Well, this is it. It's the year I've been dreading. This is the year you will have been gone from this world as long as you were in it. Though I still have a few months to go before the technical anniversary of your departure, it seemed appropriate, on what would have been your thirty-fourth birthday, to take it all in.
So much has changed since you left. We have the ability now to converse in video, real-time, for free, and connect with people all across the world. Can you imagine the fun we would have had with that? I wish we could now; it would make the wait bearable. There are some gulfs that technology will never breach. Still, I think you would have loved what has come to pass. Besides the myriad wonders of the internet, there are the advances in movies. Did you know they made another Jurassic Park, and Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter pretty much set the gold standard, which unfortunately seems to be hard to meet. You might have enjoyed the Narnia films they managed to put out, though they were not quite as faithful to the text. The Star Wars prequels came out, followed by a television series; you might be interested to know that your notion of a double-bladed lightsaber made it into Episode I. Video games ... don't get me started. I wonder, sometimes, if you would have maintained the level of interest in them that you had. They have taken on a life of their own (and stolen many in their wake).
they're working on a fourth? (Last year was the first film's twentieth anniversary... now there's a kicker.) Fantasy films, as I predicted, have been taking off in leaps and bounds.
You never got to read the ending to our book. I almost didn't finish it, you know. Didn't seem to be much point; I was telling the story with and for you. Also, I'm sure you remember our little "get-rich-quick" scheme? Turns out that notion was a little ill-advised, so I took the story out of its fanfic setting and rewrote it into the original work it was intended to be from its conception. I've never been happier with a tough decision; it allowed me to tell the story we always meant to tell, without constraints. It took me years of learning about real writing and tinkering to be happy enough with it that I decided to unleash it on the world, but I think you would be pleased with the end result. It feels like the book we wanted to make, and in this day and age of being able to publish your book your way, the timing couldn't have been better. I've actually been pretty blessed with the connections I've made over the years; a brilliant cover artist, as well as fans who have agreed to do interior art and a graphic novel adaptation, respectively. I don't often feel that I hear from God, but I have definitely felt that certain acquaintances were more than happenstance. I'm working on the sequels now, and for the first time venturing past the territory we had covered with our initial speculation. I still refer back to all of our notes, but it still doesn't feel right, after all this time, not being able to brainstorm with you.
Let's see. Well, you should know that your sisters grew up to be a teacher and a missionary, each an adventurer in her own right. They each married the kind of man I could only have hoped for them. I wish that I could say that I had been as much a brother to them as I was to you, but I'm afraid that in the gray years following the accident, I spent much of my time just existing. Not even surviving, but simply going through the motions in a kind of fog. The screaming in my heart took years to fade. I still hear it from time to time, though blessedly not often these days. I learned the subtle differences between "traumatic grief" and "PTSD"; not subjects I would ever have thought to be acquainted with. Oh, and I got married. Twice. The first marriage was a failure. Got tired of feeling that nothing good was happening in my life, and not for the first or last time, made a pretty major decision that was doomed from the start (most of the times in my life when I choose to take a pretty big fork in the road, I have chosen the wrong way, but you'd know a little something about that). Anyway, neither of us was prepared for the other, and it just went downhill from there. I haven't heard from her from the day we said goodbye; I hope she's happier than she was with me. She deserves to be. I am now married to a wonderful woman (also an author), and have a stepson. I think you would like them. They are both ridiculously talented and creative. I ended up moving to the East for a while to be with them (another thing I don't think either of us could have foreseen), but plan to return to Colorado in a little over a year. That is, unless we can find somewhere warmer with mountains. This winter has been a real bear.
Oh, speaking of unforeseen ... you remember that novel about Mokele-mbembe? In a strange, roundabout way, it led to my actually getting to go to Africa in search of the real thing. I contacted the author, who put me in contact with an email group of like-minded people, where, through a series of exchanges and online debates, I met someone who had already been searching for the animal. I've been three times now, and even got my fifteen minutes of fame on a television program. We learn something new every time, though we always seem to have "missed it by that much" (Get Smart reference, but I doubt you would get that one). Still some hilariously arrogant people who think they know more than the natives about what is actually being seen an encountered in Africa's wild, but there you go. I still hope to try again someday, but I have not really had the money or opportunity to do it since that last time, and it's not exactly something you do just because you're in the mood to give it another go.
Some other things you know already: We lost Grandpa, and just recently, Uncle Greg. One of the biggest fans of the book, my friend Matt Marcy (whom I met on a trip to discuss the second expedition), is also gone. He painted the original cover, which I ultimately did not use, though I suspect it will find some life of its own in another way. So many friends and loved ones gone on. As hard as it is, though, you know better than I that it is not you for whom we grieve, but ourselves. I don't think it's being left behind that I mind so much as being left behind for so long. One of the things I have craved since youth is peace; it's one of life's greatest ironies that I have had so little of it. Still, best not to get too comfortable, huh? This world, as they say, is not our home, and with each succeeding headline, I am more and more grateful for that fact.
I am notorious for wondering "what might have been" in a number of facets in my life. Though I could pick a number of points of divergence in the choices that I've made, the one that keeps coming back to me is that decision I made the summer of 1997. I really did want to take you on that vacation, but you had a job, and the family dynamics of a long road trip seemed potentially problematic, so I thought it would be best if I took my friend, and then you and I could do something else afterward. I still remember my last phone conversation with you. "We'll have the rest of the summer to do stuff in," I said.
It's something I try not to think about too much. I hate myself too much already without the added burden of that kind of guilt. Still, that friendly little voice does occasionally like to pop up to remind me that all this might have been avoided if only ... if only....
What's done is done. There is no going back, and the ripple effect has already been further than I could ever have imagined. What's important, I guess, at this point, is to remind myself what I believe, and why I believe it. And knowing in my heart that I will see you again is more important than the lifetime I will spend wondering why you had to go in the first place, or why it couldn't have been me, instead.
There's obviously nothing I can get you for this special day; the day God granted me the desire of my heart. I wanted a brother, and got to keep him here for seventeen years. You know that I love you, and look forward to seeing you again.
Happy Birthday, Jeff.