I lost my friend Melony Lechner to suicide this past week. This is the story I told today at the memorial (actual names this time):

In the summer of 2001, Fred and I bought a house. We spent all day on the Fourth of July moving in, hauling our belongings up those infernal stairs. Ariana was 7 and Caitlin was 4. By dinnertime we were all exhausted. We all went to bed early.

As everyone here (in Kodiak, Alaska) knows, it takes a long time to get dark on the Fourth of July. So, we were pretty soundly asleep when the lunatics next door started shooting bottle rockets at our roof. I, of course, freaked out. My new house was in danger of catching on fire, those crazy people were going to destroy our home and kill us all. Fred, being the calm, logical sort reminded me that the roof is made of metal and that we’d be fine. It was just bottle rockets. I said they might have bigger stuff that could do real damage and went out on the porch to watch.

They did have bigger stuff. I stood there are watched until they were done. (I forgot to mention at the service how much I’ve always loved watching fireworks.) They four of them were laughing and definitely having a great time. I was torn between my righteous anger for my property and unanticipated giggles at their antics.

The next morning I got up and went out to the street, walked down Woodland and then followed that long driveway up to the house to confront these people. Mel couldn’t stop apologizing. But she also couldn’t stop laughing. And it was contagious. Before too many weeks had passed ShawnaRi – because why use both names of my children when you can call them by one, Mel told me on many occasions – and our girls had worn a solid path through the trees between our houses to play with Shawna and Riley. I don’t think any of us ever used the long route around much after that.

For the next nine years, until we moved in with my Grampa, anytime I couldn’t find my girls I knew to look at Mel’s house. She was their second Mom. Afterschool, on weekends, holidays, whatever… I’d go searching for one or both of my daughters and would end up on Mel’s porch or at the kitchen table watching all of the kids play.

There was a picture up on the screen at the service today of Mel with egg yolk dripping from her hands and face. My daughter Caitlin is sitting to the left of her in that picture, laughing so hard her head is almost on the table, and I’m guessing the person we can’t quite make out on the right is Shawna. I have no idea what game they were playing, but it was typical of what I found when I went there. Everybody was up doing something and having fun doing it. (Thinking back now, I don’t recall ever finding the TV on when I just showed up.)

Mel was like that. From giving Ariana her first real job at the bookstore to the drunken mudwrestling at midnight when she put in her concrete walkway she was fully invested in the people she was with. I’ve missed being her neighbor these past seven years. There aren’t many people who I can just show up and sit on the porch with. And Caitlin and Ariana are heartbroken at the loss of their second Mom. She is missed and loved.

After the memorial, Fred and I took the dogs for a walk. I walked around on the beach looking for something. I knew it needed to be something unique. Something that I could put on my desk that I could talk at, hold and cry on, rage to, or tell remember-when stories. I picked up a rock as a memento. It stood out from the plainer grey rocks that surrounded it – like Mel did.

I don’t know why she chose to leave us. No one does. Fred said one of the people he spoke to as we were leaving said mercurial people will sometimes do things that ten minutes later they would never consider. That’s the best explanation I’ve heard. All any of us can do now is continue to tell each other the stories, console and hug, and let the poisonous hurt out with our tears.