It's 5 a.m. on the morning after Dan's funeral, and I can't sleep.
It's still dark out.
Every time I try to let my mind rest, it starts spinning again, unable to process the fact that Dan has died.
Less than two weeks ago, he replied to a Facebook message, still on the same plane as I am. Where is he now?
Why is he so far from me that my words can't reach him like they once did, that he can no longer reply?
I need coffee, but it's too early to find any. I see a light switch on across the way.
I don't know what gives me the authority to write a tribute piece about Dan Reimold.
Already dubbed "the foremost scholar on college media today," Dan has been the subject of numerous articles by esteemed professors and colleagues about his seemingly endless list of accomplishments and the devastating shock of his loss at only 34 years old.
Who am I to write these words that will soon appear in print?
The fact is, I need to write, and it's not about how he impacted so many, all over the world. It's about how he impacted me.
And I know that he, of all people, would understand.
It has to do with a certain kind of hope, a hope that I'm afraid is dying out.
You see, I first met Dan in high school and we both wrote for the Bucks County Courier Times reality section, a weekly section that gives teens the freedom to write about whatever inspires them.
We connected from the start. But for some reason, we kept missing each other.
We went on to separate colleges and wrote actual letters to each other.
We chatted on AOL instant messenger all day, for many days over the summers when I was in Ocean City, New Jersey, and he was home. We wrote like star-crossed lovers, about how he wants to marry a girl with long dark hair. How it could be me.
The thing I fear I'm losing with Dan's loss is a hope and belief in some kind of magic that I thought I knew existed at my deepest core.
I thought I knew.
Dan had no doubt.
This kind of hope is what drove him to accomplish at 34 years old what most people don't accomplish in their long lives.
This kind of hope inspired Dan to leave an envelope on the doorstep of my childhood home, with a photo of us cuddling on his couch in his college dorm. And a handwritten letter with stunningly crafted sentences about a future, a future he had without question. Maybe it would even be with me.
It is because of this hope that Dan invited me to meet him in Shanghai. He was on a Fulbright scholarship in Singapore and had some time off.
"I'm looking to do nothing less than change the world or at least explore the hell out of it and I have not found that kindred spirit yet who 'gets' that part of me," he wrote.
I checked online for tickets. I was really going to go.
"I don't think I can afford to whimsically travel to Shanghai at the moment," I decided.
What would have happened if I had gone? How would things be different?
If one time -- just one time -- we stopped missing each other, maybe he'd still be here.
And if Dan, who unceasingly believed that joy always wins out, could abruptly be taken away, what does that mean for the rest of us?
Now that Dan has died, where does that hope go?
Since I am moving to Los Angeles in two weeks, and my lease ran out at the end of July, I am staying in a friend's apartment on 21st and Walnut, near Rittenhouse Square.
Most of the residents here are older, and I love that.
My new favorite friend is Alesandra, in her mid 70s. She trims the dead flowers from the garden on the rooftop deck.
I always run into her at the right time.
Last Friday, when I first heard about Dan, I saw her on the roof and told her. The sun was sinking behind her, pink clouds and deepening blue silhouetting the buildings into dark cardboard.
"I want to know with certainty that he is happy and OK," I said.
"Oh, I know he is," she said, and went on to tell me that the day her neighbor died, a swarm of butterflies suddenly emerged in front of her, leading her eyes up to the sky.
She has no doubt.
Last night, I saw her as I was leaving for the funeral. She knew where I was going.
When I waited in the winding line to greet Dan's family, I met some of his childhood neighbors and chatted with some of his students from Saint Joseph's University. They told me about their trip to Singapore last year with Dan. They told me he was their favorite professor. They told me their first day of class was the same day as his funeral.
When I made it to the front of the line and saw Dan's family, they said, "I'm sorry for your loss."
Wasn't I supposed to say that to them?
Later that night, I looked at Facebook Messenger. I noticed Dan's page had changed:
Remembering Dan Reimold.
I saw the last message I had written to him, the day after I found out he died:
"I am sending you so much love. I hope that wherever you are, you are peaceful and happy."
Then I went back to old messages from Dan, back from when he still could reply.
"I feel blessed that I've been granted the opportunity to continue studying a subject I absolutely was put on this Earth to help explore and excited my writing is finally getting published on a national level on a regular basis, which I know you can appreciate more than most."
"I'm so freakin' excited by life and I've got this chance to see the world or at least contribute a bit to, and kind of make my own way and it'd be so cool to share it with someone."
"I will simply say I've had a crush on you since Clinton was president ..."
"I want to see you. I have wanted to see Shanghai all my life. I am definitely in."
When I said I wouldn't go to Shanghai, Dan replied, as he always did, with a smiley face.
"Don't make it a whimsical trip then. Make it magical and meaningful and purposeful."
I will, Dan.
Love always, Lauren
This article was originally published in the Bucks County Courier Times.