I've always been told that coming out is a continuing process, something that you have to keep doing over and over and never really finish. From my own experience, I can speak to the truth of that statement, and from my other experience this week I can speak to another truth:
Saying goodbye to a friend is also a continuing process, and it feels like you just keep doing it over and over and will never really finish.
I've said goodbye to Bryan a thousand times this week, in a thousand ways, and I still feel the sudden pain of the knowledge that he is no longer a part of my life each time I do it. I was sending an email to the buildings staffs the other day, using my usual alphabetical by hall list, and there was Bryan's name at the bottom. I had to take it off. I found a voicemail from him on my phone this morning, an old one that for some reason I had listened to and not deleted, and realized that I will never get another one. When we were helping his family pack up his apartment, they gave me a box of canned goods and nonperishable groceries that they didn't know what to do with, and when I got it home I realized that he'd bought the can of chilis and the can of black olives so that he could make the wraps that he always brought to Ben and Elizabeth's house for the 4th of July cookout that he was too sick to come to.
Every time I find one of these things, sometimes in small out of the way places or sometimes in the middle of my living room floor, like the box of books that he and I got at the Boys and Girls Club fundraiser, I have to say goodbye again, and it hurts. People keep pointing out to me that someday it will hurt less, but that's like the people that tell me that someday my prince will come. "Someday" is as unreachable now as "yesterday" is, and yesterday (metaphorical yesterday, anyway) Bryan was still with us.
Yesterday we had a memorial for Bryan, for people to remember and try to say goodbye, and to celebrate his life. About halfway through, there was a spot for friends to share stories, and I stood because none of his friends were speaking. Other than a lot of sobbing, choking, and at least one snort, the only things I remember saying are that Bryan was my friend, and that I couldn't think of any stories to share. It was like my brain locked up and my mouth locked up and I didn't know what to say, but it was also kind of insane because my friendship with Bryan is all about stories.
Bryan is the friend that went on adventures with me. They weren't usually places that he wanted to go, or, sometimes, places where anyone in their right mind would want to go, but he wanted to make his friends happy, and if I wanted to go to Bizarro Philly or Parrot Mountain or on a road trip to the World's Largest Ten Commandments then Bryan wanted to be the one who drove the car. On the weekends we got in the car, we drove around, I took pictures, and somehow this was fun for us both.
I gave Aileen, Bryan's sister, a CD of pictures of him to include in the slide show she was making, and after the memorial she mentioned that they looked at the pictures and tried to figure out what was going on, what the stories were, so here's a brief rundown.
This is from Kristin's birthday party at Tragic Mexican Hooters. Bryan was trying to explain to Kristin that he was planning to drive her home if she got drunk, not to get her drunk and then drive her back to his home.
This is from a pool party at our apartment complex. About a minute after this picture was taken, Jeannie's baby peed all over the concrete patio because she had somehow fastened his swim diaper on wrong.
Pictures #3, 4, and 5:
These were all taken during the day trip Bryan and I took to the International Towing and Recovery Museum, the Lookout Mountain Civil War Battlefield, and the Bloodstained Crypt of Little Nina Cragmiles, where Bryan couldn't resist climbing onto the playground equipment.
This is Bryan serving as a guinea pig, and being the first one brave enough to eat the Cheelows that I made. I adore Cheelows, and Bryan kindly ate a square or two every time I made them.
That's Bryan holding up the tiny, tiny menu at the pizza place we went to lunch at after we toured the uranium enrichment plant and went to the Secret City Festival.
That's Bryan impatiently waiting for the roller derby bout to restart after the sprinklers in the arena exploded. We waited for play to resume long enough for Kristin to have about half a dozen cigarettes.
All of the other pictures I gave her:
are from our trip to the Parthenon (of Nashville, not Athens).
Like I said, Bryan was my friend, and he was the friend who went on adventures with me. Even when he went into the hospital, we still treated it as another adventure, something that would be a really good story when he finally got out again. We made it a story about balloons and bitching about how the hand sanitizer smelled and that incredibly terrible apple cobbler because our stories were safe. They were fun, and they always ended the same way: everyone got dropped off at their apartment and we made plans to meet up again soon. Our hospital story didn't end that way, though, and instead of saying goodbye until next weekend we have to figure out how to say goodbye forever instead.
Bryan is still on an adventure, but he's travelling somewhere that we can't follow, and the story he is telling now will have to wait a while for us to catch up with him. I still have all these stories though, and I understand now why I was unable to pick one out to share.
Bryan Murphy was my friend, and in the end all the stories become that story. It's the story of who Bryan was and how he lived and who he was to all of us, how he taught us to be selfless, and brave, and to cherish our friends because we won't always have them.
It's a story that's not over, because now it's a story of how we have to learn to say goodbye.