This is a story about Melissa. They are all stories about Melissa: she is the main character in all of our tales. She is the star: radiant, inspirational, warm, and, like all stars, destined to flare out.
Melissa drove a bright blue cloth-top Wrangler. Sometimes her hair was bright blue, too. In my favorite picture of us, I’m peeking around her headrest while she takes a selfie from the driver’s seat. We had just hiked somewhere – St. Helen’s or Rainier, one of those – and she’d scraped her knee so badly that she had to use her bandana as a bandage. It was St. Helen’s: I remember how rocky it was, and how sunny. The lupines matched her hair, then.
She pulled in friends like a sun capturing comets, accumulating adventures and anecdotes with every orbit. In February, they were snow shoeing in the mountains; in July, whitewater rafting; in November, backpacking in Patagonia. Sometimes I’d meet them for beers after and they’d share their pictures. Melissa almost made you feel like you’d come along. She always made me feel included – like my star was missed even in her huge constellation of friends.
I’m a little envious of the adventures she was able to take, but not of her. It wasn’t possible to be envious of her, not when she’d work with Habitat for Humanity and blood drives. Not when she’d come jump your car in the rain – actually, she’d drive you to work so you could get to your shift on time, then call up one of her orbiting friends to help jump your car and drive it to work for you. Not when she’d show up at your house after the latest atrocious Tinder date with a pint of gelato and a half-dozen mini bottles of whiskey.
“Mel, you don’t even drink!”
“They were 99 cents!”
And I’d drink one mixed with Diet Coke and we’d watch our favorite Top Model episodes until two in the morning. She was that kind of friend. You don’t get too many of those in your life.
Mel came alive outdoors. She’d straighten up, smile more. You could see her expand in the fresh air, like being kept indoors made her wilt. She especially loved the beach. She’d grown up inland; I’ll always treasure being the first one to take her to the shore, to see that expression, that expansive smile that breached horizons.
That’s why I’m writing this here, on the beach. I hiked down the rocks after dark and started a fire. I have a tiny 99-cent bottle of whiskey, a pen, this paper, and my memories.
I should have known they wouldn’t all fit.
I’m sorry I couldn’t be at your funeral. I hope this is good enough. It’s everything I loved best in you, captured as well as I can, and when I’m done, I’ll light a candle under it and send it airborne. You’ll get to fly, the one thing in all your adventures that you never got to do. You’ll float out over the waves, into the night, and I’ll watch until this last bit of you flares out.