Year Twelve

“It’s perfectly natural for butterflies,” I type. I pause for a moment, counting the years on imaginary fingers. “Twelve years into this game and it still takes a lot out of me,” my fingers click-clack on the keyboard, pausing for just a glitch of a second to take in the fact that, twelve years ago, I met Amado. Twelve years ago, he convinced me to get on stage for the first time and share my own work.

“Wow,” Nora responds. “Twelve years. That’s a whole career!”

Outside of this blog, work-related pieces, and my journal(s), writing and I have become estranged. Creative writing, I should say. When Nora asks if I wrote as well, my answer is banal. Empty. Even now when I look over the e-mail back-and-forth we had leading up to Love & Chocolate 2017, it reads monotonously—Once upon a time, I did.

Thoughts filled my head that night, and every night since Tuesday afternoon when Amado sent me a message via Facebook.

“Tonie Marie Cortez,” it read, “she passed away this Monday morning in her sleep… I thought you should know… I posted on my wall…”

I sat with the new generation of the children’s department staff, working on something. I can’t remember what. Or what we were talking about when I heard my phone vibrate from its place in my top drawer. I opened the message figuring it was about Thursday’s event or the one in April. Instead I see those words echoing from the screen. I’m sure they noticed the sudden drop of my voice. Even my response to Amado wasn’t the best.

“Oh shit. I didn’t know.”

Tonie and I weren’t the best friends. Press me on it, and I cannot tell you when was the last time I saw or spoke to her. It was either in line at the box office—she was there treating the boys to the Ninja Turtle movie and I, quite possibly, waiting to see something by Marvel—or at poetry event.

Like Richard Sanchez and Anne Estevis, I met Tonie at the Nueva Onda Poet’s Cafe all those years ago. All those twelve years ago. Twelve fucking years ago.

I excused myself. Sat in the back, and tried to understand the emotion swirling around me. Is this grief? Am I grieving? It only makes sense that my heart would ache for the loss of a friend. But this feeling? This is alien. This is new. Because mixed with the grief is the confusion. The confusion of not knowing why I felt the need to grieve to this extend.

If you never had the opportunity to hear her sonorous vocals as she sang on stage, then you were robbed of the experience. Robbed way too soon. There exists a recording of her singing at the Nueva Onda Poets Cafe all those years ago. All those fucking twelve years ago. Video that I never edited and posted on YouTube out of a promise to her.

These days I’m more content in organizing the events than I am writing poems or performing in them. A lie repeated until it became fact.

As the poets read, a thought clawed at me. There will never be a poetry reading in which Tonie will perform. I will never see her again. Never hear her voice again. Never think about contacting her as I had two or three weeks ago when the April event was also assigned to me.

My friend may have passed away, but she lives on through the memories of her loved ones. Though the voices of those still breathing, still willing to perform in front of strangers and friends alike. And while it wasn’t a poem. And while it wasn’t new. And while it was more personal than I might have liked, I did perform something that night.

Because if there is one way to honor the loss of a friend, it’s by doing what we do best.

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