When Death Comes Like a Thief in the Night

I miss them. I do.

Photo by Lucxama Sylvain via Pexels

I woke up crying a couple of nights ago. My head was aching. My stomach had knots in it I could not reduce or massage away. Their voices rang in my head — each one of them begging me not to forget them. And how could I? I have not. I never will. When death comes, it enters like a thief in the night — snatching up your last breath. Death has one agenda; kill you. It will complete its task. When it’s time — your time, it will prevail.

You cannot fight it. If you do so, prepare to lose. And you will lose horribly.

As much as I wanted to silence them, it felt disrespectful not to let them speak — not to give them the floor. I had to step aside. It was time I stepped aside. I am sharing my beautiful friends; once here, no longer here, with all of you.


Marlene was a burst of sunshine — a blossom of hope and beauty. She had this infectious laugh that would seep into your bones and stay with you for years. I can still hear her laugh echoing in the corners of my mind. She had many talents — many gifts, but the two that drew people close to her were photography and writing.

Her Flickr page is still up. After all these years, it has survived. No one shut it down. I am both happy and sad about this. Why? Happy because people still get to see how incredibly talented she was. Sad because my friend will never create tons more of these beautiful images for the masses. My friend is no longer here . . . No longer here . . . My friend.

I reached out to her ex-husband when I found out. He was a friend of mine as well. But not as close to me as Marlene was. She was in the throes of a violent asthma attack in the middle of the night. She called him. He didn’t answer. She called 9–1–1. She died a few hours later. Her breathing would not stabilize. She took her last breath. She would never see thirty-five.

I can still hear her laugh echoing in the corners of my mind.

I let the tears flow upon finding out. I did not hide them — locked myself in my apartment, sulked, took time away from work, and buried my pain in the blank pages of my journal. It’s still there. I am afraid to read those words.


Zulie (Ricka) was a powerhouse of a woman. She was independent, a single mom, an artist, and one hell of a writer. We would spend hours chatting on AIM or MSN messenger or texting or talking on the phone. She was five years older than me and always seemed ten times stronger.

She had two handsome boys — eleven years apart. I enjoyed watching them grow, learning of their happy moments, and understanding her care in managing their down moments.

The culprit? The what-seemed-so-unfair demise? Cancer; metastasized from her breasts to her bones. She’d fought it and escaped its grip years prior. But it came back for her. And it attacked her, bled her dry, and left her young children without a mother.

She was five years older than me and always seemed ten times stronger.

I mourn her still. It doesn’t get any better. The pain just gets older. She would never see forty.


Nikki . . . Really, I don’t think there are any appropriate words to describe her. She was the last day of school before the summer break. A freshly made coconut icie. A feature film in the movie theater with a medium-size popcorn. She was lively and always ready to love you . . . If you needed to be loved.

But she could not best her demons. She tried her hardest, but past trauma invaded her head and her heart and on many occasions; I found myself (as many of our mutual friends did), pouring love and words of encouragement into her to get her to see just how much we wanted her to stay with us. Just how much we needed her to be around for us to further enjoy her incredible presence.

She was lively and always ready to love you . . . If you needed to be loved.

But she knew what she could and could not take. And stick around with us, she just could not do. She took her own life. She would not meet thirty-five.


I lost my first friend when I was just fourteen years old and entered my first year of high school. Jason, who met his demise by bullets meant for him, was only fifteen. We grew up in a neighborhood that either pulled you into its gruesome grips or pushed you away from it when it felt you wouldn’t/couldn’t survive it.

We’d known each other since before kindergarten. He was an unruly kid who was one of the first people I would ever know to be diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder before it became a term I would hear more and more. We clicked. I was “The Girl No One Could Mess With.” I had been protected (by him).

The life he shifted away to lead was one that frightened me and upset me. He was intelligent; brilliant, even. We would have word battles and cartoon-themed inspired conversations that turned into debates. He would sometimes walk me home from school before he dashed into the streets to do what Street-dashers did.

Another friend of ours, Nicole, found me in one of our high school hallways the day he died and looked at me with worry in her eyes. She pulled my hands into hers and said, “Jason, he’s gone, Tremaine.” And I don’t know if it was me who screamed or her, but I felt like my soul was going to jump outside of my body. I felt like the world had kicked me in my chest and dared me to breathe.

