I’m a small-town boy. Still, I always thought I would do great things. Or…I always imagined that I would do great things. Or…I always dreamt that I would do great things. While falling asleep at night, I concocted scenarios where I was being interviewed by Oprah because I was a big-shot celebrity; or where I was ducking out of the back of venues after performing sold-out concerts to avoid being trampled by overly rambunctious fans. I practiced my ingenious answers to questions and daring escape routes. I schemed these things curled up in the comfort of my twin bed in my parent’s house in Logan, Utah. (Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of it; it’s unremarkable.)
I was an insular kid - never had many friends. Most of the friends I did have didn’t know anything about these dreams. Most of my current friends don’t even know these dreams. Hell, these were my personal fantasies - and they all involved bidding goodbye to the sorry, sad town that raised me. In high school, my best friend and I planned our future: we were going to move together to New York City, where she could go to school - probably for psychology - and I could attempt to make a living singing the songs I wrote. But plans change; things happen. Life moves in unexpected ways.
On December 26, 1997, my best friend was killed in an automobile accident. One second was Christmas and presents and carefree; the next was tears in her empty bedroom. They said it was immediate and she felt no pain. But how can anyone say? I wasn’t with her. I hadn’t even been spending that much time with her in the previous weeks because life happens - especially in high school. Friends revolve around different orbits and we were currently in a kind of aphelion, waiting to reconnect as our axes realigned. That all makes it sound much more dramatic than it was. Not a fight or even disagreement; just a temporary lapse in connection that people look back on or forget altogether as inconsequential over the course of two long lives. But what if one of those lives is cut short? Without permission or approval. One minute here; the next, a crushed, empty version of her already broken body.
And what about the pieces she left behind? Maybe they were meant to be buried only to be discovered at important intervals, like treasure. Maybe she shattered to give a small bit of herself to each person that demanded a piece of her and her existence. Maybe we’re all stretched that thin and we’re just unfinished prototypes, trying to learn to break. Maybe she was too perfect for this world: maybe our hearts would have burst if we had known her for one more day. Or maybe she was just so, so, so tired and needed to finally rest.
But how do we put our pieces back together again? How do I reassemble the person that I was? We all have broken pieces; we all have insecure spaces. Maybe the imperfections make us more perfect. Maybe our cracks and our breaks shatter us to show that we were broken to begin with. And being broken is beautiful.
I don’t believe in a god. A god wouldn’t do the things that have been done, and the things that will continue to be done. A god wouldn’t force us to feel the kinds of pain we feel. A god couldn’t bear it. Just like we can’t bear it. But we do. We do bear it…
We are stronger than the gods we imagine. Hearts break at random. Lives end for no good reason. But I choose to believe in my friends. Especially those that are no longer here. And I believe in myself. And I choose to put myself back together each time I fall off the wall and shatter. Sometimes I soak the broken pieces in whiskey. Or food. Or sadness. But seasons change. And I rebuild.
And I always feel the terrified, shy boy from Utah inside of me. He cries. He ducks his head. He defers. He doesn’t dare to be much of anything. Then I remember his dreams. And I remember my friend. I remember our plans. I remember that she believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. And I remember that now, 18 years later, I do live in New York City - just like we planned. It took me a lot longer to get here, but here I am. And I’m speaking, and singing, and writing, and teaching. And I think Analee would be proud of me. She would be here if she could. She would plant a piece of herself here, if her pieces aren’t here already. She would look straight into my eyes and say, “Kevin, we did it.” And yet there’s so much more to do. There’s so much farther to go. I will carry her pieces on to so many more great things…