October 8, 2012…

Is a date that will forever remain deep within the realms of my aching heart.

Sometimes your path crosses with that of another and you have this instant awareness you were meant to have them in your life. There is no explanation. No sense of how or why or even how long they will remain. Yet somehow the perfect stars align themselves for that perfect opportunity to meet that perfect person at any given moment. For me…that person was Ryan. Only months earlier we had stumbled across each others’ paths as I had been searching for a roommate and he had been searching for an apartment. So we chose a time and place to meet.

I arrived first when suddenly in walks this person with such an infectious smile I could not help but to smile back and he introduced himself as we sat to talk. He mentioned he had to walk a few blocks away to start his work shift so we quickly covered the bases and answered each other’s questions. I was so drawn to his energy I found it difficult to believe we would be anything less than perfect roommates…and so we were. He moved in not long after and I was happy to find my instincts were once again spot on.

Here I was a lover of running, biking and pretty much anything having to do with exercise and the outdoors. And here he had recently taken control of his health by eating right and running, which resulted in quite a bit of weight loss that only increased his undeniable excitement for living life. I loved the arts and he spent his free time taking acting classes at the local theater in hopes of one day moving to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career. We even talked about our tattoos. We already had our next ones planned and had decided that we were going to make an appointment to get them done together. I had even gone as far as to research local tattoo shops. We both ate healthy (most of the time), made valiant attempts at keeping things organized (some of the time) and were always concerned with getting in the way of the other (all of the time)…and yet our relationship quickly developed into so much more.

I found that I had somehow managed to add a family member to my life. He was like a brother to me. We bounced ideas off each other. We listened to and appreciated the opinions we both felt comfortable enough sharing. We spent hours talking about our past mistakes and even more about what we had learned from them. Better yet, what we were still learning.

He told me about his family. His parents. His brothers. There was never enough time to finish our discussions about his brothers. He was so incredibly proud of them and only wanted to better himself in hopes that they would be equally as proud. It was so important to him that they were, maybe even most important. He wanted to be the most amazing big brother a person could have and I could tell how deep his love was for them, because anything he said or did that concerned them could have only come from the heart. Of course he also told me of family friends who had become more…so much more that they were simply family. I sometimes doubted whether he even had the word “friend” in his vocabulary because he loved everyone so immensely he treated them all as family and he strived to do anything in his power to show appreciation for everything they had done for him. He spoke of one family in particular who helped him through so many difficult times. Who had been there for him, loved him and supported him. He only wanted the opportunity to do the same. In a strange way, I found myself hoping to someday know these people so I could share in his profound enjoyment of their very existence. Never would I have imagined I would have that very opportunity…and never in the way it all transpired.

During our time together, I also confided in him. Sometimes of the insanity of my family. Of my disappointments. Of my mistakes. Mostly though, I spoke of my now pending divorce and the never-ending emotional roller-coaster I found myself stuck on. Then I told him of my sickness and the upcoming treatment that I was about to experience. Of the damage it would do to my life, my body, but most importantly my soul. His first reaction? Without missing a beat he said “…well, you have me here now so I will help in any way I can…” because that is who he was. So full of love and appreciation for anyone. So full of life! I found myself hoping that it was contagious so I could find my own love for life. Strangely enough, I started to.

Then on the evening of October 7th I had plans to meet up with a friend for dinner and spent most of the night having drinks and catching up with each other. I arrived home later that night slightly intoxicated…or just intoxicated…and headed for bed to prepare for work in the morning. At some point during the night I heard Ryan with his girlfriend heading to his room, and they typically worked late so there really was nothing out of the ordinary. Some time later I awoke to his girlfriend in a complete panic as she was attempting to wake me up. She was speaking so quickly telling me I needed to help her. That she could not get Ryan to wake up. That I needed to somehow get him to wake up.

So I jumped out of bed, my mind still slightly dazed with sleep and remnants from the prior evenings debacle. I followed her to his room  and there he was. Sitting on the floor half leaning against the bed and half slumped over. Something about the way his body rested caused every internal alarm I had to begin screaming and wailing within me. I called his name. I started shaking him. I quickly became aware that something far more serious was going on. I could not tell if he was breathing and thought I should lay him down to give him CPR, but for some reason he was so heavy. I cannot even begin to describe how heavy he seemed. I immediately yelled for her to call 911 as I continued fighting to move him…but I lost. We all lost that night.

Everything happened so quickly. Some things I will never forget and others are nothing more than a blur. Strange how that happens. A minute in one situation feels like an hour, yet only a second in others. At some point cops and paramedics arrived…this is the part that blurs…it was such a whirlwind of events I cannot even recall their arrival. I only remember walking into my room to get out of their way so they could save him and then they took him out. She and I were left with the cops who began asking about the details of the night and how we were involved. It felt like hours that we recounted our stories until that moment. The one moment when one cop reentered the living room where we had been talking and informed us that he did not make it.

I saw the devastation on her face and heard it in her voice, but I felt it in my heart. If only I had not been drinking that night. If only I had been stronger. If only this, if only that. Every horrible situation in life seems to have its own string of “if only’s” and I managed to make a very successful career out of  running through them again and again…for days, for months, for years. In fact, I still have moments when those “if only’s” rear their ugly little heads and I once again exhaust myself fighting them down.

In the days that followed I finally had that opportunity to meet everyone I had already grown to know and love through his stories. It was devastating to lose him, but also depressing to have to meet them under such circumstances. His parents coming to move his things. Deciding who should take what while experiencing such intense pain…such grief. Raw. We were all raw with emotions and yet still moving forward because we had no other option.

And then…the funeral.

It was beautiful. Well as beautiful as one can be. Not in the scene or anything like that, but in the people that arrived. The line was out the door for hours. I met his brothers and understood why he was so proud. I met his friends and understood why he valued them as family. I even met him on an entirely different level than I had known him while he was living. Then it hit me that he is one of the few people who may have been loved just as much as he had loved…and that is simply beautiful.

A few days after the funeral I went and got that tattoo that we had been planning for, which leaves me feeling as though I have a part of him with me.

In the months that followed I had started my treatment just as I was spiraling into a depression and found his friends and family stepping into his shoes. Just like him they did not miss a beat and were there for me. Like him, I am so appreciative. I can never begin to thank them enough. The only real token of appreciation I can give that matters to any of us is to continue making my life successful. To continue chasing happiness. Better yet, to find happiness.

I miss him…God I miss him. I have spent countless days imagining what life would be like if he were still here. Imaging how much better of a world it might be if I were in his place. There is not a day that goes by that I do not think about him…no matter how brief it might be. It is amazing how a single moment in time can be forever etched in your memory. Unfortunately, in the days surrounding his anniversary I am overcome with memories of that last moment of him in our apartment. I have to fight to get that scene out of my head and more often than not I find myself losing. Especially today.

But most days? Most days I think of nothing but that infectious smile and how it not only infected me, but the hearts of every single person in attendance of his funeral. I am sure we all miss him, but I am also sure we all are better people for having known him…no matter how brief it was. I know I am.

With all my love Ryan…always.

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