Monday, July 26, 2004
quote du jour:
"To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a little better; whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is the meaning of success." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Alex's last official visit to Franklin was at the end of April. [ Read the entry. ] The title of the the entry alone -- "The affair is over" -- should be enough to let you know that I thought things had cooled off between she & I. Although she says that I'd been weird for most of the year, it wasn't until her April visit that I finally reached the conclusion that a relationship between the two of us might not be the best route to take.

Things were strained between the two of us for a while... and it was entirely my fault. I didn't call her much because I didn't know what to say. And I'll admit that I was a bit dodgy when she called me. Sure, I'd made the no-relationship decision, but I didn't find a good way to handle it. I handled it so poorly, in fact, that I'm not even sure I really shared my decision with Alex.

The night of May 30th, I called her on my way from Franklin to my mom's house. The conversation was the first one of any substance since she'd left Franklin, but the substance wasn't pretty. It was emotional, it was heated, it was more than two hours long. A few times, I worried that it might be the last one of our friendship. For a while, it almost felt that way.

After hanging up with her shortly after midnight on Memorial Day, we didn't talk until she called June 28th to tell me that her Daddy was dying. The conversation we had shook me hard. I don't totally know why, but I'm guessing it was a mixture of us not having talked, of hearing such bad news and knowing how much she must have been hurting.

When she called me at 12:44 a.m. on July 8th to say that her daddy had died, I wanted to pack my things and go to her that very moment. I wrote how much I wanted to be there for her... to hold her... to try to make things better even though I knew I couldn't. Those words I wrote don't begin to describe how strong those feelings were that night.

I didn't really sleep after she called me. In fact, I think I only managed a short nap in the hour before I had to leave for work. I was so anxious about knowing how she was doing that I sent her a text message (and, consequently, woke her up) about 9 that morning.

After I got off work Friday morning, I wasted no time in gathering my things together and heading to Oakdale. Throughout the entire trip, there was no other place I wanted to be. Once I got there, however, I was three shades of nervous.

Neither the biggest job interview nor a speech in front of the largest crowd could create a nervous knot as big as the one that formed in my stomach on the way to visitation Friday night. I hadn't seen Alex since she left me with a peach-flavored kiss more than two months prior. We hadn't really spoken about anything other than us or her father in just as long. As much as I wanted to be there to support her... I think I worried that she might not want that support.

I'd planned to spend 30 minutes or so at the funeral home during visitation. Certainly, I didn't want her to feel smothered. But she didn't seem to object to my being there and I definitely didn't want to go. So, I tried to keep a low profile and ended up staying the entire night.

Afterwards, she & I went out to eat with one of her friends and then the two of us went riding. She often reminds me that she really does enjoy the simple things... and I think us riding around in the night is somewhere near the top of the "simple things" list. I don't remember a whole lot of what was said, but know I enjoyed the chance for us just to spend some time together. I also hope she enjoyed a break from having a million and one people in her house.

Somewhere along the way Friday night, I received an invitation to join the family for lunch on Saturday. Saturday morning, I was ahead of schedule (which is not an everyday Thomas Fletcher trait) and showed up at Alex's house a bit early. They asked me to ride to lunch with the family.

When I posted the Deadline Pressure update on July 8th, Mimi threw some good advice my way. She talked about how some of her old friends were upset when they couldn't be a part of the drama when her dad died. She also let me know that Alex might not need me right away and that I should just be there for her whenever she did need me. With that advice in mind, I tried to be careful about not involving myself too much. The absolute las thing I wanted was to be in the way.

After lunch (they served banana pudding), we rode over to the funeral home for the services. Once there, I probably acted a bit like Alex's personal Secret Service detail. I wasn't her shadow, but I was always just around the corner or across the room or in some place where I could do something for her if she needed it. I wanted to offer support when necessary, but didn't want to be a nagging friend hanging on to her arm.

The time finally came for the service. Alex's mom (and, later, Alex) asked me to sit with the family. I was honored to receive the request but worried about it on a couple of fronts. First, my family isn't a funeral family. We are big believers in the graveside service only. So, in 26 years, I'd never sat in the family section at any funeral. More importantly, however, was the feeling that I didn't really belong. I wanted to be there to support Alex... but I'm guessing that ex-boyfriends rarely rank high on the family hierarchy.

I've been to a few funerals in my time and I can't think of one that wasn't lovely. Yet, there was something special about Mr. Clarence's service that got to me. Alex maintained a strong appearance throughout the funeral. On the other hand, I thought I was going to break down at any moment.

It was literally an awesome sight to see the chapel at standing room only and for them all to be standing as the family entered. Then, the service began with a soloist performing "I Can Only Imagine." Here in the Bible Belt, just about every radio station of most every genre has given the song it's fair share of plays. I've considered it a very powerful song since the first time I listened to the entire thing. Hearing it that day was different. The words really hit me. For the first time, the real curiosity of what it would be like to arrive at heaven's gates overwhelmed me.

The rest of the day followed the standard script... the procession, the graveside, and time with family & friends back at the house. (There's also that little matter of me backing into Alex's aunt's Lincoln and causing $1,222.49 in damage.)

I can't adequately describe the time I spent with Alex Saturday afternoon. Nothing in particular happened, but there was a closeness that I really enjoyed. I'm all kinds of confused about my future and about our future, so I did my best to soak it up while it was there. We hung out. We took a nap. We hung out some more. I decided to leave. I hit the Lincoln. That's what I get for leaving, I guess.

The entire experience has had a much greater impact on me that I ever would have imagined. I've experienced a ton of feelings about Alex's dad, her family, Alex herself, and me & my own mortality. I've also felt overwhelmingly alone. I certainly can't talk to Alex about it because she lost her father. That outranks whatever oddball emotion I'm feeling any day of the week. I also can't talk to Jessie about it. She is by no means the president of the Alex Fan Club and had no connection whatsoever to Mr. Clarence.

I've put off writing this entry until today in hopes that the journal might be a good outlet to get things off my chest. Looking back over the entry, I think I've failed to accomplish that. All I've really given you guys is a chronology and it's not a very good one at that. There's no way I can put the emotion I've felt into words... and the conflict and confusion those emotions have caused within me is even more impossible to describe.

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