The independent news organization of Duke University

For Gregory

“Emma is not a person; Emma is a place that you get stuck in; Emma is a pain that you cannot erase.”

     -     Justin Vernon, on For Emma, Forever Ago

Gregory.

I don’t know if your name is Gregory. And the truth is, I don’t know if you even had a name. 

I only know how you smiled with those pale lips. I only know how you waved at every passerby despite your frail arms. I only know how you sat on that stone bench, not even bothering to brush the snow off your bald head. But I don’t expect you to know me. 

In all honesty, I was probably the least remarkable of them all, wearing my typical Uniqlo white t-shirt and black pants. My wardrobe has as much variety as Greg’s from Diary of a Wimpy Kid; you probably spent more time paying attention to the curry stain on my right shoulder than me. 

To you, I was just one of the thousand faces that would pass you on many days. And the few times you did see me, I was probably rushing to catch the C1 or my next class. I wanted to talk to you, every single time I saw you, but I was too afraid of uncertainties, and you were my greatest uncertainty on campus. I knew nothing about you beyond what I could see. 

On that Monday morning, when I had finally worked up enough courage to sit on that bench beside you, I learned that you were gone. 

I remember sitting in the back of the bus, breathing onto the window trying to draw your face, as if I could somehow make it alright, trying to remember what I could not, and I still couldn’t. But I kept trying, until my hands couldn’t stop shaking, until I couldn’t raise my head to the window anymore.  

It snowed yesterday night, and I tried to catch the snowflakes in my hands, only to feel them melt between my fingers over and over.  I wonder if this is what longing feels like. This carelessness with time until it fades like footprints in the snow, until there’s everything to leave and nothing to know. And I wonder if you embraced the earth with the same gentleness you looked at me. I wonder if you were happy that day. 

All this time, I keep asking myself questions I can’t answer:

“Why am I writing a letter to someone I never knew? Why am I writing a letter to someone I will never meet again? Why am I writing this letter at all?”

And I tried. Trust me, I tried to not care about you. I tried to tell myself you were just another stranger to me, but you weren’t.

Because you reminded me of what it was like to be a child, to give love unconditionally despite ourselves and our drought for love. 

Because you reminded me that love isn’t learned, that it’s something we all have. The same way a parent can love a child even before it knows how to love back.

Because you reminded me that love should never be measured by anything but itself. And that sometimes, love can hurt too, but isn’t that how we know the love is still there? Isn’t longing, too, a part of love?  To say, “I miss you for what you were, and still are, to me, and I’m grateful I can still endure this love for you.”

I still remember the way you gave love to every passerby with your joy, the way you cared for others the same way you cared for yourself, the way you cared enough to care at all. And I care for you, because I’ve spent so many weeks locked up in my dorm caring for nobody and barely enough for myself.

The world doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game, and love shouldn’t have to be conditional. I, too, am learning to love myself for what I am, not what I could be. Gregory expected nothing from loving any of us, and none of us should expect any more from loving ourselves either. 

Although I’m afraid, I believe I’m ready to give again, to finally open up my blinds and fold my sheets, to finally carry the love you gave me to others.

(important pictures below)

012722-chang-1.jpg

Gregory, the Gregarious

012722-chang-2.jpg

Where I last saw Gregory

Spencer Chang is a Trinity first-year. His column runs on alternate Thursdays. 

Discussion

Share and discuss “For Gregory” on social media.