36

Dear Lolly,

You were 19 when I met you, in 1999, on the eve of your sophomore year of college. That was more than 16 years ago. There are kids out there who weren’t out of the womb when we met who are now old enough to drive cars. Those kids are almost as old as I was, 18, that first night, when I got drunk at your parents’ house under the guise of “getting some advice on what classes I should take at UCSB.”

You were 23 when we started dating, in 2003. You were sick, having recently quit grad school. I was 22, a fresh graduate, working my first post-college job, at a used bookstore. We were so young. The things that you faced, that I tried to help you face, made us grow up so fast.

You were 29 when we broke up, in 2009. It was mid-November, right before the holidays. It was a month after our sixth anniversary. We hadn’t really gotten along in months, had gone through one very brief breakup already, and had taken a trip to New York for our anniversary in the hopes that it would help improve things. You were sick throughout the trip. We fought for most of it. We were too far gone.

You were 31 when you died, in 2011.

You would have been 36 today, the last day of 2015. Thirty-six isn’t a round number, it doesn’t hold any special significance, but none of the ages I already mentioned stand out as obvious life markers, either. Who knows what would have happened for you in 2016? I suspect great things.

Looking at all those numbers, I’m struck by how much time has passed since you came into my life—and since you went out of it. We were together for six years and one month, and as I write this, that’s the exact amount of time that has passed since we broke up.

I don’t know what my life would be if you hadn’t been a part of it, and at the same time I don’t know what to make of the life I’ve lived since you ceased to be a part of it. I’ve had moments of joy in the last six years, though probably none as elevating as the best times I had with you. I’ve had terrible times too—the worst right after your death, of course, but others that made me wonder what the point of any of this is.

When I wrote this note to you last year, I was coming to the end of a successful year. I felt full of hope for what was to come in the year ahead. Sadly, 2015 wasn’t what I hoped for. It turned into a malaise, both personal and professional. I had financial problems. I had problems at work. I had problems with women. I celebrated nearly all of my friends’ weddings—including your sister’s, at which I gave a pretty profane speech—but at the end of each of these events I felt lonely, left out. Given some of the things I said to you about marriage, I don’t know that you’d be sympathetic to hear me say that now. This year I was often reminded that you never got to have your own wedding day. I will always feel guilty about that.

I’m not here to muck around in guilt or self-pity. It’s just that I’m struggling a bit for words this time around. I’ve written a few of these birthday remembrances for you now, and I don’t want to repeat myself. Nor do I want to turn this into an annual occasion for taking stock of my own life. I want these to be about you, not about me.

And yet, as much as those of us who loved you will always carry you in our hearts, the truth is that we have to move forward. Tomorrow it will be a new year, and while we can use the memory of you for inspiration or motivation or whatever, ultimately we have to live for the living.

But I can worry about the coming year, and my place in it, tomorrow. Today, before I move forward into whatever 2016 holds, I’m taking a pause, as I always do, to look back.

To remember the ways that you helped make me what I am today.

To say that while you may not be a part of my life anymore, no matter how much time passes, you’ll always be a part of me.

To have a very Lolly breakfast of Oreos and milk.

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To say happy birthday, and that I wish you were here.

Love always,

Justin

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