Chicago, August 10, 1999

Dear Henry,

Death can be accepted, explained by the laws of nature, mourned, celebrated, or even revered by some. But it can never be understood.

I will never understand why you left us, Henry. I can surmise a plethora of possibilities, an endless list of reasons, I can ascribe it to fate, to the ordinary beliefs, but I will not comprehend why death took you from us, from me, still so young, so full of life.

It came without warning, but quickly invaded every room of the house, contaminated every member of the family, causing pain, sorrow and missing. It made me angry for there was nothing else to do: The finitude of the being expressed itself in the most sarcastic way. You were with us one night, and then, all of a sudden, you were gone. No previous notice, no foretelling. Just gone, forever.

I conjure up my feelings, but find no definition to my state of mind, just a stark contrast: I still am, my lungs still breathe in the polluted air of the city, the smoke of my cigarettes. But you, my dear cousin, are no longer.

You and I do not partake the same space, do not exchange the same jokes, do not race our cars and run away from cops. You and I no longer speak to each other but in my hopes, dreams and nightly deliriums. I wonder why this happened, I wonder why this had to be this way.

Just the other night, I was gathering old photographs, stacking them up in a box because I am moving to another city. I found a picture of us in our childhood, you being the youngest of the batch.

You were four or five years old, dressed in plaid shorts, a striped shirt and long white socks which extended from your ankles all the way up to your small knees. A pair of corrective boots adorned your flat feet. Do you remember how you hated those shoes? How you said they made you look like a dork? And everyone said you should not worry because it would help you in the long runů

You would shrug at those comments, letting go of a sigh or two. Your eyes, now I see, looked at me saying, "What do they know about the long run? What if there is no long run?"

And you were right. There has not been a long run for us, has there? Can you hear me now, my dear cousin? Can you speak to me? Can you tell me a story, and brighten my day with an anecdote from your life?

I have so many questions, and no answers. I have only memories, only chapters of an existence. That should comfort me, that should suffice. Or so they say.

A priest tried to convince me sometime ago that what happened was meant to be, that God sometimes decides to call the good souls too soon to join Him in heaven. I think he knew I wasn't buying his words of wisdom. But he went on, I guess as a means to reassure himself of his own faith.

His words sounded more like a plea than a sermon. It had nothing to do with me. It was as if he were saying, "Please, listen to me. Let me believe I am right." I did. And he spoke for a long time.

In the end, we shook hands, and parted. I took some steps, and looked back just to see the dark robe slowly moving away towards the altar. He did not look back, as if looking back would have been too much for him to withstand, and would have rattled his comfortable kingdom quietly built during years in the seminary.

I hurt. But I can't cry. My insides burn with desire for weeping, sobbing, letting go. But I can not shed a tear. Not anymore. And my eyes go on, dry as sand, watching the streets, the cars, the passersby, the couples who walk hand in hand across the park, the museums.

My eyes are tired, my dear cousin. And when life gets rough, and I miss my directions to the future, to the road I stubbornly believe I am yet to take, I think of you even more. I wonder where you are. If you are anywhere.

It's late, and my face is lit by the glare of a computer monitor. You had no time to see this, cousin. You had no time to experience the computer boom, or this thing they call the Internet, where people exchange thoughts through beams of code that travel at light speed through copper wires, through telephone lines.

You did not have enough time to see this. You never wrote an e-mail, you never visited a web site. Oh, I wish you had, I wish you were here to listen to me type my words, delete my wrong thoughts and correct my maladjusted phrases.

But no. Death took you away. Too early, too soon.

Katie told me that the dead love to be remembered, that when you think of someone who died, his or her soul brightens up wherever they are. She said the dead need to be remembered. Do you, cousin? Or is this just another device we created to justify our hopes, another act of self-indulgence?

Isn't it us who need to remember all the time? Isn't it us who need to remind ourselves of our own limitations?

It's beautiful to believe we can do something for the ones who are no longer. But my feelings convey a different message, portray a different, rather selfish, picture: I think of you to understand me. It is you, despite all these years of absence, that reminds me of myself, and not the other way around.

Miss you,

John Stewart

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