He died unexpectedly. I do not have much experience with death; I have not watched any of my grandparents' passings yet. I have never had any close friends vanish without warning. My immediate family is healthy and happy and very alive, as crazy as we all might be. Although my close circles have remained intact, there have been two shocking deaths in my life: that of my mother's little sister's husband in February 2012, and that of James Graham, in April of 2012. April 14th, 2012. Five years ago.
Jim and my father grew up together in Napa, CA. They eventually attended Seattle Pacific University together in the early 1980's. From the stories I've been told throughout my life, the two of them caused a ruckus wherever they went. My father, who I feel blossoming within myself more and more as I grow, was seen by Jim. They were soul friends. My dad tells a story of living in SPU's on campus apartments and his senior year, him, Jim, and a few of their other best friends spent a spring afternoon drinking beer, dancing, and blasting music as a big middle finger to Seattle Pacific's ridiculous lifestyle expectations. There's a story of Jim and my dad running around golf courses in the middle of the night and getting stuck in a pond. I can't quite remember how that one ends - you'll have to ask my father.
Jim wrote my mom letters. She still has all of them.
I don't remember much about Jim, but I remember his laugh. Not even necessarily the sound, but the feeling. Jim loved to laugh, and he taught others how to rejoice in humor alongside him. Jim wasn't afraid to make a joyful noise. I was young when I spent most of my time with Jim, no older than three, maybe four, but I remember his unapologetic laughter. It rattled your ribs. Its energy made you giddy. You could end up laughing and not be entirely sure why, but you were, and that alone was enough to steady your sorrow and transform teardrops into prisms. And he had a tattoo of an armadillo on his ankle.
I didn't see Jim for 14 years. At some point in my early childhood, he disconnected from my parents, for reasons nobody could fully wrap their heads around. From my understanding, I don't think Jim even really knew. But my adolescence and teenagehood were spent completely Jim-less. Occasionally he would come up in storytelling or dinner conversation, there would be a moment of reminiscing, and then we would move on, with a damp sense of remorse surrounding the table for five minutes.
It was when I visited Seattle Pacific University for my own college pursuits in January 2012 that I saw Jim for the first time since I was a small girl. Although my dad moved back to California after college, Jim stayed in the Pacific Northwest. And after years of silence, my dad took a breath of courage and asked if Jim were free to meet up with my family for lunch while we were all briefly in Seattle. He said yes.
We met at a Greek restaurant near the University of Washington on a dismal January afternoon. There was a bookstore connected to the restaurant - very Jim. He met my little sister for the first time. He hugged my parents with nostalgia. I think we ate pita bread and lamb or something similar and he asked my sister and I about our lives, and even though I didn't realize it at the time, that lunch was one of the most holy meals I've every participated in.
After lunch, we all hugged Jim, and there was hope, and the beginning glimmers of reconciliation.
Jim and my dad texted for the following months, trading jokes and stories from the last 14 years. My dad finally asked for clarification about why Jim disappeared from his life. Jim apologized and gave whatever bits of explanation he could. From my interpretation of the whole thing, they had a connection and understanding of one another that transcended written communication. So whatever was said was enough to begin the process of healing. Jim and I became friends on Facebook. We exchanged a couple of messages between the two of us. The sun was rising after a long, dark winter.
I committed to Seattle Pacific at the beginning of April 2012. My family found an old box of film photos, including the two photographs in this blog post. I scanned them into my computer with the intention of posting them to Jim's Facebook wall and telling him I would be moving to Seattle in the fall. We could know each other. We could have a relationship. Finally, after a week or so of constantly forgetting to share them with Jim, I posted them around 8 PM on April 13th, 2012.
The next morning, a Sunday, I woke up at 7:30 to my mother's sobs. Jim had been struck by a car on Alaska Way in Downtown Seattle. He died that night.
I don't know if he ever saw the photos I posted to him, my excitement to know him, the hope I had felt only 12 hours previously.
My mom, sister, and I went to church in a daze. My dad, being the worship leader, had left for church at 5:30. He didn't know. I remember watching my mom walk up to him at the front of the sanctuary once the service was done, telling him she needed to talk to him at home as soon as he was packed up. I remember feeling numb. I don't really remember the rest of the day.
There's more to this story, familial intricacies and connections that led to my dad conducting Jim's memorial service a couple weeks later. Paul and Sheila trusting my dad, loving Jim, knowing that my father would make something beautiful. I wasn't there, but I have heard of the marvel, the spiritual presences, that danced through the room as people read quotes from children's novels, and a slideshow of illustrated pages from children's books played behind the readers.
Jim loved stories. So here is one of Jim's stories. I can't do it justice, but it's enough for now.
We miss you.
"There is a room in the Department of Mysteries... that is kept locked at all times. It contains a force that is at once more wonderful and more terrible than death, than human intelligence, than forces of nature. It is also, perhaps, the most mysterious of the many subjects for study that resides there. It is the power held within that room that you possess in such quantities and which Voldemort has not at all. That power took you to save Sirius tonight. That power saved you from possession by Voldemort, because he could not bear to reside in a body so full for the force he detests. In the end, it mattered not that you could close your mind. It was your heart that saved you."