Facing Love's Oldest Enemy

by Kendi Wolever

I wasn’t quite sure why I agreed to let Garrett live with me. I was a single girl and fairly conservative, and I didn’t feel completely comfortable with the idea of allowing someone of the opposite sex to share such close quarters with me. However, it was only supposed to be for a couple of months until he found a place of his own, and it would help me put back some savings. These reasons justified my decision but little did I know how life changing my choice would be.
It was August when he moved in, and hot in Oklahoma.

I quickly questioned my decision as he started to keep my house too cold and complained about my clutter. He rearranged my furniture without permission and challenged my inner hoarder by asking if I really needed my collection of snowglobes I kept in our living room. He was the most organized, clean, and routined man I had ever met and, as much as that drove me crazy, he slowly moved from being my acquaintance/temporary housemate, to being my closest friend whom I invited to stay for as long as he needed.

We lived the typical roommate life, ordering pizza at midnight, spending countless hours talking about relationships, music, and God. He was always willing to entertain me when I was bored, but would also lock himself in his room for days when he needed to be in his own headspace. Life was fun and I was grateful to have a friend who was carefree and in the same stage of life as I was.

Simple times abruptly came to a halt, though.

It was 4:28 a.m. on December 8th. I worked at a coffee shop, and was due to open the store at 4:30 a.m. In my usual rush to make it to work a half-mile away, I grabbed my keys and hurried toward the back door. On my way out, however, my body jolted at the sight of Garrett in our pitch black kitchen. He was standing there, looking down, playing with something in his hand. “You scared the hell out of me!” I said, half laughing. I assumed he was drunk and being the weird, introspective roommate he could be sometimes. Not thinking much of his odd behavior, I quickly said goodbye and opened the back door. To my surprise, he stopped me and said in the softest voice, “Hey.” Still assuming he was intoxicated, I responded with a drawn out “Heeey,” surely with some awkward hand gun gestures, and started inching my way back out the door. He moved closer to me and slowly repeated, “Hey.” He was uncomfortably close to my face and reached his arms out to embrace me. My heart beat fast and my hands shook as I asked myself, “Is he about to kiss me? What the hell is going on? Is he really that drunk? Do I want him to kiss me? What do I do?!” But he interrupted my panicked thoughts with the most life-altering words I’ve ever heard from a friend.

“My dad died last night.”

As he held me tight, my head began to spin. I don’t think we had ever hugged one another before, but at that moment I felt a grip of death around me. I couldn’t believe this was happening. Just a few days prior, we had joked about the crazy comments his dad frequently posted on Facebook, and I helped him choose fonts for his dad’s business logo.

I knew his father had health problems in the past, but he had been doing so well. He wasn’t supposed to die. Not yet anyway. We were 24, and 24 year-olds have dads.

I went to work that morning frazzled, trying to make sense of this reality. I didn’t know what I could say or do to make it better and I realized, nothing could make it better.

The days following were packed with duties and obligations. Never in the days, weeks, or months prior to his dad’s death did we think we would be planning a funeral, writing a eulogy, or shopping for a suit best fit for a man in a coffin. And never did I think I would be so involved.

Suddenly, I had a new routine - Get up, go to work, worry about Garrett the whole time, leave work with an iced Americano to leave in the fridge for him, knowing it would still be there untouched the next day. I would clear my afternoons and evenings, always available for our usual late night dinners at Applebee’s, prepared to listen to him talk about his Dad. He talked about regret, memories, funeral plans, and insurance claims. Despite my early wake up calls, I would fight exhaustion to stay awake with him until the wee hours of the morning. His usual behavior before was pure productivity - working on projects on his MacBook late at night, sitting at our kitchen bar.

Now I was coming home to him laying on our couch, wearing a hoodie and wrapped in a blanket. His eyes looked different - a deeper blue than I’d ever seen before. His skin was pale and washed out. He was calm and collected though. I don’t think I ever saw him cry. I’d sit with him there under the same blanket. He would talk to me, and I would listen and cry for him.

The funeral came and went, and it felt like a movie. Everyone wearing black, singing hymns, and giving condolences. It felt as if everyone there was playing a part in a production we were watching, and when it was over, they would continue their normal lives and forget about the heartache we were feeling.

It’s crazy that we have nine months to prepare for new life, sometimes years to prepare for a wedding day, but only a few rushed days to plan an entire life’s worth of memories, and hope to do it justice.

After the funeral, the dust began to settle. We had no more planning to do and as we started to sleep again, I slowly realized I had taken on a role no one had asked me to. I’ve always been incredibly afraid of death. Not dying in and of itself, but of the people around me whom I love dying, and me being left living in the sadness. I think about it probably more often than I should, and I dread the day I’ll experience that kind of loss for the first time.

I didn’t know before why Garrett and I were supposed to live together, but I know now that it was for this experience. This was cataclysmic for both of us, and I could feel my life and perspective turning on a pivot.

My mom always tells me that since I was little, I’ve felt things to the nth degree. My emotions run high and my heart has an infinite number of strings that seem to spring out and latch onto every person I meet, each string pulsing like a vein, fueled by the highs and lows each individual is feeling.

My heart truly ached for Garrett. My instincts turned maternal. I was protective and I wanted to cradle him through his pain. I wanted to take it away. I became so invested that I was exhausting myself, imbedding his emotions into my own. I had grown to love this person so much that it pained me in every way to see him live through this kind of loss.

But as I watched and listened and felt and hurt with him, I started to see his mourning as something I never thought it could be: beautiful. He was beautiful. With his deepest of blue eyes, washed out skin, lying sorrowfully on the couch, he was a reflection of love facing it’s oldest enemy.

Kate Braestrup said, “You can trust a human being with grief...walk fearlessly into the house of mourning, for grief is just love squaring up to its oldest enemy. And after all these mortal human years, love is up to the challenge.” I saw this in Garrett. As difficult and life changing losing his dad was, living through it with Garrett made me less afraid. I saw firsthand, day and night, someone who was willing to confront the enemy head-on. Someone who allowed sorrow to cover him like a sheet tucked tightly around a child who can’t keep his eyes open late at night. He loved deeply, and by late night confession, looking at old photos, laughing and grieving, he allowed his father to love him right back, far beyond his grave.

He inspired me. He taught me to embrace love rather than fear my enemy. I now understand why Garrett was supposed to move in with me that hot summer month because had he not, life would look much different through the cold ones, and consequently, so would death.