I'd like to tell about my friend Hanna who passed away on Tuesday 31st of October, 2017.
I called her HH because I liked to pretend I was a serious writer and would sign all correspondence with her with "TF". But I can hardly talk about serious writers without talking about Hanna. My first proper encounter with her was in Locke Hall at our high school, Blair Academy. She was a prefect there (specifically, in Ivy) and we stood in her room as she read one of her poems aloud, in a gentle voice that I can still hear now. I think Jane may have been there too but I don't remember. I do remember that everyone called me 'Tor', but not Hanna. And I was glad she didn't, because it set her apart. And I will never forget her.
One night, at Blair, we decided to go outside in the storm despite the repeated warnings from, I believe, Doc. He said to stay away from the trees and to get inside quickly. When he left she said not to worry because she knew about storms. I was a little scared but I knew she'd lived in so many places, and I trusted her. So we stood there, in that crazy rain, laughing and dancing with the lightning. 17- and 18-year olds, taunting it to do its worst.
I thought she was such a badass for always speaking her mind, and with kindness too. She never let me wallow in a depression or self-pity for too long. And when the worst of it came around, and my suicidal tendencies failed to subside, she told me the story of a cat, I think her cat, and how someone had to feed it. Staying alive to feed a cat. But it was logical and humorous enough to knock some sense into me. I am still here to a large degree because of her advice and influence.
After Blair, we'd send poems and letters back and forth. Man, she could write. And I found that whenever we spoke or even if I simply thought of her, suddenly I would feel like my best self. In fact, whenever I forgot a word (in speech or when writing) I'd simply think of her and it'd come to mind immediately. She had that effect. Even though I was in London and she, in America, we remained close friends.
She lived what she wrote. Tales from a Europe I'd never known flew in to my room in London, and I became familiar with the names of people and places that she knew and loved. Some stories funny, some sad, some harrowing... But all real. Hanna had a genuine way of being. And she wrote what she lived.
And as she travelled I, too, travelled through her.
She liked the gravity in the voices of the people she met, I imagine. And how things weren't so fleeting or artificial; she was anything but. Our friend Dante once said, "Everything makes sense with gravity," then lay down on the foyer floor of Armstrong-Hipkins.
I imagine HH liked how things moved more seriously, unaffected and somewhat sadder in the east of Europe, which was only east to the West, which was only west to the East. But I didn't ask her about the gravity. All we talked about were people we loved, places we loved, our dogs, and our own poems. And how much we missed Blair and who we were there, until we didn't anymore. Or at least until we missed it in some other distant and sad way. Like a translation of a beloved book.
We planned on going to a faraway country or climbing a mountain together. In her frank style she asked, "Do you want to go on an adventure with me? Some crazy life-changing thing. Maybe climb a mountain (the easy kind though... Like Mt. Kilimanjaro or something)." When I was to visit my sister in Poland a few weeks ago, she was the first person I told, as I thought we'd have a better chance to see us.
But my favourite future plan we planned was to get an apartment together, somewhere, and drink coffee in the morning. Read some stupid newspaper, write and edit our poems, and drink coffee in the morning. A simple dream, but one I cherished with my entire being. Really, I don't even drink coffee, but it was the idea of waking up in the same house that my friend woke up in, and the stable domesticity of it all that made it seem like the best plan ever. We would not be bored, and we would never be lonely. And regardless of the boyfriends who came and went, we would be friends forever.
Hanna is a traveller. I said that in my head as "is" and I'd like to leave it like that.
She went to teach, and to live. To learn, and to love. And she was my friend. She was 23. 24 in January. I'm 23 now. 24 in May. But I want someone to stop the clock because it's moving too quickly, and I don't want to pass 23 without my friend here. And who will I ask if a poem is any good? Who will tell me the truth about the world? I can hear HH replying, "You will. Trust yourself, and your faith in good things."
I am reminded of this text (the Phaedo) from AP World with one of my favourite teachers.
