If you’ve known me for any length of time for the past 15 years, that name has come up.
Troy was my best friend. Like, that best friend at the top of the best friend pile who is secretly your favorite.
We met my freshman year of college and, for the next five years, were inseparable. September 11 had just happened. We were teenagers blossoming into full-fledged adults, and of all the many wonderful, influential friends I made at Mizzou, the person who most shaped me to be who I am today was Troy.
We were both mature for our age, but in some intellectual and artistic ways, he was always 6 months ahead of me. I was ahead of him, too, in ways where he didn’t mind following my lead. He might have introduced me to The New Yorker and Harper’s and The Atlantic and Modest Mouse and Of Montreal and Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, but I helped him learn how to talk about his emotions and think more expansively about what his career might look like. I was already studying abroad in Spain when I flew to London to meet him at the airport. He’d asked if I could meet him at Heathrow to fly together to Italy as he started his own semester abroad.
He taught me how to be alone, but we preferred to be together.
The romance part of our relationship always simmered right below the surface. I realized I loved him for longer than he realized he loved me, but the timing never worked out for us to really dig into what that kind of love might look like for us. By the time all of our cards were on the table, he was days away from graduating college and moving to Florida for a job.
I was headed to Austin for an internship at Texas Monthly. We needed to go our separate ways for a while and then we could revisit the subject of what exactly our relationship should be.
A year later, he was gone.
I was in the Canadian Rockies the weekend he died. I was there with Ian, my boyfriend at the time who I was pretty sure I was going to break up with when I got back to Austin. On the airplane flight to Calgary, to visit his friends and family for the first time, I was so disgruntled with the stress already present in our relationship that I remember looking out the window and thinking, “This trip will change everything.”
We traveled with his friends to a remote cabin in the mountains, where I was unreachable the day Troy died. And the next day. And the next.
The news was crushing but also a nearly out-of-body experience.
Stunned, then sobbing. Aching, then exhaustion. Trying to explain what had happened to Ian and our hosts. Trying to figure out how to get home for the funeral in 36 hours, which I didn’t end up making. Having to remind myself that he wasn’t just hurt and in a hospital in Sarasota.
Calling his voicemail just to hear his voice.
I did that for weeks, until the phone no longer rang.
Around that time, less than six weeks after Troy’s death, I received another round of news that shattered any sense of reality.
I was pregnant.
I had been told it would be difficult for me to ever get pregnant. When you’re 22, you listen to what the doctors say and don’t worry too much about it.
That was when the grief I have now was born. Like the grief you might imagine, it is a terrible, unspeakable sadness. He was 23 years old and had a wonderful life ahead of him. He fell asleep behind a stupid car. Why did he have to drink so much that night?
But something else happened to my grief.
From that sinking pit where your heart once rested, full and content in your chest, was the tiniest beam of a rainbow. A flicker of light that catches your eye and says “You are alive” when you need to hear it the most. It hinted at the hope that there might be some joy in the future. That there might be something that will make you laugh again. That I might be able to carry Troy’s spirit with me as I lived the days he never would see.
That I could honor his life by living enough for both of us.
The pit wasn’t going to get smaller. The pain wasn’t going to lessen.
But I had to be brave enough to have that baby because I didn’t know when I was going to get another chance.
For 10 years now, my life has had a different texture because Troy died. A different tone, a new shade that I didn’t know existed before. It’s like living in the key of Troy.
I’m heartbroken, but at peace.
Grieving, but grateful.
I rediscovered this mixtape that Troy made me earlier this year. Even though I don’t love all the songs, I’ve been listening to it nonstop for the past few weeks.
I even made a playlist so I could spin these tunes long after this CD loses its ability to play.
“Downtown” by Tegan and Sara
“When I Was A Painter” by The Breeders
“Really Love You,” by Paul McCartney
“Sorry Boy” by Cheap Trick
“Criminal” by Bedouin Soundclash
“Last Goodbye” by Jeff Buckley
“Animal Bar” by Red Hot Chili Peppers
“I Know I Know I Know” by Tegan and Sara
“Devil Baby” by Mark Knopfler
“Coma Girl” by Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros
“Walking With A Ghost” by Tegan and Sara
“Make Believe” by Tommy Lee
“Long Way Home” by Tom Waits
“Even After All” by Finley Quaye
“We Trusted You” by Transplants
“Alcoholic Mama” by Honky Toast
“Praise You” by Fatboy Slim
“Hummingbird” by Jimmy Page