His name is Jeff.

He’s the only one I’ll name.  He is #2 on my “list of everyone I’ve ever been naked with” post.

I don’t remember when we first met, because I had known about him for a while. He was sort of best friends / in unrequited love with one of my closest friends.  In the fall of my senior year of high school, we were in the show Cinderella together.  I was Cinderella’s understudy….in other words, in the chorus, so we had plenty of downtime in which to be the cast Statler and Waldorf.  We were paired together for a waltz in the ball scene, and we’d alternate between avoiding eye contact (in order to avoid cracking up) and trying to catch the other’s eye in order to sabotage the other’s ability to keep in character.

I was stressed with trying to get together my repertoire to audition for Ithaca (early decision), and it just didn’t seem worth it to learn a lead role I’d likely never perform, so I called the director to tell her that I was dropping out of the show.  She talked me out of it and told me I could just be in the chorus.  He called me a day or two later, once word got to him, to make me promise I wouldn’t drop out…or to at least coordinate ditching the show with him.

Our mutual friend, who played one of the stepsisters, had a huge crush on him. So did I.  I “got” him.  I don’t know why.  They really should have been together.  Maybe because “getting” him just entailed hooking up–he was the first ambiguous relationship I ever had.  I don’t think we ever talked about what we were, although I knew from her that we were not going to be boyfriend and girlfriend.  I liked him so much, though.

I spent that New Year’s Eve with him.  That was the winter we had so many ice storms, and my parents probably wouldn’t have let me drive on NYE anyway, so I told them that his mom would be there, and I had them drop me off there before she left for the night. I think that was the time the power went out.  It didn’t get cold.  We didn’t have sex.  He didn’t try for it, and I wouldn’t have suggested it, because I was planning on waiting until marriage (although I’m sure he could have convinced me to abandon that idea).

The wall alongside his bed was covered in writing in sharpies.  The only things I distinctly remember were “News flash for Jeff: the phone works both ways,” and I wrote a kind of crude “advertisement” for calling me that involved a reference to Faulkner’s The Bear.

Jeff was funny, silly, sarcastic, and very, very sad.  It seemed the more sad he was, the more he used humor to deflect.  I thought it was interesting.

[That’s totally how I am now.  If things start troubling me, I get very punchy as a way to cheer myself up.]

His parents were divorced.  He mainly lived with his mom, who was the sweetest thing.  I remember her doing my hair one day for Cinderella when my neck was coated in hickies. I also remember Jeff (Walker) telling me he had a brother named Tommy. Not being a big The Who fan, I asked his mom about it.  She just rolled with it, saying “Oh…that was a long time ago.

His dad was an atheist jock, and he was fairly Christian and a theater kid…therefore, to his dad, gay.  I only met his father once.  I don’t know how much of his pain came from things his father actually said to him, or if the disappointment he felt coming from his father was a distortion. Wherever it came from, it wasn’t veiled at all.

He was in love with one of my best friends.  Actually, my two best friends and I figured out at some point that all three of us had hooked up with him.

I don’t want to overstate our relationship.  We hooked up for a couple months, and I was sort of in unrequited love with him.  Then, he called me and said he felt things were getting too intense physically, and he didn’t feel right about it.  I said, “Okay,” and he said, “Okay. So we’re doing the ‘friend’ thing.”  I was like, “Oh shit, I just kind of got broken up with, even though we weren’t going out.”  It turned out there was another girl that he wanted to get together with, but he felt guilty about it if he was still hanging out with me (also, things had obviously run their course from his point of view).

I cried about it in physics class the next day.

I met my ex-husband about a month after things ended with him, and it was love at first sight.  I remember writing my first letter to him (my ex) in the senior honor’s student “lounge” that we hung out in during free periods; one of my friends/classmates said, “I don’t think you really like this guy.  I think he’s just a replacement for Jeff.”

They were very similar.  Both short cuties, same 90s skater hair, both into theater.  They looked alike.  I guess there was some truth to it…only, my ex liked me back.

My ex was less sarcastic, though.

