Live Through This

The Road Out of Grief

You just need a compass—Marcel was mine.

Illustration by Minna

It was a Thursday morning in late June and I was at the administrative assistant job I hated, feeling extra antsy because I was so close to realizing my biggest creative dream—my first novel was coming out in 12 days! The only good thing about my job was that I’d accrued a bunch of vacation time, so I’d taken off most of the following month to celebrate my book release with a mini-book tour of the West Coast. I was pondering quitting the job upon my return, so I was researching how expensive it would be to buy my own health insurance when this message popped up in Gchat:

10:16 AM elizabeth: hey steph
will you call me when you get a chance
it’s important

Elizabeth* was one of my best friends from high school, like an older sister to me really, but we’d only recently gotten back in touch. I was a hard person to handle in my late teens—angry, depressed, erratic, drunk—and it had cost me a couple of my dearest friends. Elizabeth and I were working it out, though, and I was planning to stay with her during my West Coast trip. In fact, I was afraid that this “important” thing was her canceling on me.

Since I worked in a cube in the center of the office that completely lacked privacy, I went into my vacationing co-worker’s office to call Elizabeth. Even though I remember everything leading up to the phone call—the taste of my strawberry breakfast bar, clicking back and forth between my work email and my covert insurance search every time someone walked by my desk—I don’t remember the conversation with Elizabeth. What she told me didn’t hit me until I called my best friend, Acacia, to pass it on, mainly because Acacia made me keep repeating it.

“You should sit down,” I’d told her when she answered. Maybe Elizabeth had told me that. Maybe it was just what people always said on TV.

“I don’t want to sit down. I’m not sitting down,” she told me, defiant as ever.

“OK, but you should because…I just talked to Elizabeth. Marcel’s been on a road trip on his motorcycle. Last night he was driving through Montana, and there was an accident….Acacia, Marcel is dead.”

She was silent and then she said, “Marcel is what?”

“Marcel was in an accident. He’s dead.”

More silence. “Who’s dead?”

“Marcel,” I sobbed.

Silence. “Marcel is what?”

This fucked-up version of “Who’s on First?” went on for at least three more rounds. Acacia, the strongest person in my world, was broken by this news, and that broke me. Eventually I screamed at her, “Stop making me say it! Please, please stop!”

“I’m sorry,” she said, finally snapping out of it. “I just can’t believe it.”

“I know.” A world without Marcel seemed impossible.


We had geometry class together sophomore year. One day, Marcel burst out in laughter over nothing so loud and hard that our teacher made him leave. Our classmates stared at him in shock, but I laughed with him. So began our friendship.

I’d known who he was before that because you couldn’t miss him—he stood over six feet tall with bushy brown hair, and the hint of a smile that made you think he knew the world’s deepest secrets and its funniest jokes. He was an enigma. We both hung out at Scoville Park, where the punk-rock and indie kids gathered to smoke cigarettes and wallow in/savor our boredom and Marcel went to climb trees and statues like a monkey.

That year I was dating Greg, an emotionally abusive dickhead who wouldn’t let me be friends with any of his friends—except Marcel, because no one, not even abusive dickheads, could come up with a good reason not to be friends with Marcel. One day I came to geometry class wearing a silver ring on a chain around my neck. Greg had given it to me, saying he’d found it in his basement. As it turned out Marcel had left it there, which shouldn’t have surprised me since the ring was so big it wouldn’t even stay on my thumb. When Marcel explained that the ring was a gift from his mother, I started to take it off even though I knew I’d catch hell from Greg for giving away something he’d given me. Marcel, who had a knack for reading people like no one I’ve ever known, must have seen all of this in my eyes, because he told me I could keep it.

Several months later, after Greg and I had broken up, I tried to give the ring back, but Marcel said, “You still need it, and you should keep it as long as you do. ”

As soon as he said that, the ring was no longer an ill-gotten gift from a despicable person; it contained the strength and wisdom of the boy who acted as my therapist whenever we were alone in my car.

I held on to that ring through my turbulent late teens and early 20s. Then I went to visit Marcel at his new place in St. Louis. We stayed up until five in the morning talking about books, the ones we’d read and the ones I was writing—a path he told me he was proud of me for pursuing. He also gave me advice about patching things up with my old friends, like Elizabeth. When I gave him his ring that morning, he accepted it.

Even though we lived busy lives in different cities, I was certain we would cross paths again, because we always did. Marcel would always be there. He was my compass. He was sewn into the fabric of the universe, permanent as the constellations I’d spent all my life gazing upon.


So what do you do when the biggest tree in your world is felled and takes the sky down with it?

