A Dozen Friends, Three Beers, a Ton of Healing
When you turn the corner of life feeling joyful again.
There will come a day when I don’t need to write about her to heal. Today is not that day. Tomorrow may not be either. Regardless, we found a little joy with each other tonight.
It’s been nearly two weeks. Dozens of us, hundreds of us, have been processing. Everyone has their memories. Everyone’s phones are full of pictures and videos. We’ve combed through them in quiet moments when we search for her. She’s everywhere.
The first time I went to Charley’s Place to meet her, I was in a bad mood. My evening went from bad to worse when a man I rebuffed walked in a huff out of the bar and across a busy street only to be struck dead a hundred yards from the place. I’ve only been back twice before tonight. It was her favorite place.
Tonight wasn’t about mourning our friend. It was about gathering together for no other reason than to be with each other because that’s where she would have been and where she would have wanted us to be.
We told stories because we needed to. We’ll need to for a long time and because there are so damn many to tell. They overlap. We argue over the when they happened and what was said and who was there.
I said something and her fiance, Mike, turned to me and laughed and said, “Well, I have something to tell you that you were never supposed to know but since she’s dead…”
Rhonda was a devout believer. Mike said she hated when I would say “god damn.” She never told me. She never corrected me. Everyone else she corrected. Everyone. Mike reasoned with her that I was Italian and it was just part of who I was. True. She let it slide but still made a comment, even when she was in the hospital, about how she wished I wouldn’t do it.
It was a beautiful reminder that she loved me as I was. She never wanted to change me. Even if it bugged her, she dealt with it. She never wanted to compromise our friendship. The funniest thing is that had she said something, I would have stopped. Not out of guilt but because I loved her. As she was. For who she was.
I’m not a good public crier. I went to the bathroom and hid for a few short minutes. When I got in my car, I cried. The tears are less forceful and don’t last as long but they’re still there.
We’ve seen signs of her everywhere. The symbol of the Brain Aneurysm Foundation is the red balloon. Mike called her his red balloon because Rhonda would wander off if you didn’t hold on to her. We’d have to go find her. We always did and she’d be sitting talking to eight new friends.
Over 50 of us have gotten a memorial tattoo of a red balloon whose string is a heartbeat. I got mine tonight before meeting up with everyone. Just below my collarbone. Close to my heart where she belongs.
The last two weeks, people see red balloons everywhere. Randomly floating along. In movies. On signs. In museums. I haven’t seen one. I’ve been looking for her, waiting for her to be there.
The week after she passed, I saw a profile of a guy and the first line hit me. “Looking for Cinderella. I think I found her shoe.”
Cinderella was her favorite Disney movie. Mike called her his Cinderella. They were to be married nearly a year to the day after she passed. The one thing Mike was never to do was to look in a box in the closet. On her last day, he looked. It had her wedding shoes. Glass slippers.
Okay, Rhonda. I hear you.
I connected with the man with the Cinderella profile. I showed my friends and one noticed he had umlauts over a vowel. Rhonda put them over her name, too.
Okay, Rhonda. I see you.
His Instagram has a picture of a ticket to see one of Mike’s favorite bands. A couple times, when I had told Mike about a guy, he’d ask me, “But is he Red Dirt?” Meaning, does he like our music? Yeah, he’s from Texas. He’s Red Dirt.
Tonight, I asked him out. I swore never to make the first move again but she would have told me my rule was stupid and reminded me to take a risk. she lived by “if you don’t ask, you don’t know.”
Okay, Rhonda. I get it.
I may not have a red balloon float by me but she’s with me. I want to keep trying to find her. We all do. It’s how we’re healing. We leaned on each other tonight because we needed to and we wanted to. We exchanged number we never had. Made plans we always put off. Promised to live like she did.
Mourning is not something we do alone. We have to share that space with others. I’ve mourned in solitude but when I invited people into that space with me, I saw a beauty there. We may have lost her, but we always have the beauty.