'Thus far, most of us were with difficulty able to restrain ourselves from weeping; but when we saw him drinking, and having finished the draught, we could do so no longer; but, in spite of myself, the tears came in full torrent, so that, covering my face, I wept for myself; for I did not weep for him, but for my own fortune, in being deprived of such a friend. But Crito, even before me, when he could not restrain his tears, had risen up. But Apollodorus, even before this, had not ceased weeping; and then, bursting into an agony of grief, weeping and lamenting, he pierced the heart of every one present, except Socrates himself. But he said, "What are you doing, my admirable friends? I, indeed, for this reason chiefly, sent away the women, that they might not commit any folly of this kind. For I have heard that it is right for a man to die in peace. Be quiet, therefore, and bear up."'
I've all these notes and letters and emails and great poems from HH, and I don't know what will happen to them. We were supposed to grow up together, even 3000 miles apart, and we were supposed to drink coffee in the morning. That's what we were supposed to do.
And now nothing is remarkable. Everyone has continued with life and I don't understand it. Don't they know someone has died?
The one person I want to tell about all this heartache is the one person I cannot tell. I am inconsolable. People will soon stop mentioning Hanna's name. And the moon will still show its face. And I will never speak with her again. And there's the quietest voice at the back of my mind that says, "One day I won't remember her, or I'll forget and remember after. And the periods between the forgetting and the remembering will grow longer." I can already feel the rest of life creeping in, a determined plant. I can feel a smile approach when someone says something funny. Don't I know someone has died? The way it has ended, the fact I will never hug her again... it's like someone is playing the worst joke, and this is just a bad dream.
But HH would say, "Well... What are you going to do instead?"
Remember you. And remind that we receive and we lose, and we must try to achieve enough gratitude to embrace with whole hearts whatever of life remains after the losses, in the words of Dubus. But man I'm going to miss you buddy. And it is just not fair.
I have had no one to ask about the circumstances of your death. I can only hope you were not alone or scared. Remember we talked about fear and being brave.
I want you all to know that she was a beautiful, insightful, and powerful force of good, and that she made me want to be a better human -- one who gives of oneself to the world, indefatigably. That's what I'd like you all to know.
Below, I have included the note she wrote in my yearbook all those years ago. It is now an over-folded and slightly torn piece of paper, and one that never left my side. Toni M. wrote about how great it is to have a person who is a friend of your mind. That, she was.
Lastly, she was the first to read a speech I wrote at Blair and she was with me, albeit not in person, when I delivered it. She'll remain alive just as she was then -- not here, but still here. I was Torera and she was Hanna, my best and most intimate friend.
'Rest in soft peace, and, ask'd, say "Here doth lye
Ben Jonson his best piece of poetrie."
For whose sake, henceforth all his vows be such,
As what he loves may never like too much.'
"Love is a killing word.
You remind me of a friend I once had. Not in what you are but how we are. The best friendships occur over a short period of time. I know this to be fact. There is no difference between Love and friendship. When you know, you know. Then again I may be legitimately in love with you. All's good. You are selfless.
I cannot verbalize my love for you.
So I will not try.
'You will hear thunder and remember me,
And think: she wanted storms.
The rim of the sky will be the colour of hard crimson,
And your heart, as it was then, will be on fire.' - Anna Akhmatova.
That quote has always made me think of you. I think the words I'd use to describe my passion for you would be found odd in the pages of a year book. Whenever I try to verbalize ,, I imagine myself swimming in your blood stream through every vein in your body and taking rest breaks in your capillaries.
Keep writing. Keep breathing.
You've found something in this world that I have not yet. Hold on to that.
- I write shorter notes for lifelong friends who I know that I will see again. This is a short note. I will be seeing you. If i really do marry into your family... you'd be the one that I would marry. Truly.
I hope that when you think
of me, you are set on fire
and that you laugh, above all else.
- Hanna Huntley."
Submitted by Torera A. Fagbenle
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