I walked for three miles, shielding my fresh tattoo from the summer sun that still had nerve to shine, listening to Automatic for the People by R.E.M. over and over again because I had such a vivid picture in my mind of Marcel in that T-shirt. I cried as I walked, especially when “Try Not to Breathe” came on, because I couldn’t breathe. There was this gaping hole in my chest, and even though I hadn’t smoked in six years, I bought cigarettes because I needed something to fill it.

Without planning it, Acacia and I met at Scoville Park under the tree where Marcel had talked the two of us out of running away when we were 16 and broken and angry. No one else could talk sense into us, but of course Marcel did, using some cryptic metaphor about ducks. We sat and smoked until she had to go back to work and I had to go to a book event that I felt like I couldn’t cancel.

I nearly broke down while reading at that event, because I realized that my main character’s father—a soft-spoken, intuitive, kindest-soul-in-the-world character who is tall with wavy brown hair—was subconsciously inspired by Marcel. I was comforted for a moment that a piece of his spirit lived in my book, but the absence of him in my life was still too fresh to appreciate that.


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  • Samantha August 7th, 2012 3:13 PM

    What a beautiful, touching story. I’m so sorry you lost someone so dear to you – he sounds like an incredible person.

    On a somewhat unrelated note, I grew up in the area along the Mississippi where you found Sneaky Pete’s! That part of the river has always brought me so much joy, and I’m glad that some part of it could do the same for someone else.

  • guiltfreedonut August 7th, 2012 3:18 PM

    this is so beautifully written! I got tears in my eyes. Marcel sounds like an amazing person and it’s great that you are able to make him live on. I especially love the birthday celebration– sounds like accidentally-on-purpose running a kite into a tree would be something Marcel would enjoy.

    I’d love to check out the marcel blog, if you would link it (:

  • suburban grrrl August 7th, 2012 3:33 PM

    Oh God, I know a Marcel who’s a great kid, this was uncomfortable to read

  • ashleyfaye August 7th, 2012 3:36 PM

    beautifully written and full of courage. i lost a friend tragically and couldn’t talk about it for a long time, when i was finally ready – i blogged about it. (

  • georgina August 7th, 2012 4:23 PM

    This nearly made me cry, I’m so sorry for your loss. I hope writing it was a little therapeutic for you?

  • MissKnowItAll August 7th, 2012 4:25 PM

    I don’t know who else to talk to at this point so I’ll just come out and say it.
    I feel so useless and terrible and I’m honestly considering ending it all.
    I don’t know what else to do.
    Please help me.

    • Anaheed August 7th, 2012 4:34 PM

      Please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline right now: 1-800-273-TALK

      • MissKnowItAll August 7th, 2012 4:56 PM

        I’m just scared at this point.

        Is it normal to feel like this at all?

        • Anaheed August 7th, 2012 5:20 PM

          It is common, but it’s not something you should accept as your new normal — you can feel better and you should demand it! Is there a therapist or counselor you can talk to? Did you call that hotline? It exists to help people going through EXACTLY this moment you’re going through.

        • August 7th, 2012 5:36 PM

          Please take Anaheed’s genuinly wise advice. Talk to someone or anyone that you trust and you know can help you. Admitting you need help and getting it is the hardest hurdle to jump over but all these scared feelings your having right now will slowly start to go away once you do.

      • noquierodecir August 7th, 2012 5:10 PM

        To Anaheed: it’s really incredible the extent to which you are here as a resource. I know the point of Rookie is not to offer yours and Tavi’s listening ears, but the fact that you are thoughtful and careful enough that you read and reply to these comments is astounding.
        (on a less serious comment thread, regarding the partnering with UO, I commented under the name ‘owalma’ {b/c I forgot this login…whoops!}, and I was so impressed and helped by your response to that.)

        Thank you, also, for posting this hotline number. Suicide is relevant. I am glad that you published MissKnowItAll’s comment. So often teenage-girl problems can be termed trivial, dismiss-able, but these problems and pains are real and they cut deep. I ache for this commenter.

        To MissKnowItAll: I have been in a different but similar situation–I, obviously, know little of you, but I have considered similar things.

        First step: Call the hotline (preferred) or track down a trusted and competent and understanding adult, e.g. a parent, or better, a therapist (do you have one?), and let them know what is going on, EXPLICITELY–because I promise you it matters. And secondly, if you want, read this poem:

        Maybe you already know it, but I’ve read it hundreds of times, and it always brings me an immense comfort in a way that few poems do. Oliver isn’t even one of my favourite poets, but this poem is so straightforward and comforting.

