A friend died this past week. She was a handful of years younger than me, and I’ve been struggling this past week with a lot of thoughts, emotions, and periods of emptiness related to her passing. The husband, daughter, family, and friends that she still has here have before them a long summer mourning her loss, and beginning to piece together their lives around the holes left behind. Her husband is the person I’ve known longer, and the cliché of a “kitchen family” is very apparent in the wake. Many of the people with whom I sweated and grinded in a kitchen – fellow workers in the hospitality industry – have been reaching out to each other. I expect to see many of them at the funeral this week.
If this article seems less cohesive in both prose and structure, I apologize. The best way I can describe how I’ve been processing this week is overwhelming saturation of thoughts broken by flashes of intense emotions, all surrounded by a fog that I can best describe as the feeling of not dissociating. I am writing this from my desk at the hotel, as I have penned many articles, and I have had to remind myself a couple of times that regardless of what I am doing, sitting here with my hands on a keyboard while I stare listlessly is not conducive to comforting my guests.
Maybe if I could pinpoint what it is about her death that has uprooted me so stupendously, I could feel like I was making better headway. Again, her husband was the one I was closer with. He was the one I would hang out with after shift, and he was the one who helped me overcome my insane fear of ziplining. He also was one of the guys that would make sure non-passing me could go to the bathroom and feel safe in doing so. And that is a big, obvious part of it. My buddy now must raise a toddler who looks like the wife he is burying this week and navigate how to do so without her mother. That I struggle to fall asleep at night when Alli is working a midnight shift, let alone knowing that each night that side of the bed would smell less and less like her. It probably adds salt to the wound that is that – since we went to the same high school – the trending hashtag that accompanies every tragedy to befall an alumnus is back again, a reminder that our alma mater is known for two things: teenage pregnancy rates and an exceptionally high number of former students laid to rest decades before they should have been.
Does it sting worse knowing that the person responsible for her death chose to speed down the road instead of stopping to render aid? It certainly does. People will forever get to wonder “what if” selflessness had been chosen above selfishness.
Granted, I had not spoken to her in months, simply because adulthood often means not speaking and seeing people you’d like to “because life” – and then getting to sit here and write about your regrets and wishes after the chance is gone. This has certainly influenced me in the sense that I’m finding it hard to devote energy to things that really do not matter over the course of a lifetime. I don’t know if it is a positive or negative influence yet, but listening to guests belittle me over the thinness of walls, proximity to the interstate, availability of alcohol on a Sunday, and internet problems is something I’m struggling with. Because to any of the people involved on either side of the plastic screen that separates me and my computer, absolutely none of those things are going to matter the second we both leave this building, and I’m truly failing at being able to care about things that don’t matter.
I was talking to a former co-worker yesterday (also still in hospitality) who is struggling with the identical concept. The post-COVID bubble treatment of industry workers was already subpar at best. Adding in the swift reminder at how short and fragile life is really makes it hard to earn meager wages to be seen as a mere servant, and not a living, breathing person attempting to simply work. Going to school the last month (and heading back tomorrow for some summer session) has been refreshing in that respect. If for some reason a student found out I was leaving early Tuesday to attend a funeral, their reaction would be one of much more sympathy than one from a guest in need of more towels. I don’t know if this is the beginning of the end of me and hospitality, but it definitively marks the beginning of me wanting to pull away from things that are, well, irrelevant in the span of a lifetime.
One of the most grounded people I know is a friend who buried both parents before he graduated from college, and he has made no secret of the fact that he simply does not invest energy and time into things that don’t matter. As I was looking through her social media this week, I can say my friend certainly lived a joyful life, and maybe if I try to do that more, I can at least honor her memory the way it deserves to be.
Rest in Peace, Taylor – may you be a guide for Logan, Olivia, and all of us still here.
- Asher Kennedy is a writer, activist, transman and cisnerd living an hour outside of Washington in the Eastern Panhandle of WV. An alumnus of Shepherd University where honed both his writing and musical skills, he is the current treasurer of Hagerstown Hopes, serving as a member of its Board of Directors. He is also the co-facilitator of both the Trans and Spouse groups. Through his work with Hagerstown Hopes, he works alongside Trans Healthcare MD to bridge the gap for medical knowledge and coverage for the trans and non-binary communities throughout Maryland. He has been featured on RoleReboot (rolereboot.org) and is an avid speaker for local college and community panels. He is on Twitter @ItsAsherK, and can be found re-watching the same six episodes of The Office in his spare time.