A year ago, I wrote a poem entitled ‘The Versions of Us’, dedicated to Alex Weinstein, my cousin and best friend who died, along with his mother Judy and younger brother Sam, at the hands of a drunk driver. The driver’s blood-alcohol level was eight times the legal limit, a level at which the authorities were surprised he was even conscious. There were no skid marks on the road, which means he didn’t brake, which means he was too drunk to even see the car in front of him. He is now serving three life sentences back to back for second degree murder. When I wrote ‘The Versions of Us’ a year ago, on the eleventh anniversary of the accident, it expressed clearly the ache I felt. But I feel differently this year. I am learning that the grief I experience changes every year. Last night I wrote Alex another poem: this is how I feel now, four days before I turn twenty-three, an age he will never reach.
Somewhere in the last twelve years,
I became a grown-up
And sewn up in the memories of this awkward shift
From child to wild and somehow back again
Is every single memory of you.
Somewhere in the last twelve years
I stopped believing in god,
Fell in and out of friendships
Grew hips and an ass
Fit a size eight shoe
Hit five foot two – and kept growing.
Not knowing that with every inch
And every year
I was sowing seeds of a future you would never get.
I set myself a list of challenges and ticked boxes like:
Land a lead role
Fall in love
I sift through boxes in my mind
And shift perspectives in corrected colour.
I have tried with all my might
To keep the sight of you clear
As near and dear to me as my own life.
But every frame is riddled with cigarette burns
The picture turns the wrong way
And crinkles at my touch.
No matter how much I try and hold onto it
The picture fades.
I had no idea that living fully
Meant erasing parts of you.
I remember you pure.
Because children always are.
In the last twelve years
I have been to hell and back
Lacking any roadmap or compass
But I found home eventually.
I have lived a life I couldn’t share with you.
And with every new adventure
I censure my joy because it isn’t ours
Your death sours everything I achieve
Because I believe it is a tragedy you don’t have it.
Because it should have been yours.
I spend my days in rehearsal rooms
And try to place you in the ensemble,
But your voice will always be that of a child,
Mild and light
With a slight hint of melody
Sung only to me.
The voice of a boy, and not a man,
Because you never got to be.
You have now been dead as long as you were alive.
You have now been dead for over half my life.
Half a life of adventures and achievements and firsts,
Half a life without the sheer joy you brought into it.
Half a life sentence.
A sixth of his total time.
He will die behind bars
But of old age,
Not the rage he mixed with drink
And my soul sinks at that sobering thought.
But I cannot wish him dead,
Because he has a son your age.
A son who will grow up
Show up to the parts of life you couldn’t.
Become a man.
He will set his own list
And check his own boxes
Sow his own seeds
And know with every step,
And every year
The one clear thought I have every day:
That we are living,
Where twelve years ago,