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Gone but never forgotten

My aunt, talking on the phone. Photo by Maria Kalaitzandonakes

Sometimes I forget that they’re gone.

This year I lost three important people in my life, and all in different ways. I expected sadness, I expected grief and anger. But the longest lasting, most frustrating emotion I am still wrestling with is the feeling they are still here.

It’s kind of like phantom limb syndrome, a condition where amputees still experience the limb as if it were still attached to their body. According to NYU Langone’s Medical Center, patients with this condition have this experience when the brain continues to receive messages from nerves that originally carried impulses from the missing limb.

This is like me. These people who have now been hacked off of my body, I still feel them.

The first person I lost this year was my childhood best friend. A petty argument took on a life of its own, cutting up ligaments and cartilage until all that remained was an open wound and the friendship was gone. Still, I have photos of us hanging up about my room. When the radio sings “Black Horse and a Cherry Tree,” I still know the lyrics. My brain hasn’t learned that she’s gone. Sometimes, when I get good news, I start to text her, and then I realize she won’t respond.

I lost the second person, not to a fight but to methamphetamine.  He was in and out of rehab places over the past few years, and we stayed in touch. I knew him before he got involved in drugs, before his daily goal was to get high; when he was just a kid, his eyes unaltered.

I still called him “hon,” like a diner waitress, even when he would call me a stream of awful names.

One day, when he relapsed again, I told him, “Drugs won’t love you back, but people will. Give them up, go back to being the real you.”

But it didn’t register. He wasn’t the same person anymore. I kept looking at this old photograph of the two of us, laughing, before he ever got hooked and I kept pleading to some cosmic being to let him be the same person. But just like an amputated limb, I look down and see he’s gone. I’ll always speak to him, I’ll cry when he relapses again, but I know now that my old friend is gone.

Cancer took the third, and by far most special person this year. My aunt fought for five years against Pheochromocytoma. She lost her hair, her energy, but she never lost her attitude. She would be laying on a hospital bed the family had put in the living room, and she’d be yellin’ at us for cursing, or not vacuuming that day. She was the family’s rock; everyone came for her for advice. And even though she died, I still feel like she’s here. I’ll start to get a crush and I’ll hear her in the back of my head saying, “Really, really Maria? Him?” Her daughter came out to visit for a week, and we told so many stories about her, and somehow, I kept thinking, she’s going to pop around the corner and laugh with us.

Loss is an impossible thing because even after sadness that they’re gone and anger that something took them and guilt that you had something to do with it all leave, you’re still left with this floating, phantom sensation. You lie to yourself over and over that maybe, just maybe, the whole thing was a fluke and they’re coming back.

By Maria Kalaitzandonakes

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