I remember excitedly calling Jeff (some time after we stopped hooking up) to tell him I had gotten into Ithaca for voice.  He said, “Is that the name of a college, or did you just sneeze?”

Jeff loved so intensely.  He ended up with a girlfriend (another friend of that poor girl who loved him all along), and he elected to be held back a year even though his grades were fine…it was so obviously to be with her.  In the spring of 1995, though, he started cheating on his girlfriend with the “poor girl.”  It seemed like they were so close to getting together…finally.

It was my freshman year of college, and tech week for opera workshop–final dress rehearsal, actually.  April 27, 1995. I came home at 1 am with messages from that mutual friend.  She called me the next day, and I was casually apologetic for not getting back to her.  She just said, “[my name]: Jeff is dead.”

He had been at her house that night.  He told her to call him in a little while, when he got home.  He wanted to talk to her about something.  He crashed into a tree on the way home.

I may or may not have said that Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is my favorite opera.  This is why:  the opera that year was sort of a revue…just varying-lengths chunks of operas.  I was Amor in L’Incoronazione di Poppea, which was a good role, but it required me to spend decent amounts of time crouched behind scenery…and, once I found out, crying.  The last “scene” was a good 30-minute chunk of Midsummer.  I was just one of the fairies, Peaseblossom, but I felt safe and happy during that part.

The other show I associate most with Jeff is Carousel. . The male lead dies in the show, but, aside from charming girls, Jeff was the anti-Billy Bigelow.  It’s such a weird show. Anyway, our friend mutual friend (his side girl) was playing Louise in her school’s production. I wasn’t supposed to see it, but something had changed in my schedule…or hers?  I can’t remember…and I ended up taking what was supposed to be Jeff’s ticket for the show.

I remember my mom driving me to the funeral and getting onto me about my tone of voice or attitude.  I said, “Mom, I’m getting ready to bury my 17-year old friend.”  I wasn’t going to go up to the casket…I always hated wakes…but our mutual friend wanted me to go up with her, so I did.  I breathed a sigh of relief.  I thought, “Oh!  That’s not Jeff.  Jeff isn’t here.”  There was a tiny piece of lint on his hair, and she took it out, because there is no way he would be okay with imperfect 90s hair. I remember his mom speaking, and obviously his dad was there, but I don’t remember what he said.  I remember worrying about him, though, and wondering how he’d bear the guilt if he really did talk to Jeff in such a hurtful way.  I also worried about how he’d manage if he truly believed that there was nothing after death.

We went to the burial and put roses on his casket.  And sang.

I returned a week, or two, or a month, by myself.   It was a big cemetery, right off of Kirkwood Highway, not far from my dance studio and the bakery that later made my wedding cake.  I couldn’t find him.  I wandered aimlessly.  A couple men working asked me if I needed help.  I told them I was looking for my friend–a 17 year old who had died in a car accident.

Oh.  I can’t forget the other parallel with my ex.  Jeff died on my ex’s 17th birthday.  It was a hard day for me, for years.  I was always sad.  I didn’t try not to be until maybe 1998? 1999? My ex (who was my boyfriend at the time) had gone out with a girl he was cheating on me (and in love) with, and her roommate.  I think we had a fight, and he told me that the girls had said he needed to stand up to me, because “you can’t let her keep doing that to you.”

After that, I tried harder to help him have a nice birthday.

Last year, I don’t even remember.   I know I thought of it.  But it hit me hard this year.  I was being bad at work, checking Facebook, and one of my best friends linked to a post about him and his death.  I started sobbing at my desk.

I don’t want to overstate our relationship.  People do that in death.  The inhibitions that keep peoples’ walls up lessen when they have to deal with the fact that you missed out on a connection with someone, and now it’s impossible to connect with them.  It also makes you feel less lonely to bond with others over death.  Jeff wasn’t that close to me–but that was his choice, not mine.  I know I didn’t meant much to him, but he meant a lot to me. And, as I said, there’s nothing stopping me from grieving that now.

Skip to 2:30 for that final chorus I referenced.


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