But not forgotten.

Her name was Amber.

I knew her only so briefly before her bright spark sputtered out, alone, in an abandoned house in Trenton, New Jersey. A heroin overdose at age 21. She was found in August 2006 and yet her family wasn’t notified until March of 2008, despite her mother Linda filing a missing persons report as early as February 2006.

We went to college together. She lived in my building when I was an RA. She dated a close friend of mine and we stalked the hell out of each other on LiveJournal. She was a Millennium Gates Scholarship recipient; she had a free ride to college.

Amber was fucking brilliant.

I miss her.

This might sound strange, but when Larry told me that Amy Winehouse had died this past weekend, I immediately thought of my friend Amber. She wasn’t Jewish. She wasn’t British. But I see in Amy Winehouse so many of the same things I saw in Amber: an incredible talent gone to waste, a personality too big and too bold for this world.

I think people will confuse Amy Winehouse as just another drug addict and drunk and forget that she was truly a revolutionary musician. It’s the same fear I held about Amber, that her life and all her amazing brilliance and accomplishments would be overshadowed by the circumstances of her death. I never thought of Amber as a drug addict.

Amber was my friend.

Her LiveJournal still exists on the web, a time capsule of her life, a frozen and incomplete picture as her life spiraled out of control. To this day, I still don’t know what the catalyst moment was for her that sucked her into this downward vortex of self-destruction. Her last entry was dated just minutes before midnight on New Year’s Eve in 2005. Her final mark on the web: just the word “omg” over and over again.

She was found dead eight months later.

Amber’s penultimate journal entry was one that I’ve visited again and again over the years. It’s only in reading it this most recent time do I have the mental stamina to keep up with it and really understand what she’s written. This sentence from that rambling, manic post hangs haunted in the air as I remember her:

“Okay so whenever you’re ready, I’m just a connection and star away.”

She would have turned 27 this year. She could have done so much good with her life – I wonder what she’d be doing for marriage equality now if she were still alive as it was an important cause for her when we were in college. G-d, if only she could have lived to see the victory in New York.

Amber was a star who simply burned up too quickly, consumed by her own light.

I miss you, Amber. I really do.

. . .

I’ve been in a morbid mind of late. Between the Norway massacre, Amy Winehouse, and the fact that Tisha B’Av is in a couple of weeks, it’s like death – or rather a remembrance of those gone – has been whirling around in my brain recently.

I kind of get like this every year, too, I’ve noticed; there’s just something about the beginning of the summer doldrums, I suppose, that gets me in this melancholy frame of mind, that makes me recall those who have passed on in my life.

I also just learned that the Fast of Tammuz began last week, a minor fast holiday in the Jewish calendar that begins the mourning period leading up to Tisha B’Av, the Jewish day that marks the destruction of the Temple. Tisha B’Av is supposed to be the saddest day of the year on the Jewish calendar. So I guess I’m just responding to an already melancholy spiritual wavelength that’s out there.

. . .

I’ve been thinking about Amber and that so weird summer of 2003, when I lived at college. The summer Larry moved in illegally into my room and we lived together for a month. The summer I got hit by a car while I was riding my bike. The summer Amber would come and visit because she lived in the area and we’d just hang out and shoot the shit because we could and because I felt like I was being welcomed into a treasured inner circle of close friends, an invitation extended only to a lucky privileged few.

We drove around the streets of Trenton in her piece of shit convertible, the one where we had to physically collapse the roof even though it was supposed to do it on its own. Singing along to Tom Jones’ “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” on that nasty humid night, the A/C blaring as the sweat still formed on our brows. Brainstorming all the cool shit we were going to do in the Fall when I was president of our college gay/straight alliance.

I still remember the sound of her voice – clear as day – and thinking to myself at the time, “I wish I could be as cool as she is.” And feeling like maybe a little of her cool rubbed off on me that one night as we drove past her old middle school and talked about her life growing up, existentialism, writing, and lesbians.

G-d, Amber was so fucking cool, I thought. Smart, too. Sassy, strong, wise, tough.

I don’t know if Amber ever knew that I looked up to her even though she was two years my junior.

That summer feels like another life, like I was another person in another world entirely. That time feels so distant from my life now and yet, I still remember the people and events of that summer like it was yesterday.

This post is for the loved ones who left too soon or who simply have left a mark on my heart, the names and faces that have crossed my mind in the last few weeks, the people I could never forget so I must remember them.

This post is for Amber.

And for Michelle.

And Leila.

And Nan.

And Granny.

In remembering them, we give them life in our hearts.

