I haven’t been able to write since finding out my boy, Will Alicea, died two days ago. Well, no, that’s not entirely true. When I found out, I was sitting in the library in Brooklyn, the same library I went to as a kid, where I learned to love books and all things literature. I was in the middle of writing a blog when I heard. My heart caved. I felt invisible hands grip my throat. I feel the cold clamp right now.
I slammed my computer shut and ran to the train. The usual pang of nostalgia I get walking up the block I grew up on, passed the building I grew up in, where mom still lives, the building my first love lived in, the hallway where I got my first kiss, I didn’t feel or think of any of that. All that kept going through my mind, on repeat, like a record skipping back, relentlessly, was: “Will, oh my God, Will.”
I took the long way home. I can’t tell you why. I can say that when I saw the cemetery appear as the L train came above ground on Wilson Avenue, the tears finally squeezed out of my left eye. Two to be exact. And I thought of Will, in the ground. I thought of his smile. I thought of his lion heart. I thought of the many times he and I argued, both being fierce fire signs that didn’t know when to shut up. I thought of the last time I saw him, hobbling down 218th Street towards the café. I knew then something was wrong. The cancer was back. Fuck!
I wrote about him, the memories we shared, the entire train ride home. I didn’t look up until the train pulled into my stop. I’d been writing for more than an hour. I haven’t been able to write until now. It’s 48 hours later.
Anyone who knew Will before the cancer struck knows how it changed him. He was so raw and beautiful and vulnerable. It was shattering in an empowering way. Will held up the mirror and held you while you stared. This was a new Will. A this-is-what-I-learned-from-cancer-Will. But this was also always Will. He always wore his heart not just on his sleeve, but in the middle of his chest, like Superman’s huge S.
What can I say about Will? What can I write so anyone who didn’t know him can see, feel his throbbing, bleeding heart? Feel it in their palms.
I can tell you that Will was a fighter. A hustler. A dreamer.
I’m sitting in the café. I walked out a moment ago to breathe. To stare at the memorial built for him. And I heard him. I heard him tell me, “Yes, go ahead, ‘manita, write about me.” I looked into the park, the same one we spent so much time in, talking and drinking and laughing and being familia. I saw a shadow slide over the top of a tree and I knew that was him. I felt it. I looked up the block and felt the sadness seep in. I’ll never see him walking down the block again. With his full beard, looking like a lumberjack, Paul Bunyan without the flannel top. “Don’t be sad,” he said. “Remember me.” How could I forget?
Will and I had a very interesting friendship. Fiery. Both fire signs, him a Leo, me a Sag, we knocked heads so many times. Him roaring and snarling, me with my bow and arrow, rearing on my hind legs, ready. Neither one of us knew how to back down. What started as a conversation, sometimes, often, ended as a full on debate on just about everything, love, the universe, astrology. See, according to Will, the stars dictated our every move. Our decisions. How we love and move in the world. I insisted that we still have free will.
Will was steadfast in his convictions and he was eloquent. He was well read and made sure he knew what he was talking about when he said something. He thought through his theories on life. He believed in fate and predestination and all those notions that make me cringe because to me they mean that my life is out of hands, and, well, fuck that, no. So, usually these conversations ended with one of us walking away, shaking our heads, thinking, “he/she just doesn’t get it.”
When alcohol was involved, the encounters were even more fiery. There was a lot of eye rolling and huffing and screaming. And even more hugging and I love yous between us. And no matter what, even when we pissed each other off, we were family.
Will didn’t necessarily want you to think like him, but he wanted you to understand, and he was definitely going to try to sway you. And he didn’t budge. And neither did I. It made for a beautiful brother-sister dynamic that few people can understand if they haven’t been blessed to experience it. It was and still is–LOVE. Mad love. Leon-Loba love.
Read more: How we grieve « Vanessa Martir’s Blog.