Columnist Tolley M. Jones: Will there be time?

Tolley M. Jones

Tolley M. Jones


Published: 06-12-2024 5:44 PM

Modified: 06-13-2024 11:17 AM

A year ago, my dearest friend Kirsten’s life abruptly and shockingly ended. A year ago she came into my car as I drove in terror to her house, to say goodbye to me when I was not ready, nor prepared, to say goodbye to her. A year ago this week, we were on Martha’s Vineyard for our annual family vacation (for we were and are family), and we did not know a countdown was inexorably racing toward zero.

We walked in the dark to Inkwell Beach, our arms linked, laughing and as excited as two girls can be to know we have a whole week of sleepovers ahead of us. We sat on a giant boulder and stared out at the vibrant, moonlit ocean, our laughter skimming out across the waves and consecrating the water with the totality of our love. A year ago, we talked about how we would come back over and over to this place, and grow old and ever more sassy, together on this island. A year ago we thought we had so much time.

I scroll through our last texts and I am aghast — miserably aghast — that neither she nor I knew that the last time we spoke, the last time we hugged, the last time we looked into each other’s eyes, would be the last time. We did not know that when we hugged in her driveway after returning from that week of vacation, we were saying goodbye.

Exactly one week before she died I texted “I love you” and she replied “Right back at ya sister” and we did not know.

My grief at losing Kirsten has been physical pain. My gut hurts, my heart hurts, my lungs hurt, my head aches every day as though I have been deep under the sea and have come up too quickly. The abruptness of having to understand that Kirsten is gone has permeated my blood with reality that my system has struggled to assimilate.

I have a never-ending version of the bends — Kirsten was the oxygen, and with her gone the toxins that linger in my blood create physical pain even a year later.

The most constant and persistent result of her unexpected death is that I walk through the world acutely aware that everyone I love is going to die, and I don’t know when. I am bracing for it, constantly … every day. This is perhaps an unhealthy way to live, but I can’t help it — when Kirsten died I really did not truly understand that this would happen to someone I love. I did not really understand that either I would die and leave my family and friends bereft, or that someone I can’t imagine breathing without will suddenly and unceremoniously cease to be part of my world as I have grown accustomed to experiencing.

I understand this now, and I can’t unknow it, and I am every day baffled that others putter around their daily tasks and the minutiae of life without this screaming horror of knowledge of death undulating just at the edge of their peripheral vision. Every day I walk through the world and I can hear the wailing of my soul’s knowledge that she is not here, and I can’t understand how no one else can hear it.

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T.S. Eliot said in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”: “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons” and I have thought of this quote and this poem frequently in my life, but especially now. Every day as I am stirring my coffee, brushing my teeth, scrubbing the stovetop, driving, and every day that I hesitate to do or say something that I want to do or say, I know in my cells that time is running out.

I know that every morning when I stir that coffee, is one less day I have to do and say what I want. Yet that day is perhaps filled with such ordinary things — the stirring of coffee, the writing of lists … laundry. And suddenly your time is over here on this Earth, and the things you wanted to say, the things you wanted to do, and the people you wanted to love so fiercely, are out of your reach.

So this is my gentle, and desperate, reminder to you readers: Yes, you should dare to eat a peach. Dare to disturb the universe. Say what you think. Apologize to whom you know you should apologize. Make amends. Wear purple. Make up for the sobriety of your youth. Eat only strawberry shortcake for dinner. Take the road less traveled and see where it goes.

Go back for that second hug. Tell that person whom you love that you love them. Make the time now. Do not wait.

It will have been worth it.

Tolley M. Jones lives in Easthampton. She writes a monthly column.