As I went to my room after school I checked my phone as normally do after a day of having it silenced. I saw three missed calls from my dear friend, Peter and another from a good friend, Sara. The missed call number is large, but my friend Peter has had a brain tumor for the last 16 months and has been recovering from a major bleed at the site of his tumor since December. I was so alarmed that something else had happened, I immediately checked his first voicemail and heard his mom’s voice say my name and then pause and I knew it was terrible. She tried three times to leave me a voicemail to tell me he had passed and hung up each time before she could say the words. My friend Sara simple said call me when you get this. I called her and she confirmed for me the terribly sad news. When his mom called me back this time we spoke through sobs about him passing and how he spent his morning before it happened. Hours later I am still lost in this sadness, but want to tell the story of our friendship so I selfishly don’t forget any of the details.
Peter and I met the year after my college graduation while volunteering for Americorps in St. Petersburg, Florida. We were both former college athletes, he was a basketball player from the West Coast and grew up on Orcas Island, a small island in the San Juan Islands off of Seattle. We were instant friends. We had the same birthday month, we love watching college football and basketball, crosswords and jigsaw puzzles, and mostly have a good time and laughing with friends. But this was just the start of our 10 year friendship (almost to the day of 10 years)!
Even as we moved on from our volunteer year we stayed close friends through different moves to different states we managed to stay connected, he moved back to Florida and we picked up where we left of as friends, even teaching high schoolers SAT prep math on Saturday mornings which we manage to fill with laughter. He was one of the most carefree, funny and downright enjoyable people I have ever know. We never spent time in Florida doing much past watching games, spending the day at the beach with friends, grilling and grabbing drinks.
He married his wife in Florida and they radiated love throughout their lives together, beginning, middle and even in the end when I know those bright spots were hard to come by, the way they looked at each other never changed. They were happy together and had a small family with two boys who will never have the chance to truly know how great of a man their father was in his short time here. I don’t think even the stories will do justice to the living man.
Peter had a few of us out for a relay race in the Northwest about four years ago. At that point I had been in Chicago for a few years, he had been in Florida and then on the East Coast and we still talked and connected, but the few days back together was as if no time had past, as is true with the people who really “get you” in life. He was someone who has always gotten me and I him. In the first few weeks of meeting in Florida we did a team building activity where we had to think of the person in the group who was our “known” and some as our “unknown” in an exercise. Later that day at lunch when the group was talking about it, I leaned over and said to him, “you were my known” and he just smiled and said, “you were my known.” I just think of this as who we were as people, for some reason we were “known” to each other and remained that way.
He left me a voicemail 16 month ago, which I saved at the time and when I got a new phone I saved his and a few other voicemails to my computer. I can still hear the carefreeness in his voice. That next conversation was the one were he told me about his tumor, it was then that his life started to change and the treatments. I saw him that summer, last summer, as he started to have radiation treatment. He told me the honest truth about when they put the beads in his head, and how the treatments were making him feel tired and also this new anger that had never been in him before. The thing about being knowns is those conversations can never be false, they are always raw. At this point he was still feeling optimistic even through the treatment and the side effects. He was on my mind so often. I would text him when I would run and let him know I was thinking of him on it and feeling his presence on it, or when I would dedicate a yoga practice. With those things I could take him with me on the things he didn’t have the energy to do because of his fight. I think this was teaching me how to carry him with me.
Two weeks after welcoming his second son, Peter experienced a major bleed at the site of his tumor, which had him airlifted to Boston and in an induced coma to help his recovery. This news sent me reeling, it seemed so dire, but news of his progress came after a few days and weeks and he was moved to an outpatient hospital. I finally spoke with him again in March. I told him then it was so amazing to hear his voice and smile over the phone. I had been wanted to visit since December but was waiting for the time to be right. He said I could come when I was free, so I schedule my flight for the next week.
I only went for the day, his mom tried to prepare me for a different Peter, but this was my known. He was asleep when I got there but made his way out with his mom’s help and although different, still the same Peter. We spent the day catching each other up on life, him telling me about his rehab routines and days off with the family, me telling him about Chicago and teaching. He told me his frustration with his doctors not telling him about his recovery and time. This idea of time was on his mind even then. We talked about time and how maybe they didn’t know or didn’t want to put a limit on him. We never said if we were talking about recovery or lifetime. I think we were talking about both.
My biggest fear is that time will fade my memories, this is why I want to write them to secure them. But there is so much more to say. When I spoke to his mom today and thank her for calling me she said, “oh Autumn, Peter just adored you, he was so thrilled when you visited this Spring.” He had so many people in his life who he touched, countless friends, but he was one of the most important friends of my life. I am lost in this great loss.