I know I told my mom because I remember her hugging me close to her and rocking me as I cried, but I don’t remember what I said. I don’t remember if I came straight home and told her or if I did my homework first because I was so hard on myself and disciplined. But I remember she had known.

Our next-door neighbor told her. News like that spread like wildfire. Everyone knew. I stood with that pain. I sat with that pain, slept with that pain. My first real boy friend. Not a boyfriend, but a friend who was a boy . . . had left me.

I can still see his smiling face or the sometimes sly smirk he would have plastered across his lips when he was up to something.

I felt like the world had kicked me in my chest and dared me to breathe.

That pain has grown with me for twenty-seven years and I hate it. We don’t chit-chat. We don’t share friendly words or have tea time. I spend most of my living days trying to continue to forget about it.

But it’s still here. That pain will never leave.


Who am I to silence these voices I hear? The ones of the people I loved, love. There is no past to love, correct? Once you’ve loved someone, deeply loved someone, love stays present. Doesn’t it? I have holes in my heart and I still have extremely bad days, but I move through hell as best as I can.

I move through this hell not trying to forget them — my beautiful friends, but simply trying to be rid of this damn pain.


This isn’t something I am all too eager to talk about. I just sit with it from time to time whenever moments of despair and intense pain about losing these beautiful people hit me. I still tear up immediately upon mentioning any of their names. It isn’t easier. It is just older — the pain, that is.


Originally published on Medium.

We Have Changed But We Have Not Changed

A poem for Karen

Karen and me, three years ago. Photo Credit: Karen, herself; used with permission.

After high school, you
knew where your heart was — 
far away from me and everyone
else who loved you
but for a greater cause . . .

The Air Force claimed you
for twenty years and with
each one that passed, I
further admired my friend
who desired to do something
that scared the shit out of me.

You have always been a tackler
of the difficult, shifting out
of comfort zones and pulling
me away from things I clung
to for safety.
Risks were your forte,
they still are.

As a dreamer, basking in
the glow of others’ 
spontaneous events,
I looked into your world
but could not keep my
feet in it.

I am proud of you; you are
the epitome of superhuman,
Mom de jure, and peace
when this chaotic world
rages forth.

Which birthday was it of mine
when you told the workers
at the Japanese restaurant
I was to be celebrated and
for fun and to play along,
I had to do the funky chicken
while they sang?

I nearly fainted but you
powered me on and my
reservation about publicly
embarrassing myself ended
up being the fun I needed
at that moment.

I wonder if you knew that.
I’m sure you knew that.

You were the person
who appeared out of nowhere;
on leave, ready for whatever
came our way.
You made dreams come true
without much effort.
Now that we are aging,
we still remain; young at heart
and full of life.

We have changed but
we have not changed and
for the love of everything
good and true, this is a
testament that will outlast
us.

Our story is one that
makes me smile.
We should keep 
turning the pages.


Originally published via Medium.

watching the fallen (revised)

nine-year-old girls aren’t
supposed to walk
in on their mother
losing her mind

they aren’t raised to
bear witness to the fallen
but she watched

and she knew her
mother would never
be the same

this became her gift
learning what to avoid

an adult before
her time

yet still engaged
to a world that
overlooks her and
neglects her efforts

she’s grown but not
mature enough to
understand the ways
of this world

“You can love someone
for years and never
truly know them.”

she thinks this to
herself often
is she giving too much
is she taking too much

who will accept
all of her knowing
she’s been through
hell and back

knowing she’s watched
the fallen and
has tried her
best not to fall too

only the courageous

I don’t know anyone
else who can make
me laugh and cry
uncontrollably in the
same conversation

you have a spirit that
will never give up
you’re a warrior
ancestors at your
beck and call,
assistance for every
attack

gifted, mighty words-worker
who turns sustenance
into art
you are before
your time, our time,
and the times ahead

it would be pointless
to simply say,
“I love you,”
I am blessed to breathe
the same air you
wheel into your
lungs

how can a world of
goodness dwell in
one person
this, I’ll never know
but I’m glad I
know you


For my beautiful friend, Heejin, who is everything amazing and so much more. This was my Valentine’s Day gift to her.