She wasn’t going away to college, or to study abroad, or to go into the armed forces. It was not the kind of going away party that you’ve probably attended. This bon voyage barbecue was held for a young woman who had been captured by late stage cancer and would soon, without hope for turning back, make her brave ascent out of life.
It was held at the park that was central to all of our houses while we were growing up.
The late August sun, positioned at high noon, reminded me that the color of summer would soon transform into a state of temporary death: It was too hot and dry for the tree’s green leaves to keep giving back to the air.
The air was turning on them, killing them. My rayon blouse stuck to my stomach, already coated in a thin layer of sweat. We were at the park I had grown up going to – I remember being pushed in a stroller there, climbing the challenging structures as a small child, and walking there to chat with friends in my high school years.
But there we were, with food and good friends and hot weather, and a sun so bright it mimicked the lights of an interrogation room, pressuring me to see the reality of the situation and its harshness.
The meat sizzled on the grill and the tabs of sodas and beers cracked and snapped. We stuffed our faces with chips and dips and hot dogs, and had beer to wash it down. We laughed and things felt normal until she had to head to the trash can to throw it all back up. She was miserable but brave, and we had to lie down on the grass in the shade.
That was when I saw a woman appear with a small boy, her grandson. It was my kindergarten best friend’s mother and my old friend’s son. When she realized it was me, she walked up and said hello, how are you, the usual. We didn’t tell her why we were congregated at the park that day, that we weren’t just celebrating the end of summer.
After the small talk, she told me that her son had recently died. He had committed suicide. He was “despondent” she had said. I told her I was so sorry, and thought to myself, what a shame. What a shame it was that he hadn’t known someone like my friend, who was so strongly fighting to keep her life, to keep the summer brightness in spite of the impending Autumn, and not so soon after, the fateful Winter.
I don’t know his back story and hadn’t seen him since he was 15, but I do know that he snuffed out his own flame because it was too hard, too much, and that he hadn’t been inspired to live in the same way that we had.
The eucalyptus leaves rustled in the warm breeze.
I walked back to the blanket on the lawn and sat down, to take in our friendship, our loving group of friends and the last of the summer warmth.
You can read more from Lauren Barnard on her blog.