Friday, August 10, 2012

Nothing Gold Can Stay

When I was a college freshman, I met a girl I'll call Julie. She was smart and lovely and, to the chagrin of so many of us in the dorm, rail-thin despite having the appetite of a man six times her size. But you couldn't be jealous of her, not really, because underneath her long blond hair and perfect smile and size-2 body, she was just so genuinely nice.

So one day early in the year, Julie met a guy I'll call Nick, and eventually, they fell in love. Nick was a nice-looking guy, but most importantly, he was kind at a point in time when many guys care little about the way they treat others. Nick was inclusive and funny and sweet, and he walked through those next several months leading up to their wedding as if he had won the lottery. In his mind, he had -- I don't think he ever assumed Julie would love him back.

They married the summer after Julie's and my sophomore year. I transferred schools, made a new life with my new friends, and lost track of Julie and Nick. I would hear tidbits about them here and there; they had settled in the town in which we had gone to school, Julie was teaching kindergarten, and, finally, after many years, they had started a family.

Then one day, unbelievably, I heard this: Julie had died. She had been fighting cancer, with which she had been diagnosed when her children were tiny. But she hadn't won, and at age 40, with two still-small children, Julie died. And Nick, who had loved her so, was alone.

But not really alone -- he had the kids. His kids. Julie's kids. And by all accounts, he made up his mind early on that he would raise them on his own. But in one of the cruelest twists of fate I had ever heard, Nick also became ill. For a long while, his illness was managed, and he made things work.

But two nights ago, Nick died. His kids, Julie's kids, are 15 and 14. Fifteen and 14, and now they have no parents.

Crappy things happen to good people every day. We all know people who have died young. Died painfully. Died alone. But this is almost too much -- it's as if Fate said, "Get your happiness early, kids, because there's not going to be time for a lot of it." I imagine they did. I hope they did.

I don't know Julie and Nick's kids, and I doubt they'll ever read this. But if they happened to, I'd want them to know about the day I walked to class about a hundred feet behind the people who would become their parents.

It was a cold day, and Julie was putting on her parka on the way to class. She was walking and trying to get her arms in the sleeves and her hair got stuck in the back of the coat. And with a gesture so gentle that I'll never forget it, Nick reached in, untangled the hair, and laid it ever-so-gently on the outside of the coat. And then he leaned down and kissed the top of Julie's head, and they kept walking.

I envied Julie and Nick that day. I assumed they would have a golden life. It's my hope that they did. And as I read the words of Robert Frost, I almost think he must have time-traveled and known Nick and Julie.

Rest in peace, both of you. And to your children: Just know that your mom and dad, during that moment in time some some 29 years ago, were the people we all wanted to be.

Nothing Gold Can Stay, by Robert Frost

Nature's first green is gold
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

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