Roses in December
“Alright Mary Scott, but what’s your favorite?” “Peach! I think I’ll have to say peach.” “Then peach it is!” My young and bubbly bartender-in-training opened up her notebook and carefully wrote down, in delicate and curving handwriting, a few peachy drink recipes — recipes she would refer to later that evening when she took up her new post behind the bar. “Well, your shift is over, how about you try one and tell me how it is?” Sipping the pink concoction, I nodded my approval: “It’s great Casey, really, really good.” She smiled, “I’m glad.”
What are we supposed to do when all we have are fragments? What are we supposed to do with a confusion of 30-second clips constantly running through our heads? Why does tragedy look like a still from a movie, where a beaming young girl looks out upon the world, notebook in hand, ready to conquer everything before her? Why don’t we get to say goodbye?
Many of you probably knew Casey Schulman; most of you probably loved her. Maybe you loved how she always looked like she had just walked out of a magazine, and when you complimented her, she complimented you right back, finding something about you that you hadn’t even noticed about yourself. Maybe you loved the ease with which she moved through life, how comfortable she could make you feel, like that was how life was supposed to be — simple, good.
All we have now are fragments. I wish I had more. I’m sure that those who loved Casey most, her closest friends, her family, have so many fragments that they may not even know where to begin. How do you begin to build again, memory upon memory, until you’ve created the beautiful story of the beautiful girl who should still be here now, writing her own story, in her delicate and curving handwriting?
I think we are all, whether we know it or not, writing Casey’s story for her, piece by piece, as we explain her inner traits to the outside world. “And she always did this thing where … and this one time! … you wouldn’t believe how…” And we are making Casey come alive, in our words and our hugs and our laughs and our tears. Because her story isn’t nearly finished.
“God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December.” I always recall this J.M. Barrie quote when the skies start to gray and the air begins to bite. And now, it seems so simple and good and right.
Because today we have roses, and those roses are Casey’s memory. The time when Casey and I couldn’t listen to the punky/metal Pandora station any longer and we teamed up to beg our manager to change the radio to the Avett Brothers. The times when Casey and I would work night shifts together, gossiping and whispering and shouting into the kitchen, “where’s my app!?” We had our sorority niches and our classroom niches and then we had our Backyard niche, separate and special. We knew that our bartender had breakfast for dinner because he’d slept during the day. We knew our manager had a hard time saying no to our requests when we tried to convince him of something, putting on our best smiles. But Casey’s smile was always the biggest.
Why don’t we have a warning system in place so that the universe can tell us when we need to start recording the precious last moments of a life?
But we don’t have any such recorder. All we have are roses. I don’t want to try to capture a whole life in 1000 words; you could never capture the infinite essence of Casey in mere words. You cannot sum up a gorgeous existence in a pithy quote, in a picture, in a phrase.
You can cry until your body is depleted of all its tears. You can hold on to everyone you love so tightly that your knuckles whiten. And you can tell stories, millions of stories. Like the story about one of my favorite spring days, the day when Casey and I sat in the near-empty restaurant, doors swung open, sunlight making our eyes bright and narrow, so that we had to squint to see. Casey, ever certain, ever organized, going over her bartender notebook to make sure she was prepared for the evening ahead of her. Me lingering after my shift so I could serve as guinea pig for all of her concoctions, concoctions pink and orange, some quite awful, some quite wonderful. I eventually left, waving goodbye, throwing a “good luck, you’ll do great!” over my shoulder.
And piece by piece we’ll write this story and every rose we remember will be another page, which will lead to another page, and then another. I wanted to include the words of Casey’s best friend, Lindsay Fowler, words that evoke Casey’s spirit in the way only a best friend’s can:
Casey is not someone that I can sum up in words. She is wrapped up so tightly in my heart, my soul and my memories that I cannot possibly pull those things from inside to tell you how I felt about her. Casey was my best friend. Today, it was 65 and sunny in December, and I can’t help but smile and know that this was Casey’s doing. On days, just like this one, she would text me in the morning on her walk to class and say “this day” along with a smiley emoji. So this morning, I walked outside and I realized that today was a “this day” kind of day and it was right then that I realized that Casey hasn’t actually left, her memory will live on and those memories will make every day a “this day” kind of day.
Mary Scott’s column runs biweekly Wednesdays. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.