This very post has been a long-time coming – over 7 months, in fact. Truth is, I contemplated and struggled with whether it should even be written at all. Every moment I summoned the courage to sit down and write it, my fears and apprehensions overtook and ultimately, I opted not to. Though for me, composing my thoughts, albeit publicly is often a means for healing and even making sense of what happened. It wasn’t even that something necessarily “happened,” to me, per se, but rather something I felt and eventually, discovered.
Those who know me well, or who may have been reading along the past several years I’ve had this blog, are aware that reading and books in general, are of the utmost importance to me. The majority of my life, I have been reading, spending time perusing library shelves and fully engaging myself in tangible books. With that being said, back in 2012, after leaving a full-time job due to various circumstances, I found myself with large amounts of time on my hand, more time than I’d had in years. Since I’d started working full-time following my college graduation, the time I’d spent reading had dramatically decreased. In fact, I could barely recall the last time I completed an entire book. Therefore, in the days leading up to my job resignation, I started to once again visit my local library – becoming a safe haven for me in those subsequent months. As a teenager, I became quite fond of one still very beloved movie, “The Notebook,” also a book by Nicholas Sparks. I’d heard quite a bit about Nicholas Sparks and his books, but at that point, my only experience with Sparks was through both Message In a Bottle (I saw this as a very, very young child and was not even aware until around the time I began reading his books, that this movie, too, was also a Sparks novel) and The Notebook in their movie versions. Curious about what the allure could actually be, I rented several of his books from the library and that summer, I breezed through numerous ones, becoming entranced and enraptured by his books, his prose and his ability to captivate me even through the first several pages.
Back in the Fall, I learned that Sparks’ newest novel, “Every Breath,” would be released in October. Immediately, I rushed to place a hold on it through my local library and patiently awaited an email informing me it was ready for pickup. Much to my dismay, the email ceased to arrive until just weeks ago. Quickly, I retreated to the library and began reading as fast as I could. Prior to reading, I hesitated, however, given that in the past several years, for one reason or another, I couldn’t connect with Sparks’ newer novels. Something about them failed to resonate with me and I started to distance myself from them, though from the first few pages of Every Breath, I knew the allure of Sparks was back and thus, ended up inspiring this very blog post. Prior to the novel actually beginning, Sparks details his inspiration behind the book, captivating me through the power of one of my favorite phenomenons – serendipity; finding something or someone, for that matter, completely by chance or fate/destiny.
Several pages in, I was transported 9.5 years back in time to my 21st summer, in early June 2009, in the early evening hours. It was a warm, humid night, in very late Spring and given the earlier events in the day, I was overjoyed. Having switched my major in college from journalism to psychology, transferred schools and also having been on medical leave, I had quite a bit of catching up to do and so I made the choice to take on an entire semester’s worth of summer classes that year. Though, that June evening was truly a cause for celebration; it signaled the conclusion of the first set of my summer courses, receiving an “A” in my much-feared math course; an accomplishment meaning more to me than I could even express, given math is a sore subject of mine. Weeks earlier, my sister and I made an unexpected connection to our half-brother, someone we hadn’t seen or spoken to in many, many years and even then, our communication was minimal. Living across the country for most of his adult life, that summer he made a visit to our area and so we opted to connect with him. Though, that night in particular, he casually mentioned he and his friends from high school that he’d grown up with would be visiting a local bar and mentioned it would be fun if I’d stop by. Barely having to consider it longer than a few seconds, I responded with a joyful, “Yes, I’d love to!” There was shock and surprise in his voice as stated, “Oh wow, I didn’t think you’d really want to come.” This was cause for celebration, though, I explained to him; me having completed some of the most trying courses of my college career in a short amount of time and I was looking to celebrate however I could.
