For me, Halloween is no longer a fun holiday. Five years ago this Wednesday, I learned of the death of one of my best friends, Todd. He was found dead on an air force base (on which he was stationed) in Korea, and his cause of death has never fully been determined. I still hear the echo in my head when my father told me the news over the phone: "Honey, Todd is dead." Even looking at those words on my screen as I type them, I am stunned that they are true.
Todd was one of those friends you find as a child, and an indelible bond is formed. We met at synagogue when we were about 8 years old. His mom was single, and she found a lot of meaning coming to Shabbat services each week. She became close with my mom, and thus, Todd and I had reason to hang out every Friday night.
We would bring our Cabbage Patch Dolls to services, sit in the front row, and pretend that they were our children. We would make the sign language sign for "I love you" back and forth to each other. We would fall asleep snuggled up to each other in the backseat of my mom's car each week as the moms talked long into the night in the front.
As the years passed, we would lose touch for long periods of time. However, each time that we found each other, it was as if no time had gone by. We were able to pick up our friendship right where it had left off. As I got older, I always had the sense that, if we reached 30 and hadn't gotten married, we had each other. He had a very deep, important place in my heart, and the child-like "I love yous" grew to a love that was like the closest friend, family member, or lover.
Nevertheless, we were never really single at the same time, so dating was never a real option. I was engaged at one point, and he was single. Later, he was engaged, and I was single. It kept going back and forth like that. Suddenly, in 2000 and 2001, we were both single. Though he was now in the air force, and stationed in Arizona, we often wound up in Chicago simultaneously. We would spend every waking moment together on these visits home, even falling asleep in each other's arms after a particularly long day.
Then, September 11, 2001, happened. I felt an urgency to spend time with him, unlike anything I had felt before. I talked to him on the phone many times a week, and suggested during one of these talks that I come out to Tucson for a visit. We arranged for a visit over Thanksgiving of that year.
Well, what can I tell you - it was a passionate, intoxicating visit, filled with laughter, love, sight-seeing, romance, and fun. I never thought that moments like that would ever happen, and then they were real. However, we both realized that there wasn't really a future for us as a couple - he was living the military life, and I was becoming a rabbi. We agreed not to let the weekend change our relationship, and returned to our lives.
Who knew that, less than one year later, he would be dead??
We stayed in touch, and soon I learned that he would be shipping off to Korea. My heart ached, knowing that it would be two years before I could see him again. Yet, there is a certain excitement to an epistolary relationship, so we wrote long letters back and forth. I received postcards from his various Asian travels, and I sent him updates of my spiritual journey.
Then, silence. I didn't hear from him for a little while. Maybe it was just going to be one of those breaks in communication that we would go through? But, and I don't know why, one late night I had an urge to email him and tell him that I was thinking of him. The next morning, I got a disturbing email from him. He felt like he didn't deserve his achievements, he had hurt too many people, and felt like he had lost God. I wrote back quickly, telling him that he was wonderful, that returning to God was possible at any time, and that I cared for him. That was October 29....
Then, the phone call on October 31...."Todd is dead."
I was convinced that it was suicide, but the coroners didn't find any evidence. It didn't seem like an accident, and yet it didn't seem like foul play. There were no answers. Just.... nothing.
I flew home immediately. Because he died in Korea, there was a long, weeklong wait for his body to be flown to Chicago for the funeral. My siblings and I sang "Wind Beneath My Wings" at the funeral, because of his love for flight. The rest of those two weeks is a blur.
Todd, I miss you so much. I miss our talks, our scatological humor, our deep conversations about human nature and theology. I can't believe that it has been five years since your death - how can it be that long?? And how can I still hurt so much at this time of year? The months of Halloween decorations only make it hurt more, like I can't get away from the impending anniversary of your death.
I hope that you are flying high, soaring on the breeze, watching over me, and at peace. May your memory always be for a blessing.