One of the most bizarre things about losing someone close to you is that it simultaneously touches nothing and everything. Beautiful things may seem different after, but they’re still beautiful. Funny things are, horrifyingly, still funny. Joy is still out there, wrapping its fingers around all the same things it used to. When one of my best friends died suddenly in November 2017, I felt the weight of this idea instantly. Every time the grief bulldozed over me, there was also the realization that one day I would feel happy again. As much as I wanted to destroy the rationality of it all, I knew this was true. That joy would find me again, and that eventually it might not even be as frequently interrupted by pain. That maybe — probably — I would even feel OK some days. So when the guilt of this thought settled in, I was relieved. I welcomed it. My friend — who by any account was gentler, kinder, better than I was — died, and I got to live. If I was still here, still able to see beauty and laugh at jokes and find joy, then guilt is what I wanted. What I deserved, a happy stipulation for still being the one on earth.
As time went on after the funeral, I found myself processing good moments on a scale. Everything was balanced by the guilt — not always instantly, but it was always there. And for as much as it hurt, I was thankful for it, and for how it made it all seem somewhat bearable, fair. How it never let me forget what happened. And then came Queer Eye.
Anyone who knows me knows the Netflix revival of the early ’00s show is simply one of my favorite things, but it took even me a little bit to realize it was more than that. As soon as I watched, I immediately made my other best friends watch it too. We all texted back and forth for days, binge-watching, watching again. Making our partners watch. Our parents. We cried, and we laughed, and we felt the joy of it all together in a way that we hadn’t since we all lost our best friend.
Before, this light, full happiness would have reminded me of that one ugly fact — the one I can’t forget, that Ashleigh is gone. I found myself waiting for the guilt to come in to my room at night, to settle on my chest the way it usually did. But it never came. It wasn’t there at all. And I realized it was because the the show brought me the very same feeling that Ashleigh did in my life: happiness, comfort, familiarity, joy, and hunger for life. It was like Ashleigh sent it to me, giving me exactly what I need without even realizing she was doing it, as she so often did.
Every episode made me think of how Ashleigh would have loved it. The energy of everyone on the show. The joy they all had spilling out of them, the way that it was so plainly obvious that that joy was because all of them were simply happy to be unabashedly themselves. This thing that makes the show great — the way they were all so alive and happy and willing to be there for total strangers — reminded me how Ashleigh was alive. She was earnest, always quietly lit up with energy and gentleness spilling out of her, that same energy and gentleness gracefully falling onto everyone around her.
All of this makes me miss Ashleigh, too. Makes me wish that she were in the group chat again with my other two best friends and I, texting each other and watching Queer Eye in real time. But it also makes me think that maybe she is. That Ashleigh’s spirit is in the joy of life. That when I feel joy, she’s there, saying it’s OK. That she’s OK. That it’s all going to be OK.