The first time I met Nick, I was 15. We spent an entire day at the lake–I didn’t understand why he kept swimming so close to me or why my stomach felt so nervous when he did.
He had this ridiculous long, blonde hair that covered his eyes and he was my first love.
We were together for three years– which for two high school kids was basically an eternity. He was sarcastic and funny and sometimes a little mean but we loved each other with the kind of feverish, ferocious love that you only feel when you experience it for the first time.
When I was 18, Nick and I broke up. We picked up our broken hearts. We moved on. We moved forward – the way most first loves often do.
Last Sunday, June 26th, 2016 at 9:30 pm, Nick passed away after a six month battle with cancer.
It was in that moment that my first love gave me my first hands-on experience with death.
My love for him had gone from that of a high school sweetheart to an old friend, but when I found out that he died – I was 15 again.
I was 15 and the lake where we met was miles long. Nick floated away. The world wouldn’t stop spinning. I was on a bus back to NYC from DC and he was gone and I couldn’t breathe.
Every time something terrible happens in my life, I run away to the mountains or to a city I’ve never been in hopes that the newness will somehow cure me. When I found out he was in the hospital, I ran away to Virginia. Then I ran away to DC.
I was desperately trying to find a cure to my sadness because, normally, it works. Normally, I come home feeling less heavy and I can move on with my life. This time, though, I’m not sure that any city has a cure for me.
How can you escape a hurt that clings and sticks the way that death does?
People aren’t often lucky enough to be able to call their high school sweetheart their good friend later on in life – but that’s what Nick was to me. As we matured into adulthood, I watched Nick grow from a boy to a man. I watched him fall in love again with an amazing girl. I watched him become all of the things he said he wanted to become when we used to whisper our dreams to each other in the dark.
The last thing that Nick ever told me when I saw him back in March was that life will move on. I yelled at him when he said that because I couldn’t grasp a world without him in it.
He rolled his eyes as we rolled up to the train station and he said, “Jesus Christ, Tess, just live a life I would be proud of.”
I’m planning a trip to Europe in two weeks, but this time, I’m not traveling to escape. There is no mountain or city on this earth that can make me forget about the blonde-headed boy that showed me how to love and to lose and to learn to love again.
The last thing Nick ever wrote me was on Facebook messenger. I told him I was going out to a bar. The last message he ever sent read, “Be Safe.” Good advice for travel, good advice for life.
Travel is not a cure for grief and there is no way to escape the loss of him, but I’ll travel to fall in love with cities and to experience the world the way he would have wanted me to.
I’ll write and I’ll travel and I’ll love. I’ll live a life he would have been proud of– because it’s all I can do.
I have to keep on living because it’s the only way to grieve.