        I hope that you feel better. Please call the hotline. These first steps are often the most difficult. It will get better.

        • Anaheed August 7th, 2012 5:19 PM

          Thank YOU for posting this comment. MissKnowItAll, read it! It is great advice!

        • noquierodecir August 7th, 2012 5:27 PM

          Your saying that is the best compliment ever! Seriously, seriously, seriously.

          Also, I should clarify here, that giving advice is a lot easier than taking it. I believe everything I wrote, consciously, and on an intellectual level. It is not always easy to follow, but (truism alert!) showing up and trying is 99% of it.

          TALK TO SOMEBODY (I’m serious), make some tea, drink it, flip on the Olympics, let all this scary shit out of your mind, because it is better when it is not known only by you. And I say this as somebody who was forced into therapy (because, rightfully so, schools do not respond calmly to lots of self-injury), and thought it silly–talking was too hard, and I didn’t feel sad, so what was the point? It’s been about six months, now, and I can finally see the merits of this. I fully, FULLY believe that if somebody as skeptical as I–and not because I didn’t believe therapy was valuable, but because I believed that all the important feelings/thoughts/experiences are “untouchable,” impossible to understand–could do it, you can too.


        • MissKnowItAll August 7th, 2012 5:30 PM

          Thank you….
          I’m just crying now.
          I called my cousin and she’s coming to my house to stay with me for a while.

          I called the hotline.
          I guess I just felt alone. But I guess I’m not.
          Thank you to every one who cared.
          I didn’t think anyone would.

          • Anaheed August 7th, 2012 5:55 PM

            <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 to you forever!

        • MissKnowItAll August 7th, 2012 5:37 PM

          Thank you….

        • August 7th, 2012 6:01 PM

          <3 we will always be here for you! Stay strong

        • noquierodecir August 7th, 2012 6:02 PM

          I have no idea, MissKnowItAll, if you are thanking me. Probably not, but I just wanted to commend you for calling your aunt.

          That is a huge, difficult, and excellent step to take. I am so pleased that she is able to come stay with you for a while.

          Of course you are not alone.

          Much love, and please give us an update. Am I allowed to post my email address here? Is there some other way I can make the offer of a listening ear for updates?

          • Anaheed August 7th, 2012 6:03 PM

            You can post your email; just not your real name or physical location.

        • MissKnowItAll August 7th, 2012 6:11 PM

          Thank you for your advice.
          I don’t know what I would have done otherwise.
          Anaheed, I truly love you and i’m happy you’ve convinced me otherwise. <3

          • Anaheed August 7th, 2012 6:45 PM

            I love you back! Now go find yourself a therapist. (I see one every week and do not know what I would do otherwise.)

        • Stephanie August 7th, 2012 6:28 PM

          MissKnowItAll, everyone here is giving you excellent advice and I just want to echo it. I am proud you reached out and talked to someone. You are NOT alone. I’ve felt what you are feeling (or something very similar, I’m sure our situations are not identical). The key is to talk openly, honestly and keep talking. Much, much love to you. HUGS.

    • Blythe August 7th, 2012 4:43 PM

      Please don’t do it. I’m so glad I didn’t. You need to talk to someone.

    • August 7th, 2012 5:11 PM

      Please DON’T end it!!!!!!! Think of your family and friends! Think of every moment in your life when you have ever been happy, Please I have been there and death is such an awful thing, never give yourself up willingly.
      Stay strong chica!!!<3

    • Abby August 7th, 2012 5:40 PM

      Please, don’t do it. Picture every time that you’ve ever been happy. Picture your friends, your family. There is a whole world out there for you, and all of us here on Rookie love you. I don’t even know you and I’m crying writing this. I love you. We all do. There is more than what you’re feeling right now. It does get better. Talk to someone, please. You may just be one person to the world, but I can guarantee that you are the world to one person.

    • Katherine August 8th, 2012 12:30 AM

      We all care about you and love you. It’s true! Don’t forget it.

  • fishintheC August 7th, 2012 4:49 PM

    MissKnowItAll, please, please don’t end your life. If anything, you should know that this wonderful story says that even when the world becomes so cruel, there IS always hope and laughter. Stephanie mended relationships with friends she thought she had permanently lost, and they were loving and supportive when they came back into her life.

    To Stephanie– You are so lucky to have found somebody that special in your life. Not to be corny, but it seems like Marcel really was some type of angel, even before his death. And when we lose those types of people, its unfathomable and steals a part of ourselves. Your honesty and strength is what made this article so amazing, and the fact that you have so much love in you. However, I understand that we’re never fully healed after something like that happens to us. All we can do is find a way to laugh through the tears, like what you did.