“..and bind their souls among the living, that they may rest in peace.” – from El Malei Rachamim, a traditional Jewish memorial prayer

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Comments

  1. Julie says

    Keiko…

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this.

    I did the same thing when I heard about Amy. Amber – shot across my mind out of some distant corner – and the last in-person moment we ever had when she sat at the piano in ABE and played me… anything… just from her mind. Just like that. We spent hours together that day. It went by like blinking – I think it was one of the first times I saw her sober in months, maybe in over a year. And I was in awe of her and the air was thick with her possibilities. I thought, if she can survive this, she will change things.

    Then, I remember, the last time I spoke to her when she called me out of the blue that December, just before she died, and she asked me, did I ever think of her? So badly, so badly, I wanted to say "Yes, yes, yes, please come back to me, back to us, please, out of whatever you're in… please, just… come back."

    But the words got hung up. I was so scared, of what I have no idea. I said something so feeble, for someone I, too, had admired and loved just as desperately. I don't even remember my words now. And it took me such a long time to convince myself that what happened wasn't somehow partly my fault.

    So short a time was she with us. Scorching into our lives like too-bright lights leave us blinded. I feel privileged that she shared so much with me, let me in as far as she did, showed me corners of herself through her art and words and music. Always, it seemed, she lived on the edges. In the spaces between, where others feared to tread. She did so unapologetically, and dared others to do the same. I look at pictures of her, and my heart aches with the loss of not only my friend, but for what the world missed.

    I will never forget her. I will never stop recalling a beautiful and talented, brilliant and glorious person who was too much for the world to hold. And I will keep fixed in my mind that last moment we shared together, at that piano, the intensity of her gaze, the fierceness of her smile, the overwhelming presence of her. And in her memory, I will do my best to live as she did – without holding back, without apologies.

    Thank you, Amber. Thank you for so much more than I could ever have said to you back then.

  2. Kristin says

    What a beautiful post. A touching tribute to your friend. I never knew your friend Amber but, when I heard about Amy Winehouse, all I could think was what a crying shame it was. Such a luminescent personality and an incredible talent.

  3. Melissa N. says

    A truly beautiful post. It moved me to tears. Thank you for sharing with us, and writing the words that need to be written, especially for those who cannot be forgotten.

  4. Kristen says

    You write beautifully. Thanks for letting me get to know Amber, at least a little…
    It's so incredibly tragic when someone dies so young…
    Hugs…

  5. Kaley says

    I, too, was reminded of a friend I lost four years ago due to drunk driving when I heard of Amy Winehouse's death. I wasn't that overly close to him, but two of my good friends had relations with it. One, the girl I was to live with in the fall at college, and the other, a girl I'd known since 2nd grade. The first held him as her first love, the man no men would ever live up to. The second, a boy slightly out of touch she could of saved.

    I had to tell my future roommate he had died. I remember sitting on my bedroom floor sobbing as she yelled, swore, and cried at me. I never wish that feeling on anyone, ever. It's the worst feeling in the world. Telling someone you care about that someone they love is dead. It's horrible.

    These deaths are always hard on so many people. Sometimes that seems to be forgotten in the judgement.

  6. Kathy says

    What a beautiful post honoring the life and memory of your friend Amber. Thank you for sharing Keiko. I lost an old and dear friend this year. I haven't written much about her death on my blog out of respect for the privacy of her family. But like your Amber, my friend died much too young and her death could have been avoided. I struggle so much with that. I know better than to think that I personally could have changed the outcome of her life, but that doesn't mean I haven't let my mind entertain such maddening thoughts.

    My friend was Jewish (I am Catholic) and I was fascinated and very moved by the funeral service, burial and Shiva (sp?) that followed after her passing. A

    Anyway, as you say, they may be gone, but they will never be forgotten. Sending healing thoughts and prayers to you and to all those who knew and loved Amber and the many others in our lives, that have touched our hearts and live on in our memories. xoxo

  7. Lavender Luz says

    This? Beautiful.

    "Amber was a star who simply burned up too quickly, consumed by her own light."

    I've known those radiating folks, too.

  8. jjiraffe says

    This is such a beautifully written tribute to your friend. Thank you for sharing your memories with us of such a bright star.

  9. angel says

    You wrote beautifully. I too miss Amber. Thank you for sharing. Its good to hear about her and how great she was.

  10. says

    Thank you for allowing me the privilege of reading this post. I appreciate your sharing the memories you have of your friend, and I can relate so well to the line about ‘the people I can never forget, so I must remember them.’ Love the line ‘I remembering them we give them life in our hearts.’

    Thank you so much for sharing this thing of beauty- I really appreciate it.

    Best wishes,

    Casey