By Kerry Payne Stailey
I adored you.
Fiery red hair, flashing blue eyes, and a laugh that engaged your every cell.
You were electric.
I feared you and your heart that moved from tender to cruel with each drink you took; learning early to tiptoe through eggshells, not knowing when they’d crack, only sure that they would.
Twelve when you became the man of your house; your own special dreams withered on the vine. Like your father before, you were no match for family life.
Is that why you drank? To remember? To forget?
Is that why you roamed, your spirit restless, always searching, always searching?
The fights, the tears, the sacrifice; the life I vowed I would never repeat.
Dreams set aside for the sensible path; my head faced one direction and my spirit in another.
Your suicide ripped my heart into a thousand tiny pieces I stuffed deep into my pockets and never examined, for fear it would undo me.
For seven years, your photos hidden so they wouldn’t mock me, I did not mourn you. To do so then would be to admit we’d failed, both you and me.
You jarred me into awareness of the passing of time, of the danger of living with untested desires.
I see you now. You were brave and vulnerable, certain and confused, filled with hopes and with regrets. The best of you is what I like most in me and I wish I hadn’t wasted a moment in anger with you, in life or after.
Your gypsy ways turned me from my camera; your death brought me back to it. What a gift you left behind.
Now when I learn somebody chooses to live because of the stories I’ve shared, it gives meaning to the journey we’ve traveled.
I could not save you, but you may have saved me. With your picture in my camera bag, and your lessons in my heart, together we’re saving others.