The what ifs.
I have been plagued with guilt and questions. What if I had talked to Chris more? What if I encouraged him to live a healthier life, or to cut back on his drinking? What if I did something different that would have changed this outcome?
It’s kind of the elephant in the room and I hope no one finds it disrespectful that I’m writing about it. I don’t think its a big secret that Chris loved to party. He was the embodiment of eat, drink, and be merry.
I’ve had quite a few conversations with people over the past few weeks, each of us taking on the burden of making it, at least in part, our fault.
I think back to a time about ten years ago. Chris was trying really hard to limit his drinking, and to turn his life in a different direction. I worked for a small company that built robotic alignment tools for semiconductor fabs. It sounds technical but it was really just a lot of soldering.
We needed a new employee on our manufacturing team. I recommended Chris. I thought, if I could just get him a day job, get him out of working in bars, he could keep get his drinking under control. Chris got excited at the possibility. He had a great interview- and he did not get the job. They hired a girl who had a related degree.
I had a complete meltdown on my boss. It’s amazing that I remained employed there. I called him an asshole. I went into a complete crying fit. I didn’t come into work for two days. In my mind, it was one of those Sliding Doors moments- if Chris got that job, his life would be ok. Since he didn’t, he was destined to fall into oblivion. I eventually told my boss all of this. He offered to help Chris find a job, work on his resume. But we all know the road Chris went down. It did not involve clocking in at 8am.
As part of the first writing collective Chris and I were a part of, he wrote the first (and only) chapter to his autobiography. I reread it last week. He wrote about a time when he was in between club jobs, and had to get a normal day gig.
“My guitar player was nicknamed ‘The Colonel’ because he managed a Kentucky Fried Chicken. He got me a job there, and I kept it for exactly five hours. He was not too pleased, but the fact was, I went from being the coolest kid in town, to slinging chicken at KFC. No way, not fucking me. That’s like telling Nikki Sixx he is going to sell t-shirts at the flea market.”
Sometimes life does not present us with clear cut choices. Of course I believe if Chris knew what was going to happen, he would have changed things. He would not want to miss out on his daughter’s graduation or dancing with her at her wedding. He didn’t see this coming.
He was forty two. Yes, he partied. He didn’t work out or eat right. But that is still incredibly young for this to happen, regardless of lifestyle choices.
But I also think, outside of Allie, if he had it all to do over again, he wouldn’t change much. He loved seeing bands. He devoted his life to being part of the music scene. He was not the most lucky in love, but he made up for it through camaraderie with his work crew and his bands.
I talked with the last person to see him alive, another individual working through guilt. What would have happened had he stayed a minute longer to see if Chris made it inside the door? The first thing he said to me was “if you have any questions for me, I will answer them.”
In that moment, I just ached for him. There is no one to blame for Chris’s death. We all want to believe we have some control over it. If we eat right, and exercise, and do the “healthy” things, we can somehow stave off the inevitable. But the reality is none of us get to choose. For many of us, we’ll never see it coming.
One of my dearest friends lost a wife when she was in her early thirties. She was young and healthy and did the right things. She got cancer. We all have a story like this. Or someone who got killed in a car crash. Or some other tragedy.
The only question I had for person was “what was his last night like?”
It doesn’t matter. Knowing the answer to this question wouldn’t bring Chris back. But I wanted to know anyway. He told me about Chris working a show, making jokes about one of the bands. He wanted to hang out and party afterwards. They made fantasy football predictions. The last thing this friend told me was “I promise you, he was happy.”
I can ask the what ifs, or I can focus on that he died happy.
I think in our grief, we want to figure out a way to ensure we don’t meet the same end. But what we should ask ourselves is if I died today, would my choices reflect the life I wanted to lead?
Around eight years ago, I went through a very rough time that I have never really talked about, and don’t plan on discussing now. But that patch, that sliding door, is what nudged me to take the plunge and have children. Up until that point, I had been back and forth on the decision. I was scared of being a bad mother. I was nervous about changing a life I was comfortable in.
But this rough patch forced me to think I can’t worry about being a bad mother. I can only do everything I know how to do to be a good one. It seems almost comical to me now that there was a time when I was unsure about having kids.
Asking that question if I died today, would my choices reflect the life I wanted to lead?- the answers are going to be different for everybody, and there is no right or wrong. We don’t get to judge someone else’s choices. One person may be so glad he dedicated his life to running marathons and encouraging healthy lifestyles. Another might be content that he shared a lot of drunken silly nights with friends. If you are happy, I am happy for you. If you aren’t, what can I do to help you get there?
Last night, writing about Casey, I am learning to let go of the pain. There is joy to be had, and Chris, of all people, would want us to partake in it.