Grief / Suicide survivor

Honoring Aaron’s birthday: self-love and a story

Aaron and I were together 13 years: during the most formative time of our life.

We were together – basically 24/7 – from 17 years old to 30 years old.

17 Years Old & Emo Theater/Choir Kids: Hollister & Death Cab for Cutie

We evolved from wearing the same two Hollister shirts and jeans from the clearance rack at Aeropostale while listening to Death Cab for Cutie – to eventually sipping our cliché coffees while eating over-glamorized brunch in our matching Patagonia jackets at the cute, local cafe.

28 Years Old & Touring Italy: Patagonia and Aaron’s Glasses from Warby Parker

And while we grew on the image front: the growth that happened with our personalities, perspectives on life, etc was what ACTUALLY mattered. That growth was much, much bigger.

A Hollister to Patagonia metaphor won’t quite cut it.

And I learned a helluva lot from Aaron.

The Things Aaron Taught Me

Aaron taught me self-love and self-respect. Nobody has ever (or will ever?) love me like Aaron did. So I’m trying to teach myself how to love, respect, and believe in ME that way now.

He taught me how to be an intellectual without being an asshole. He taught me to set boundaries and speak up for others and yourself when you think (or know) something is wrong. And if you’re wrong, humbly (and loudly) admit you’re wrong and start again.

Aaron taught me patience. Patience with myself. Patience with others.

He taught me how to really love Sloan when our life wasn’t what we pictured as parents. He brought Sloan into the world with me: and Sloan, as we all know, is the bomb-ass-dot-com.

Aaron taught me how to ctfo a bit. He taught me to let go of self-image and be a self-deprecating goofball. Sing around the house, jump up and down the stairs, yell to be dramatic and funny, make fun of yourself, and just generally dgaf and have some enthusiasm for life.

Aaron helped me to find joy and pleasure in the silliest small things: stuff like stopping to enjoy ketchup with your corn dog instead of snarfing it down. Or enjoying time in the bath doing literally nothing else except staring at the ceiling for hours on end.

Aaron taught me how to love – not only the cheesy, romantic young love he brought to my life: but a very real, dedicated love and respect he taught me.

…And Because it’s his Birthday.

Because I Feel Like Sharing.

Someday I’ll write that book, and someday all of these things will possibly be in there. But, in honor of Aaron – even if it’s just for my own remembering – here’s a little story and piece of Aaron’s life experience I feel like sharing in honor of him today. Mostly because it was one of his favorite stories, too.

By way of background: Aaron was born into an LDS-ish family. I say LDS-ish because the environment he grew up in was complex. Not your typical LDS family. And not as easygoing and supportive as my home environment was. So Aaron and I met with vastly different life experiences at 17. I was raised in a “sPiRiTuAl” household with one sister who is my permanent best friend. When we moved to Utah, my mom eventually told me and my sister to tell everyone we were Methodist so they would leave us alone and my sister and I wouldn’t experience the social pressures of being the only non-Mormon and non-religious kid in choir. (I had a very smart mom, ha!)

So…We were Methodist! L – O – L @ that.

Anyway, Aaron grew up in a world where he was told to “take his lumps” and I grew up in a world where we were told to speak up when something was wrong.

Aaron and I met at 17. Aaron was already (unbeknownst to me) on his own path of truth: having secretly researched Mormonism and the LDS church on his own time, Aaron was finding problematic issues and historical inaccuracies in gospel and church literature along the way. (AT SEVENTEEN YEARS OLD?!)


So, yes, Aaron and I were destined to be together. We were aligned in priorities from day one.

This brings us to mine and Aaron’s first date. All I really wanted from my interaction with Aaron in the most blunt, immature, high-school-hormones-raging kind of way was to hook up (whatever THAT means in a small-town, conservative, Utah high school!) with this sweet, smiley Mormon kid.

That’s really all I wanted.

No plans of dating, let alone marriage – blegh! That wasn’t even a concept in my brain at 17.

One morning, Aaron and I responsibly skipped class and went for a hot chocolate.

Aaron turned to me – out of nowhere – and asked “Do you believe in God?” …And I immediately thought …GOD DAMN IT, AARON. I WAS SO CLOSE!

I hadn’t even made it to any base at all with this guy – yet he was already on the way to trying to convert me to Mormonism.

So annoyed – but trying to play it cool – I responded with something vague, sPiRiTuAl, and full of non-answers like “I think god is in all of us and everything we do.”

At that point, I was ready for the testimony from Aaron. I was ready for the tears, the Book of Mormon to be pulled out of his backpack, etc. The usual thing I had experienced so many times before from so many of my well-meaning, loving friends who always ended it with “…But I don’t understand: you’d make the BEST Mormon!”

And I waited…and waited…And…Nope. No tears. No testimony. Not this time.

Aaron stopped the car – slowly turned to me and said “Wow. I love that. Yes. That’s it.”

…I was stumped and a bit unsettled. I might’ve preferred a testimony at that point. My high school brain couldn’t comprehend why he responded the way he did.

And…Then, that set things off. It was the turning point of our relationship. We talked god, religion, and our 17-year-old take on philosophy the rest of our hot chocolate drive – while skipping choir, math, PE, lunch, and eventually the entire school day.

Aaron and I were absolutely “hIgH sChOoL sWeEtHeArTs” – but our relationship was off to an unusual start right from the beginning. He was searching for safety. Someone he could confide in, someone he could share his findings on his religion with: trying to understand it all. And I just happened to be there. The token non-religious girl with the “but you’d make the BEST Mormons!” family at school…Unknowingly along for a big journey ahead.

My naive high school self held secret keys that later came into play – like having a mom who loved Aaron like her own son and walked alongside Aaron in his journey of exploring his relationship with philosophy and religion. A dad who also became Aaron’s best friend and loved talking science, astronomy, and music. And a family who generally embraced Aaron when his world came crashing around him at such a young age.

Aaron and I are both very opinionated, loud, strong personalities with lots of thoughts running through our minds. We were sometimes very right – many times very wrong.

So from day one we always had major ups and major downs in our relationship: anyone who says they don’t in a relationship is a lil’ liar. 🙂

But through every up and down we always reasoned and worked our way through it. We were in love: but also just the best of friends, talking philosophy and the meaning of life almost every day in the most annoying, existential way.

I miss those conversations so much it hurts.

We tackled every topic together. Avoidance wasn’t a word you’d use when it came to us or our relationship.

I’ve had a few people now ask me “Would you do it all again, knowing what you know now? Knowing how it ends?” And that’s a fair question. One I’ve asked myself often, too.

My life doesn’t look like I planned at all. And damn Aaron should be right here with me.

Yep I’m a widowed only mom to a disabled toddler. And DAMN this toddler has both of her parents’ tenacity and exhaustingly wild personalities combined. Plus this toddler has picked up the edginess and coolness of her aunt. So it’s just the most rad, amazing, brilliant, and exhausting combo in a tiny human who has to carry more in her life than most toddlers her age.

And I (Kari) have to step up to the plate and move both me and Sloan forward through the rest of our life: with no choice or alternative. It’s going to suck sometimes. It will have it’s beautiful moments, too.

And I am always going to be wishing Aaron was here alongside us. He’d love it. He’d love her. And yeah, I know he’d love me too. That stinker.

And while that’s a kinda gloomy, grim description of where I’m at in this current moment: I know I wouldn’t be who I am today without Aaron in a very real way.

So yes. Absolutely.

I would do it all over again. All of it. Even knowing how it ends.

(Although let’s maybe spare my 17-year-old self the details, alright?)

<3 – Kari

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