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Helium Balloon (Nik, Sabine)

My 30s are over. They began with an epic move to Tucson where I started a brand new life (alone!) in a foreign place. They ended with the loss of three of the great loves of my life: Nik and The Sheriff died, and I parted ways with my best friend of a decade. The in-between years housed great adventures, a few comforts, mostly catastrophes, and confusion. There was one heartbreak after another, many moves, several jobs. My 30s were hard and sad, but they revealed a lot to me about who I am, deep down to my core. They showed me, too, who other people are, for better and for worse.

I was in love with Nik in my 20s. He was a kind and gentle person, remarkably creative, wickedly intelligent, ambitious, interesting, thoughtful. He was the perfect partner for the striving, restless young me. We spent our days renovating our dilapidated little house, making elaborate art projects, drinking too much coffee and beer and whiskey. We spent our weekends scouring used bookstores for old Penguin paperbacks and thrift stores for things made of Gabardine, horsehair and dotted swiss. I was too young and dumb to know that a man who buys you the perfect pair of alligator pumps and brings you coffee in bed every morning and writes you the loveliest of love letters is a very rare man, indeed. I was so young and dumb that I thought the world was my oyster and that men like Nik were a dime a dozen instead of one in a million so after six years, I let him go. I spent the next six wishing I hadn't. We stayed friends and kept in touch, and eventually, I realized that in the end we had had the perfect love, past tense, but it never could have lasted. He traveled and studied and met a new love. And then, this winter, he died. Suddenly.

I was in love with Sabine in my 30s. She was the first person I met when I got to Tucson and the instant her giant dark-sparkle eyes met mine, I knew we would be best friends. She was exotic and slightly dangerous with a sharp tongue and a delicious sense of humor. Like me she was a no-nonsense, hard-working farm girl with a sophisticated artistic streak, fiercely loyal to her friends and family. She had a tough exterior and sweet marshmallow insides. She saved me from the terror of being alone -- immediately making her community available to me. We threw elaborate parties together, cooked complicated meals, walked our dogs and hit the bars. Every time I moved, she rounded up a trailer and loaded up her old pick-up with my junk. She let me sob on her shoulder when my heart got broken and we laughed uncontrollably at the expense of others, at inside jokes, at ourselves. She confided all her hopes and fears in me, and I, in her. Probably because we were so similar: spirited, opinionated, with a chip-on-our-shoulder and our hearts-on-our-sleeves, we would occasionally have a knock-down drag-out shouting match and then wouldn't talk for months. We always found our way back to each other. When I moved away, we kept in touch and visited each other and talked on the phone all the time. Until this past summer when I got involved with another piece-of-shit man, and "insert long confusing story here" Sabine felt betrayed:

"Joce, Life has a funny way of weaving complicated webs. How our friendship began and how it ended would be hard for the best of screenwriters to craft. I appreciate the email and knew the time would come to talk about how it all fell apart. We’ve been there for each other through the best of times and the worst of times over the past decade supporting each other in one way or another and the next decade will most definitely be different because what do they say…Without change there would be no butterflies? Well, now that we’ve both rolled our eyes, scoffed and muttered "fuck you, Elaine" under our breath here comes the truth. Like you I’m not sure how to react, what to say or what hashing out needs to be done in order to find some kind of closure. I’m tired, old days are gone, old friends are gone and I feel like I’ve buried yet another sister I desperately wanted. Perhaps that says something about my need for female companionship and the truth that perhaps it's not in the cards." 

I disagreed with her assertions, I apologized, I begged for forgiveness, but the truth is, and if anybody knows this, it's me, friendships, like other relationships, have a lifespan. I thought maybe she'd soften when she heard about The Sheriff dying. I knew it was over, for good, when she learned about Nik, and she didn't reach out. She was done, it probably took her years to get there, the second half of our uphill marathon friendship. I was the friend Sabine needed at one point in time, but I'm not that person anymore. 

So Nik and Sabine are gone, in different ways, true, but gone nonetheless. I wasn't prepared the last time I talked to either to say a proper goodbye or to thank them for enriching my life in countless, invaluable ways. That's the thing about endings. They don't often happen on our terms. 

And yet, both of them are still so present in my life. I am constantly stumbling on a thought, or remembering an experience, an event or conversation, that we shared. Daily, maybe hourly, my eye catches a sentence in a story, or my ear, the bar of a song, or I'll glance in a drawer or move an object on a shelf and all of a sudden they are there. Next to my front door there is the beautiful Art Deco mirror that hung in the house that Nik and I shared. A small chip out of each corner from when it traveled all the way to Indiana with us. Here is a stack of stationary that he printed for me on his old platen letterpress. My name and a little pink umbrella with matching pink envelopes. Here is the picture of me and Sabine at her wedding and there is the rocking chair that she lovingly restored for me; small with wide armrests with just the slightest hiccup when it rocks.  Here is the green pebbled leather notebook where Nik kept notes and wrote the grocery list in his distinctive stylish hand, "coffee filters, spinach, red wine vinegar." Here is the thin gold ring topped with a humble gray button, a thirty-ninth birthday gift, the one before this one, when Sabine and I were still friends. When I got a new phone, the day after Nik's funeral, for some reason it reverted itself to 2014: all my pictures, and contacts and messages. There at the top of the text folder, dated two years to the day, was a message from Nik, "Thanks for taking time out to say hi. It was great to see you!" 

Who will leave and what will remain of them? It's almost never who you expect. And the way they leave, that will surprise you, too. And after they are gone, what things will interrupt your day to inspire aching nostalgia, conjuring up the smile, the laugh, the smell or touch of the person you loved? The older I get the more the more my world is littered with those remnants. 

On a hot, sweaty day at the end of August I was pouring wine at the annual Basque Wine Festival and a guy came up to my table and said to me, "Jocelyn? It's Dave. Dave from high school." Of course, I didn't really recognize him (it's been over 20 years, geez!) and I was dismissive, who cares about high school? But, then, something about the interaction stuck with me and I found him on Facebook and asked him out for a beer. When we met he greeted me with the most genuine open and friendly smile, I was taken aback. It was a smile so rare I hadn't seen one in a decade, and I'd only ever seen it from a handful of people: It was the smile of instant connection. Of knowing and understanding and agreeing: we are meant to be. Love is a good place to start my 40s. 

But, of course, with love comes the burden of fear. Fear of losing that love to death, to change, to misunderstanding, to circumstances beyond my control. I hold hope clenched in my teeth and breathe through a deviated septum. Do love and loss form a double helix in your heart? They do in mine.