Today is your birthday and I can see you at thirty-five, a well-aged gentleman with a lifetime of stories etched on your skin, from the wrinkles on your slightly tanned faced to the tattoos that cover most of your body. The silver streaks in your hair have expanded and dirty blonde has faded drastically to a sandy grey, yet the locks are still styled with precision and glisten with pommeade. By now you have learned how to make whiskey an enjoyable beverage instead of fuel for spontaneous decisions, and there are no lingering thoughts of indulging in drugs. You are thankful those urges no longer consume you and have a moment of appreciation for a life that should have ended on more than one occasion. There are images which pass through your mind, memories of risking your life to feed that horrible adrenaline addiction, basking in the thunderous applause when you successfully escaped from the perceived leathal clutches of death.
On this prestigious day, you are dressed in a suit you have worn many times, but for some reason it fits better than it ever has. There are probably even blood stains set deep in the fabric where no one can see, a fact that makes you chuckle as you slip on silver rings and adjust the collar of your jacket. It is a lovely Autumn afternoon with clear blue skies and a slight chill which rustles through changing leaves on the trees that pass by as you cruise along the highway in your Chevy Nova. After several years of driving a ’49 Mercury, you finally have the car that spawned your nickname back. The restoration made it look as though she came straight off the showroom floor, so it was definitely worth the wait. The smile broadens – you are filled with excitement, anticipation and a slight bit of nervousness.
It has been eight long years since we were last together to celebrate your birthday but I can still remember how much we enjoyed each other’s company. We met up in the early afternoon, rode the train to take a stroll along the banks of the Hudson River, and then walked into a party that surprised both of us. The expression on your face was absolutely priceless, especially when you learned who had set up the whole thing. Of course I had no idea about any of it, though you cast a few suspicious gazes my way before an explanation was offered. We partied on the beach and made our way to the woods where you were going to ride the Wall of Death. At twenty-seven, you had been performing the stunt for a little over a decade and proved the level of your skill as a Death Defying Daredevil. While you were buried in a helmet, Augustine said that he was quite proud of you and that he missed us being a Family.
A few weeks later you had an accident that would drastically change both of our lives. If you could have done anything different, I wish you had trusted me enough to talk about what you were going through instead of drowning yourself in drugs and alcohol. When you finally admitted that you had been injured and did not have the motivation to continue performing, I could detect how emotionally hurt you were. As always, you encouraged me to keep Outlaw Cirkus going and said that perhaps in the future you might change your mind. The struggle you endured was one that I had no understanding of because you spent your whole life doing one thing, and I could not imagine what it was like to have that taken away. You assured me that you just needed time to heal, but things got much worse for you and we drifted so far apart that you once expressed you were afraid of losing me completely. It should be obvious by all of the words I have dedicated to you that I am as loyal a friend now as I was in those days.
The last time I saw Augustine there was still something in his eyes that said he had many more years of adventure left in him. We spoke about you a lot, trading stories about our favorite moments with you and laughing ourselves into tears. He lingers with me as you do, though it is more difficult for me to imagine what he could look like now, as I never knew how old he was. Things like that are arbitrary though, because I would give anything to have closure, to have proof beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was still out there. Hope keeps him alive, as the thought of truly being the last of our Family is a hard fact to swallow and leaves me feeling isolated despite having good people around me.
For the first year after we laid your ashes to rest in the Atlantic Ocean, I had dreams that you were still alive, waiting for the right moment to make your return. Each year that followed brought more realization you were gone and never coming back, which just re-opened the wounds which had formed the day I received the fateful news. Once I swore that I saw you, but I had also spent two days celebrating my birthday and New Year’s Eve with much consumption of mind-altering substances, was lacking sleep and trying to combat the nausea because I did not want to vomit on public transportation. Your appearance in my dreams is less frequent, but any time I see you there I wonder if you are trying to send me a message. Maybe I am making too much of all this, but just because you are gone does not mean I will stop being your dedicated friend. That is something I vowed to be until the end, and seeing as I am still here, I find it cathartic to write about you on your birthday.
This is my gift to you, and though it is highly personal, I do not mind sharing it with whomever wishes to read it, as they will know how truly amazing you were and that I loved you so very much. If I could see you today as the man I described at the opening of this letter, I would be overwhelmed by happiness and find comfort in our embrace – the Hollywood Moment we were often caught up in when we saw each other after being apart for a while. Being taller than I, you found it endearing to literally sweep me off my feet as you planted a kiss firmly on my lips. Those familiar scents of licorice and leather would rattle old memories awake and I would find myself taken back by you, wondering how I had managed to have someone so awesome in my life. It was a feeling we shared and part of what made our bond so strong, something that incited jealousy in others because they felt as though they could not compete with our relationship, though goodness knows why they even wanted to. Everything that happened after the embrace was magical, even if we were just walking along the beach or sitting in a diner. The time I spent with you was incredibly valuable and remains as some of my most cherished experiences.
Reaching thirty was a milestone you doubted that you would achieve, and for a while I hated that you were right. At the beginning of the year I found it hard to believe that I had outlived you – just seeing those words gives me the creeps because in my mind you are not dead. On the contrary, much like the fictionalized lives of numerous celebrities, you have been sequestered on a desert island getting your shit together and planning your glorious return. Today you are Jonathan Aaron Ivylee Lovelace, the man that has cheated death and lived to tell the tale, the man with the appetite of a carnivorous animal, the man that feels no pain despite torturing his body. You are a living legend yet humbled by age as you want to spend the remainder of your years doing something that you did not have a chance to when you were young. Today is the first day of the rest of your life as someone who can fully embrace and explore everything it has to offer – you are honored and appreciated by those who knew you best, that smile never leaving your face.
While it may be harmless to have a fantasy, I also realize that I have to accept the fact it will never be anything more. Though you certainly have never been forgotten, there is a place where you once were which remains empty. Perhaps that is the way it is meant to be and on occasions when I am lost in my emotions, I have so many things that remind me of you it feels as though you are still here. As always I love you and want you to know that you will remain in my heart forever.