for Jason Stover
We became friends in the age of health and lightness,
your cheeks awash in a pink and gentle joy.
The small moments remembered –
your gentle gesture as you tucked a frayed collar into place,
your bits of song sneaking into, taking over, conversation,
outside of art class, in line for dinner, on stage at The Other End,
ever striving for art, beauty, order.
We graduated to different places –
you in full bloom, ebullient with your yellow dog by your side, diploma in hand,
headed home to your lush Vermont, face aglow,
while my hair fell out from under the mortarboard, an unexpected journey already underway.
I learned, after years and years, that parallel stories had unfolded for us,
each an unwanted story, told at a different pace, a different time.
We two had been young and sick and yet strong — very, very strong,
and your cheeks still burned bright with life and laughter.
Made fragile yet indefatigable by illness, we survived.
We found each other online.
Words typed and sent, spare but potent,
we connected over a shared past, the uncommonly shared present,
as I moved onto a second disease and yours returned stronger.
We grew weary of the bodies that betray,
but tired of life interrupted, we lived
steady in resolve and joy, sure of the hearts that persist.
And yet here our paths diverge in ways that leave me reeling,
missing you, my friend in living,
your spirit so vibrant and good and thankful that I never conceived
it would not endure, grow stronger.
These stories, once crossed, were not meant to part.
I believed that, connected from afar, you would always be there.
And yet the love, the kindness, the joy survive,
and the flame of your cheek burns on in ways unimagined.
Ann E. Wallace, PhD, grew up in a small town in Massachusetts but, lured by the proximity to NYC and all it had to offer, she moved to northern New Jersey for college. Thirty years later, she still hasn’t left. In her poetry, creative nonfiction, and scholarship, she writes of illness, loss, motherhood, and other everyday realities. Her work has recently appeared in The Capra Review, Juniper, The Literary Nest, Wordgathering, among other journals, as well as in The Same’s first anthology, Raising Her Voice. She lives in Jersey City and is online at AnnWallacePhD.com and on Twitter @annwlace409.