My mother introduced me to Peter Pan when I was six-years-old. I fell in love with the 1960 production of Peter Pan starring Mary Martin. She would dig up the VHS and put it on for me and I’d watch it over and over until I was sure that the VCR would break from excessive rewinding. I remember staying home from school, hours spent on the couch with flat ginger ale and chicken soup from a Campbell’s can. These are some of my happiest memories.
Not only was I enthralled with the magic of a never-world far away, full of swashbuckling pirates and mermaids, but also with a mischievous boy who was charming and adventure ensued wherever he went. The fact that Peter was played by Mary Martin made me love him even more, proving to me, right then and there on that couch, that anything the boys could do, the girls could do, too. Plus, he could fly.
Peter Pan is timeless, to me. If Peter was a real boy, I always felt like we would be best friends. As a child, I was always running barefoot in the grass in our backyard. It was quite small, but I always felt like there were acres of it. I was Laura Ingalls Wilder. I was Caddie Woodlawn. Sometimes I was even Xena, Warrior Princess.
When I’m climbing, I like to sometimes be Xena. I’m Meg Murry, who was stubborn and self-conscious, but a badass time-traveling mathematician. I’m Starbuck from Galactica, the cocky, anti-authoritarian, whiskey swigging fighter pilot. I’m a little bit of each of these fictional characters, and I’m a little bit of me.
This past week marked the four year anniversary of our high school best friend’s suicide. Four years is a long time, I mused. I almost hadn’t realized the date, being so wrapped up in my travels and climbing. Some times, I wish I could try and forget the date. I try and forget getting the worst phone call of my life. It took me so long to find my heart again because I never gave myself time to grieve. I made some excuse, like being too busy trying to be brave for everybody else. I would tell myself that I couldn’t go through life allowing my pain to dictate how I behaved. Since then, I’ve learned that mourning is this cyclical thing, and you can’t do it alone. You have good days and you have bad ones. Moments like that will always pass and figure themselves out if you let them. And I did…and they did.
Fast forward four years later, and life did go on, not with great joy, but with somewhat surprising contentment that I never imagined I’d really know. Once, I used to be afraid of losing the people I loved, constantly thinking to myself, “It may happen. One day, someone I love will disappear and I won’t be able to go with them.” The impression that it leaves only makes you grip a little tighter and kiss a little harder every time you do.
Simply being a part of Mikey’s life made me realize how unique my own is. What happens next is that you continue to love the world they leave with you. Every pitch I climbed, every mountain I moved up somehow brought me a little bit closer to him, in a strange way. When he died, I silently promised to try and live a little bit extra for him, in little ways and in big ways. I found myself doing things with more purpose, every day.
Although his departure was premature, it’s the memory of Mike that remains timeless. For me, he will always be a skinny fourteen-year-old punk kid, skating down the block to meet me at my house in the early morning hours when the rest of the world was sleeping. I’ll always be kissing him with strawberry Lip Smackers chapstick in my back pocket. We’ll always be stupid kids watching that stupid sunset and then waiting for that sunrise, together. He’ll be Peter Pan, and I’ll be Xena, Warrior Princess.
In loving memory of Michael Cocchiarella
May 7, 1986 – August 14, 2010