her own flesh and blood. Her voice was still clouded with sleep when she answered the phone, and I remember feeling awful that I had to break the news to her while she was barely half awake. I wanted to ask her to go get a cup of coffee and then call me back, but I couldn’t take the chance of her hearing from someone else. She knew immediately that something was wrong when she heard me crying, and her voice changed instantly from half asleep to wide awake. I remember how badly I didn’t want to say out loud the words that I knew were going to hurt her so deeply… I’m sorry Kristen, but Leah died last night. Your best friend was killed in a car accident. I didn’t even sound real when it came out of my mouth. She was momentarily stunned as she processed the news, and then she just said “I’m on my way”. I remember hanging up and thinking that at least I had a few hours that morning absent of the knowledge that you were no longer with us, thinking you were still alive. I wish Kristen had been afforded even ten minutes of the same luxury.
Two years ago today I remember the influx of mourners that gathered at your home as soon as they heard the news. I remember sitting with your mother in her bedroom, amidst a scattering of your aunts, uncles, close friends and loved ones, hugging her and telling her how sorry I was. How truly, truly sorry I was that we had to lose you. I can still hear her voice as she asked aloud the one question that nobody could answer over and over and over again. “Why did it have to be my Leah?” she would sob as she rocked back and forth, clutching the framed picture of the two of you in her hand. Listening to your mother cry for you was absolutely heart wrenching, Leah. I looked over at Kristen and saw her fighting back the same tears that threatened to spill over my cheeks any minute, as we tried our hardest to be strong for your mother. I remember feeling grateful that I had my cousin there to go through this with me. That at least we had each other.
Two years ago today, we sat side by side on the unmade bed you had slept in just two short nights before. I remember closing my eyes and inhaling your scent that still lingered in the room. I looked around at your bedroom, trying to absorb ever part of you that I could to take with me. It disturbed me that there was so much life left in there. In this very room, less than 24 hours ago you had sat in front of this very mirror and applied your make up for a night out. The eyeliner pencils remained uncapped… the bronzer unclosed. (I think Kristen may have even found her lip plumper that you swore you didn’t have somewhere in the pile.) As I crossed the room to check out the framed pictures and concert stubs adorning the full length mirror that hung on the inside of your closet door, I was careful not to disturb the discarded clothes still strewn on the rug. The scattered shirts and pants you rejected in favor of a pair of jeans, Chucks and a hoodie to go watch the Red Sox playoff game at a local bar on a Sunday night. Maybe you planned to hang them up the next morning, but knowing you… probably not. Dirty or not, they’d go in the wash. It was just easier. I laughed to myself when I saw your quilted down, ankle length winter coat hanging in your closet doorway and I remember thinking to myself, “winter must be coming early this year” if Leah already broke out her Eskimo coat. You always looked so funny in that coat, but the best part of all was you KNEW how funny you looked, and you didn’t care. “Hey, at least I’m WARM kid!” you’d say from somewhere underneath the massive, faux fur lined hood.
Two years ago today I remember sitting on that bed, thinking about the night I met you. Kristen picked me up first on our way to see a local show in New Hampshire, and then we stopped to get you in Reading. I slid over into the middle “the bitch seat” to make room for you and from that point on, when the three of us were together I always had “bitch”. No matter how hard I fought, I never won that battle. Kristen always drove, you always called “gun” so I got stuck with “bitch”. Right there in that very truck, some of my most cherished memories were formed of the three of us together. I can’t always remember the destination, but I remember the scenario because it was always the same: us three in the cab of Kristen’s pickup truck… smoking cigarettes, scheming for gas money, and just chatting away. WEEI was always broadcasting a Red Sox game, and I remember Kristen proudly informing me that you were a REAL Red Sox fan, not the fake kind that wore pink Red Sox tee shirts. (I threw away my pink Red Sox shirt the very next day.) The destination was never the same, but the three passengers always were. That particular night that I met you for instance, I came home wearing no pants and two pairs of underwear. To this day it’s my favorite story to tell people about you… I can remember Kristen shaking her head and laughing in the driver’s seat, while you egged me on as I fumbled to pull my jeans off over my boots in the cab of the truck. (It would have been a lot easier if I wasn’t stuck in “bitch”.) That memory symbolizes everything I loved so fiercely about you Leah, because more than anything, the biggest compliment I can give you, is that I loved who I was when I was with you.
Two years ago today, I sat next to my cousin on your bed and wished with everything I had for just one more minute with you. We sat side by side in silence and shared thought. When I replay in my head what happened next, it has become all the more evident to me that it was your way of reaching out and comforting us when we needed you most, in the way you knew best. Music was such a huge part of your life, Leah. This was evidenced even in your death by the multitude of musicians who showed up at your wake, the songs written for you in the aftermath, and the many benefit concerts held in your memory in the months following your passing. Two years ago today, as we sat in your bedroom and listened to your loved ones grieving down the hall, your alarm clock inexplicably started going off, blaring music throughout the whole house. I remember Kristen and I both jumped nearly out of our skin at the disruption, and she ran over to your nightstand and fiddled with the buttons to silence it. As the stillness once again filled the room, Kristen stood upright from the alarm clock, and we met each other’s eyes. Together, we both started laughing uncontrollably through our tears. We couldn’t help it. It was just like our Leah to set her alarm clock to “rise and shine” at four o’clock in the afternoon. But even more the reason for our laughter and tears…. We knew you were there with us, at that exact moment, and that thought is what has given us peace to get through these past two years without you.
Neither of us had ever been a big believer in signs from the afterlife, but then again, neither of us really ever had a reason to want to believe until we lost you. A few days after your wake, Kristen called me in tears. Unlike me, Kristen had actually paid attention to the song that started blaring in your room the day you died, and had researched the lyrics on the internet. She learned that the song was called Who Knew by Pink and it’s about the unexpected death of a close friend. As Leigh Hunt once said “music is the medicine of the breaking heart”. Sometimes, I’ll be driving along and the song with start playing and I’ll feel nothing, other times to this day, I hear that song and I become flooded with emotion. I believe that these are the times that you are with me.
There is a quote that says something to the gist of “music speaks to the soul in a language that only the soul can understand, yet cannot translate into words”. More succinctly… music is what feelings sound like, so when I cannot describe what it is I am feeling, I usually rely on music to say it for me. On that particular day when you knew we needed you the most, you were speaking to us both in the best way you knew how, in a language we would understand… through music. So tonight Leah, two years to the day when you left us, Kristen and I are going to get together in remembrance of our friend, of a beautiful soul, and of a life cut too short, and we’re going to play some music for you. I hope that you’ll join us.
I love and miss you always, my friend.
“Life is one grand, sweet song, so start the music.”
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