I belong to a small, unusual, and undesirable club of women. I gained entry nearly 10 years ago, when my boyfriend Sean committed suicide, leaving me to wonder all sorts of things, such as how my life might be different if he had not died; would we have stayed together? What would our break-up be like - It had to have been better than break-up by suicide; even Berger's Post-It note was better than that. WOuld we have stayed friends? What is life like for normal people whose 26 year old boyfriends don't shoot themselves?
Having addressed those questions when I was only 23 years old myself, I've lived the last ten years with a simultaneous love for life, weighted by a sadness that is always just sort of present. I like to think that I love deeper, live bolder, bounce back quicker, and break a little less easily because of that experience.
For years after Sean's death, I felt out of place in just about any crowd. When Sean died, I remember the way people looked at me when I returned to work at the bar. They talked to me as though I would shatter with any mention of him, and avoided bringing up his name even to say they were sorry for the loss. It was easier for them to pretend as though the event never happened, as though Sean's barstool wasn't empty, and as though I'd never seen his lifeless body on the floor of his apartment. But I couldn't unsee that scene, and I couldn't unfeel what I felt for him, and I was never very good at pretending that his violent, graphic, self-imposed death hadn't left a lasting scar on my soul.
When I returned to law school, looking for work and grateful for every shift that Lynn would give me at the bar, I was surprised to find a new faction of patrons. I met, one by one, a group of women that had lost their boyfriends or fiancees too. In my mind I created a bit of an informal club, The Dead Boyfriend Club, and I collected within its membership Natalie, Katrina, and the Amies Montgomery and Hochderfer. There was something about having the association, whether or not we ever talked about the dearly departed, that helped me to feel less alone. I felt like less of a freak knowing this freak occurrence had occurred to them as well.
A week ago I was stunned to learn of Amy Montgomery's passing. Amy, a tiny bit of a woman, had always seemed so much larger than life. It never really made sense that so much person fit into her tiny body. She loved deeply, lived boldly, bounced back quickly, and broke a little less easily, much like I had learned to do. We shared a dark, dry sense of humor, a trademark of someone who's just seen their fair share of dark times. I'm pretty sure we were the funniest people the other knew.
I know I'm not supposed to talk about the fact that when Amy left Bakersfield, I couldn't wait for her to go. We'd had a falling out, over something that's none of your fucking business. I know I'm not supposed to say that when Amy left Bakersfield, she was messy and self-destructive and her death was imminent had she continued on that path and she wouldn't be here today if she hadn't been whisked away to Texas, which is of course, ironic, because she's still not here today.
If I don't talk about that dark time, though, I can't talk about the way she turned herself around. I can't talk about the beautiful life that she put together for herself when she returned to her hometown of Odessa. I can't talk about the way I watched her grow and mature. I can't talk about the way a tiny little girl named Elliott, with curious blue eyes that look just like Amy's, saved Amy's life, and rescued her from herself.
Amy and I reconnected again as only Amy could do - through my dog Gideon's Facebook page. One day there was a simple message on his profile: "Tell your mommy I miss her." After a few such messages I dropped my guard a bit and re-opened myself to Amy's friendship, which gave me the pleasure of watching her raise Elliott to be a bright and quirky little girl, just like Amy.
News of Amy's hospitalization spread quickly through the Facebook newsfeed, but even then, I failed to realize how critical the situation was. Words like "fatal" and "miracle" fell on my deaf ears, my mind certain that Amy and I were going to live to be 100. And then, an e-mail: "Amy Montgomery passed away." Impossible. Impossible.
She's been gone a week now, and my mind is still stretching to wrap itself around the fact. I didn't have words to capture my disbelief, or my grief. I still don't. All I have is this story of the ups and the downs and the dark and the light and the crazy, tragic, beautiful parts of this thing that we call life.
It was a good life, Amy Montgomery.