‘I wonder what D would say about this?’ I think, as I open up the latest headlines about what’s going on in Washington Born in the US, but with roots in Jamaica, reality TV, and great literature, he always had an original and an apt way of getting right to the heart of things, in a way that would make me laugh, or sometimes cry.
It’s been five years now, since I learned on Facebook of my good friend Demetrius Graves’ death from a sudden asthma attack , and I wonder, still, when am I going to get ‘over it’? Now I think that I should have gatecrashed his funeral in Florida, as I was half tempted to at the time, except for all those Reasons …
Reasons which included the prohibitive cost of travelling there from my small town in Australia; the question of who would look after my family while I was away? and the most important Reason – the fact that I had never met Demetrius Graves in real life, and so wouldn’t that just be too super-weird for everyone for me to suddenly turn up at his funeral, crying and acting all bereaved, when the loss his family had suffered – particularly his brother, his sister, his father, and his wonderful, beautiful mother – were so great? And so I sent flowers, and stayed in touch with his family for a couple of years after, and to some extent comforted myself with the fact that ‘I had never really known him, anyway,’ because, duh, we had never met in real life, and so that meant that the grief, for me, would soon pass, right?
So why isn’t it working like that?
We used to work out together lifting weights and doing pushups and crunches in our respective living rooms, texting and sending photos and chatting on Messenger while we watched an episode of the Real Housewives of NYC, one of our shared passions. He would eat a pint of ice cream while he buffed up his beautiful physique, while I added up the points on my Weight Watchers app and tried to convince him that I wasn’t insanely jealous.
He used to send me pieces of his writing which I would mull over for days. He wanted constructive criticism but I just found his writing so beautiful, and otherworldly, almost, that I felt it should go straight to a publisher, and become a book, to be received the way Walt Whitman’s had been, or Virginia Woolfe’s, or Flannery O’Connor’s – some of his literary heroes. His writing was dense, and beautiful, and mysterious, and reminded me of Beadelaire’s. As I mulled it over, it fed me – it wasn’t quite fiction, it wasn’t quite prose.
Demetrius was young – in his early twenties – and as a young black man in a hostile, racist society I knew he faced more challenges than he could or would ever share with me. But mainly I worried about Demetrius because he was sensitive, and beautiful, and fragile, and I didn’t want that precious part of him to shatter, or break, before he flowered into all he could be, which I knew would be even more of a gift than he already was to the people who loved him, and to the world.
He didn’t get there, and although it was a medical condition that took his life, I wonder if there was a racial or class aspect of it that meant that he didn’t get optimal healthcare. Or was it that he didn’t take care of himself? That one makes me mad sometimes – mad at him – even though I, also an asthma sufferer, and decades older than Demetrius, sometimes smoke. I’d like it to be his fault, in a way, so that I could blame him and be mad at him and that way, not have to feel so sad. But of course none of that is true.
The fact is I just miss him, and I don’t know how to do that very well for someone I only ever met on social media. I’d like to get back in touch with his brother and his sister and most especially his mum again, who, last time we connected over Messenger was contending with a hurricane, before going on a long anticipated cruise with her friends – looking absolutely beautiful, (being highly accomplished in the areas of health and fitness were a family trait in the Graves family) and hopefully ready to face life with some modicum of hope and happiness again.
Demetrius, I wish I was witnessing you flowering and fulfilling all that promise and potential you were so richly endowed with as a young man. I know, realistically, you would have been contending with a lot of challenges and setbacks, as well. But I would have been there by your side supporting you – along with the other people who loved you in our top secret facebook group, as well as, of course, your amazing family, and all of your other ‘real life’ friends. I still feel devastated that you’re not doing that, and I still feel some measure of disbelief. As if, one day, I’ll log back on to Facebook or open up Vulture, and there you’ll be – teasing me and confiding in me and comforting me, as well as becoming a big time literary star. You always promised you’d give me all the credit, (for no reason!) and take me around to all the cool New York parties, where you would introduce me as your ‘aunt’. That would have felt 100% right and natural to me. It’s this that still keeps feeling wrong and weird. But slowly I’m forcing myself to realise that this state of affairs is never going to change, and so, years after your death, somehow, I feel even more sad.