We arranged to meet about a half hour or so later and though as I readied myself, nervousness started to kick in, having never met any of his friends and barely having spent time with my half-brother, himself. Still, I bravely drove myself to that neighborhood bar, as a newly-minted 21-year-old (it was only a month subsequent to that very birthday), unsure as to what would end up transpiring. The bar was filled to capacity, loud and boisterous with TV’s blaring, friends laughing, pool being played and towards the back of the crowded area, sat my half-brother and a vast assortment of his childhood friends. Happily, he rose to greet me, briefly hugging me before introducing me to his friends. Once introductions were made, I sat in the small table off to the side, adjacent to where my half-brother and his friends were huddled. He was on the small side, quiet, with a friendly-face and calming/welcoming eyes. His hair was a dark brown and his eyes a lighter shade of brown (to maintain his privacy, I’ll call him P). My half-brother was staying with him during his visit, as I was told he would typically do. From the moment he introduced himself, I knew he was different than the others. Throughout the course of the 4+ hour evening, he came to reveal more to me than most other guys ever had; he was a survivor of childhood cancer, but the cancer treatments had severely weakened his heart and so he was scheduled for heart surgery in late summer. He was successful in his career, a homeowner and from what I could quickly tell, a kind person and helpful friend. Our conversation was easy and near effortless, even with the silences, they were of the comfortable kind. For the first time as a young adult, I felt seen and recognized. With him, though I barely knew him, I felt a connection, one I’d never known before. He was years older than me, but at that moment, I realized it barely mattered – for me, at least. Still, there was much I didn’t know and so as we approached “last call,” at the bar, we made our way out the door, both into our respective cars and I wondered if I’d see him again and if he’d felt similar feelings.
It was awkward in the days and weeks to follow; I contemplated asking my half-brother about P, but I wasn’t sure if it would be the right choice, so I worked my way around it. My dad, (also my half-brother’s father) would be seeing my half-brother prior to him heading home and so I casually asked my dad if he could ask about P. He agreed and hours following their visit, provided me with P’s email address and phone number. Nervous enough as it was, I opted for the email and composed one that very evening. A short time later, P responded (but with so many years having passed, it’s hard for me to even recall what he actually said, though I do remember certain key points): he stated he’d be having the heart surgery he mentioned, soon and that it wasn’t a right time to “get involved with someone.” It’s hard for me to recall if I actually mentioned anything to him along the lines of dating or seeing him again and I don’t recall if I responded to his email or not, but I remember feeling foolish. Looking back, I can truly see his perspective, but back then, I struggle to remember if I did. It was a chance meeting we had, but in the years to follow, I’d still periodically think of him, wondering if we’d ever cross paths again.
In the subsequent years, my half-brother and I lost contact, somehow losing touch and moving on with our respective lives. Still, I’d sometimes think of P and would search for him on Facebook, but always came up empty. I knew so little about him, yet, something abut his personality and spirit had captivated me. This past Spring, in the months leading to my 30th birthday in May, I started to reach out to those I’d lost touch with, wondering if it was something I said or did. As I approached my 30th year, I started to reflect on my life and past experiences, feeling as though the coming year and new decade of life was a turning point for me. Thus, this included reaching out to my brother-in-law, as nervous as I was. His response was warm and well-received and so I bravely questioned if he still stayed with P during his visits home, feeling it was a basic inquiry.
My question to him went unanswered for several days and I wondered if I’d said something wrong or if my inquiry about P was misinterpreted. Though, I had my answer, one I’d never expect or dream of receiving while in line at a store with my mom. I clicked on the message and nearly felt my breath slip away as I read my half-brother’s words. Just days prior, P had passed away; losing his life on the operating table during another heart surgery (apparently, he’d continued to battle heart issues in the 9 years following that first heart surgery he was scheduled for). Otherwise healthy and active, P had apparently married and frequently visited Utah, where my half-brother lived for numerous years. Reading this and letting the traumatic thoughts sink in, I was left without words; just short of a decade had passed and finally when I’d summoned the courage to ask about him, it was too late. Though, in the months I’ve had to digest this tragedy, I realize if he, or we had been right, it wouldn’t have been too late. There is a true sadness I feel, knowing his life was cut too short, leaving his wife, family and friends and despite only having spent mere hours with him all those years ago, it is better to have known than to always wonder.
For me, the story of P is proof in serendipity; a realization that we can meet, interact with or learn of someone in mere seconds and our lives can be forever changed or impacted. Reading the newest book by Nicholas Sparks somehow afforded me with the courage and bravery to finally compose my thoughts about P and maybe to some, our meeting may seem like just two strangers talking one night, to me, it was the first time I realized it doesn’t always have to take years to know someone and even if he wasn’t meant to always be physically present in my life, he still taught me something – believe in chances and never be afraid to ask what you wish to know.
Rest in peace, P; “A beautiful soul is never forgotten.”