I was setting up things yesterday for my race and found myself struck with overwhelming sadness. Not in a way of intense and urgent sadness, but the kind that falls down slowly and envelops you completely. I couldn’t figure it out – I saw a bunch of teammates at the race briefing and transition area, which was great. I saw friends from out of town who I miss greatly. I set everything up for my race – and hey, I can race! – and still, I didn’t know what it was.
It has been six years since my best friend, Dave Hildebrandt, died. I will forever refer to him as such. When I did my first 70.3 race with a longer swim (my first race after his death), I was terrified. I think I cried while swimming. Because Dave died in the water, I think of him any time I swim, but always in a different way when I swim in open water. And I always think of him when I see Crocs.
A year or two ago, Dave visited me in a dream. It was the second time, and it was peaceful and happy, with the message that he is okay and I shouldn’t worry. It helped, but with his death I was faced with a reflection of my own life – Dave was a little over a year older than me.
I remember having very vague conversations with Dave about my gender identity and sports. I wasn’t ready to commit to anything at the time, and I was mostly concerned with how he would react. I was testing the waters with him. I remember a million good things about our friendship – something that hasn’t been replicated with any other friend. My friendships now are different; layered in fear because of my identity and my knowledge of what loss feels like.
It makes me sad that I don’t have any photos of the two of us together that I feel comfortable with. Or that he doesn’t get to hear about my race. Or talk me through the mental prep he was so good at. It makes me happy that his photo is on my window sill, and that it was in my wedding. But six years later, today falls on a race day that is already loaded with feelings.
I miss you, Dave.