I was laying in my bed in a Tokyo AirBnB when I got the news that he had died.
And there is a sentence I never thought I would write, to start a story I never dreamed I’d live.
And yes, this is another post about someone dying. Mental illness is involved. People die in my life with alarming frequency, and if you are bothered by my talking about it, best you move on now.
So, let’s break this down.
I was in my bed in a Tokyo AirBnB…
Yes, I was in Tokyo, which is only a little (maybe, actually, a lot) related to this story in that it’s the setting for this news.
I was up late with a stomachache. Something in the Ramen we’d had for dinner hadn’t agreed with me. Considering my impressive list of food allergies and intolerances, I’m still amazed that that was the only meal that made me feel ill. And I remember the next day was supposed to be Tokyo Disney because I was trying desperately to sleep and I couldn’t.
I never thought I’d be in Tokyo and the whole trip felt unreal. I was there to visit my partner who is teaching English in northern Japan for a year. If you know me, then you know this trip was a triumph, a giant FUCK YOU to my mental illness. Scared of flying, scared of new experiences, but finally strong enough and driven enough to take a trip of a lifetime.
If it was the day before Tokyo Disney, that means (I think) we spent that day in Akihabara. Time gets a little blurry on vacation and it’s even worse when you’re seventeen hours off your home time zone. One AM in Tokyo is eight AM the previous day in Portland, just in time for my friends to be waking up and looking at their Facebook and Twitter accounts.
After untangling myself from my sleeping partner and digging my phone out from under the bed, I logged into Facebook.
I got the news that he died
There’s a cadence to social media posts, and if you spend any time at all on those annoying necessities of modern life, you start getting a feel for what’s happening even before you see the posts that actually spell it out.
At the top of my feed was expressions of shock. Disbelief. Concern.
I went cold and hot all at once.
I’ve been down this road before.
Penny. Slash. Mitch. Anne.
That ghostly shadow of death.
Thoughts and prayers. Gone too soon. So young. So sudden. What happened?
The news of an untimely death spreads like wildfire in a dry forest in this age of instant messaging and social media. I knew before I found his page, knew with a stomach-churning certainty, that he was gone.
I don’t remember a time when Brant wasn’t in my life. We were in every year of public school together, never close, but never not together. We did plays together, went to speech tournaments together, were in the school TAG program together. He was brilliant and funny and burned so damn blindingly bright. We made fun of the same teachers and stupid assemblies and talked about drugs and life. He was the reason I started listening to the Doors in middle school. I was the reason he got into the Rocky Horror Picture Show.
We fell out of touch for a bit. I got married, so did he, he went into the military around 9/11 and I moved to California. He had three kids, I had two kids. He got divorced, I bought my house near Portland and opened up my marriage. He was a knitter, too, and we’d talk about patterns and yarns and projects and he’d ask advice of me for colors for a scarf for his daughter and how to make a hat for his girlfriend. He read my blog and opened up to me privately about some struggles in his own life. We messaged back and forth often, but never had a chance to meet up.
Sure enough, that ball of dread was correct again.
He was dead.
And I cried. And I hurt. And I tried to wake my partner, who kindly but firmly told me he couldn’t deal with that right now baby-girl he needed sleep can it wait til the morning, just like that, one run-on sentence mumbled into his pillow, and he started snoring again and I was left alone in a foreign city with the knowledge that my childhood pal was gone.
One AM. Daybreak in Portland, so I messaged my husband.
“Remember my friend Brant? He died yesterday. Today. Erm. Anyhow, he’s dead. I don’t know yet. I’m trying to find out. I’m gonna message someone else, she probably knows. No, I don’t need to call. It’s the middle of the night here and I don’t want to wake anyone up.”
I was restless but uninterested in walking, knowing I’d get lost, not trusting my scarce knowledge of the streets in our neighborhood or the complete lack of knowledge of the native language. I wanted a bath, maybe, but likewise didn’t trust my rudimentary knowledge of Japanese plumbing, not matter how nominally Westernized our little bathroom was.
So, I sat on the toilet and cried and messaged with my husband and another friend of mine who I knew would be awake because she has a toddler and, even better, she knew Brant and could maybe, possibly tell me what happened.
Really, she didn’t have more answers than I, except he was struggling with his own demons. And it’s not my story to tell, not this one, but it seems his demons won.
And another of my fellows-in-arms against that fucking Bitch of mental illness had fallen.
And like a switch, I flipped from sorrow to anger and then guilt.
I have survived when so many people have not.
What makes me so special?
Here I am, winning my battle, or at least winning it a little, enjoying the hard-won freedom of a foreign vacation, and he fucking dies. How selfish of him.
I’m sorry, he wasn’t selfish, he was broken.
It could have been me.
But it wasn’t.
I feel guilty that it wasn’t.
His kids are the same age as mine. What are they going to do without a dad?
I’m glad my kids still have a mom.
What makes me so special that I get to survive this hell and others don’t?
Why has my ideation never turned to action?
Why am I strong enough right now to fight?
Why wasn’t he?
The hamster wheel of my thoughts turning and turning.
One AM in Tokyo. Disney in a few hours. My first glimpse of the other side of the Pacific. Many adventures still ahead, a life change that I’d never dreamed of which I’ll write about another time. Each moment a giant middle finger to that Bitch that still lays in wait in the corner of my mind.
I knew I couldn’t process his death. That would come later. If I stopped to grieve then, my trip would be ruined. So, I boxed it up and packed it away, to deal with again on American soil in the weeks following my vacation.
I took an Ativan and matched my breathing to my partner’s as I big-spooned around him, my feet finding a perfect tangle with his and my breasts against his ribs.
Finally, just after one, the ghosts fell silent for a short time, and I fell asleep.