I met Alex when I was 17 years old. I don’t know if you can remember so long ago, but I can. Back then, the world was so small that everything was within reach, and time was so overgrown that you could take as much as you needed. Back then, we were afraid to die young, as if life were more slippery than youth.
We spent the summer sprawled out on sofas, laughing in temples, traipsing down street fairs, and slicing into pancakes. My sister, my best friends, and me. I don’t think anyone had seen such an odd combination, but we were always evenly matched. Two against two.
We would take turns on each others teams, but it always ended up tied in a knot. A knot we pretended was a bow. A bow we pretended was on purpose.
We could never fall out of balance enough to break the tie, so we’d simply untie the bow and unwrap the gift of life. We let go of expectations and lived frugally on surprise, until we all accidentally grew up.
In the years since then, the four of us have given toasts and welcomed babies. We’ve opened stores and shut them down. We’ve bought congrats-on-the-career-we-don’t-approve-of cactuses and I’m-sorry-things-suck roses. We’ve said more truthful things to each other than most people hear in a lifetime. Sometimes we avoid each other for months, happy to live in a grown up lie, afraid to hear the truth at all and sure it’s all we’d get from one another.
When random prison cops told me Dave died, I didn’t believe them.
They had called me into the sergeant’s office and brought in the closest thing the prison had to a grief expert– the beautiful Officer Blige. The room was full of them– every senior officer on duty. I listened politely, because I have a fondness for her, but was so confident in my denial that I confused everyone. They started rummaging through papers and clipboards to confirm, but couldn’t find me any proof that my David Martinez — that my husband — had died.
Finally they asked me to phone a friend, not realizing that the running joke of my life is that “phoning a friend” is really just code for calling Alex.
So I called Alex.
I told him what they had said, and he paused and replied, “See what happened was…”. I put down the phone.
“Did he confirm?” they asked, eight faces staring intently at me.
“Yes.” I said woodenly. I didn’t understand it, but I believed it. Other people have truth that ebb and flow, truth that moves like sand or time. Alex’s truth is like a rock. You can walk on it, or rest on it, and in the hours following the news, it was the only ground I trusted.
It took weeks to see him in person after I came home. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the world grew up and you have to run around to find anything you want now. Time shrunk and is shrinking, so quickly that it sometimes vanishes before you can even close your grip around it. Being grownup is harder than advertised.
Now we’re all afraid we’ll live forever.
When life isn’t working, that small fear becomes a terror. It is giant and sits on my chest, paralyzing me. Right now– today– this moment– everything that can be broken is broken, or is breaking. Every dream I have seems like a rocky road and a bad plan. I don’t have any of the answers, so I phoned a friend.
I called Alex.
And he came, of course, because there’s still more pancakes to slice and cement steps to rest on. He arrived with gifts– a little toy Gizmo that he thought I’d like, obviously forgetting that I’ve been terrified of the Gremlins since I saw the movie as a child. Alex isn’t the one of us who is in charge of remembering. Alex is the one in charge of doing.
I thanked him, and then looked closely at the doll, ready to feel the tingle of fear wash over my skin. The goosebumps. The tightening of my muscles in a subdued flight or fight response.
But there was nothing.
Because size isn’t permanent, and neither are fears. Sometimes very big things become very small. Sometimes overgrown nightmares go nearly extinct. Sometimes a momentary gift of love erases a lifetime of terror.
Everything passes on– the good and the bad, the young and the old– and I don’t know if it’s harder to know you won’t see the end of every fearful thing, or harder to know you might live to see the birth of new fearful things. I don’t know if it’s harder to know that you might see the end of everything you’ve ever loved, or harder to know that you might never see the blossoming of all the things you might’ve loved.
Either way it’s all about love and fear.
Today, over street tacos, I looked at a tiny gremlin and remembered when my fear of him was as big as the world is today. Today, my car isn’t working, my computer isn’t working, the software I need to do what I’ve done my whole adult life is gone, my husband is gone, my phone barely holds a charge, and I can barely hold my head up as I go through so many days full of rejection and chaos and loss. It’s fear, fear as big as the world is today.
But across the table is Alex.
Alex from my 17th birthday bonfire party. Alex from my grand opening, and house warming, and wedding. Alex from when I couldn’t make rent, and from when our old car wouldn’t start, and from every time I’ve needed help turning an idea into an action. Alex from across a plexiglass visiting window. Alex through a phone at a sergeant’s office.
I think– maybe the world isn’t so big after all. Maybe my fear isn’t so big after all. Maybe everything is small, and I can reach for what I want, and pinch away the stuff I don’t, because the only thing in my life that has been consistently larger than life itself– is love.
I thank him again for the gremlin, and he smiles, totally oblivious that I’ve told him a dozen times I’m terrified of them. He doesn’t hold onto memories like that because he knows everything passes on. It’s an Alex truth, the kind you can rest on, or walk on, depending on what you need to be doing.
So, today, I rested on truth and love, and all the little nightmares were too small to bother me at all. It reminded me of way back in the day, when I was just 17.
I don’t know if you can remember so long ago, but I can. The world was small then, just like now. Time ebbed and flowed, just like always.
And Alex was there for me.
Do you have an Alex in your life? You can say hi to him over on Instagram if you want. He’s happy to be your Alex, too. http://instagram.com/alexhyu