  • lylsoy August 7th, 2012 4:53 PM

    I know a guy who IS JUST LIKE THAT and he rides a motorcycle and I am so worried about him right now.. I just don’t want to lose any more people :(

  • GlitterKitty August 7th, 2012 5:11 PM

    This is so beautiful. What a well written story about someone who seems like such a great person. I really like the birthday celebration blog. That’s such a great way to remember him.

    And also, what the hell is happening to the girl in the picture?

  • August 7th, 2012 5:14 PM

    I love this article and I can really relate to all you were feeling about Marcel. My classmate Rory passed away about halfway through last year. He was so young and had such a bright future. Hinestlly after his death I cried SO much some days and others I just felt Genuinlly numb. He wasn’t my best friend by any stretch but whe had known each other since we were five. His death was a tragedy to me and for that reason I can really relate. Thank you for writing this <3

  • Abby August 7th, 2012 5:41 PM


  • la fee clochette August 7th, 2012 5:42 PM

    Ahh, I lost an important friend in my life 3 years ago. It was to suicide, and I was writing a story too (not published or even finished yet), that involved a main character based on him.

    Too creative and odd and funny and esoteric and sweet and charming to be gone. I already thought of him everyday when i knew him, but some days,like earlier today, are hard, when I am missing him.

    What an odd coincidence for this to be published today. It has made me feel better to be able to relate with having grief still.

  • caro nation August 7th, 2012 7:11 PM

    I’m sobbing into my Automatic For The People shirt right now.

  • landlockedblues August 7th, 2012 7:43 PM

    One of my best friends passed away roughly three months ago and I think of her every day and some days it aches more than the other days. This article was so, so good and it made my eyes fill with tears. I’m not a particularly religious person, but I hope both my friend and Marcel are in a better place know and that they are always looking after the ones who loved them. <3

  • clairee August 7th, 2012 7:55 PM

    It’s so terrible to have people so wonderful, so full of potential and goodness leave us so young. This was heart wrenching. Much love.

  • BritishFish August 7th, 2012 7:59 PM

    I’m so terrified to lose someone close to me. As a child I would call my dad almost every hour because I was afraid something happened to him and I’ve started to feel this way about my boyfriend (who wants a motorcycle..) and I’m sick of feeling afraid and feeling like if I’m truly happy I will lose someone I love. Has anyone else ever dealt with this? It’s strange writing this online when I can barely explain this to my own family.

    • la fee clochette August 7th, 2012 11:30 PM

      I feel like this in waves- a all the time, recently! It used to be with my mom, now I worry about my boyfriend, too! (he wants a motorcycle, too. and he lives 6 hours away, so a lot of driving to see me )

    • Katherine August 8th, 2012 12:40 AM

      Story of my life, BritishFish. Since I’m religious, the way I deal with this is that every night, before I go to sleep, I ask God to protect and bless everyone I love. It’s a great comfort to me to think that there is a higher power guarding my loved ones from harm.

      • BritishFish August 8th, 2012 2:54 AM

        la fee clochette: It amazes me that I’m not the only one! Hopefully we can worry less if there’s motorcycles in the picture.

        Katherine: I completely understand that. I used to be religious myself years ago which is a whole other story within itself and I always felt like people were safer then.

        It means so much to me to find this website. Lately my anxiety and emotions have been overwhelming and I don’t feel so alone anymore.

  • Olivia August 7th, 2012 9:53 PM

    so beautiful. i think this represents what death feels like a lot and what the grief can [hopefully] turn into. this is wonderful

  • Harley August 7th, 2012 10:52 PM

    This was beautifully written, thank you for sharing. You had me in tears by the time I read that you sang The House of the Rising Sun.

  • theaterbex August 7th, 2012 11:47 PM

    Stephanie, I’m bawling my eyes out. Marcel sounds like one of those truly special, unique people. I’m so moved by the story of the ring, and the pinwheels, and the memorial service. Thank you for sharing this with us.

  • Alex S. August 8th, 2012 12:16 AM

    “Once I ran six blocks home from the train because I’d convinced myself I was going to find my boyfriend dead. Why? No reason, except that I now knew that horrible things happen for no reason.”

    reading that part really got to me for some reason. Today my sister was in a car accident from a drunk driver, but she is luckily fine. This article could have not come at a greater time if things were to turn out not as fortunate. This is one of my favorite rookie articles, so genuine and special and beautiful, and I agree with Olivia.

  • katiet August 8th, 2012 1:10 AM

    wow. this could not have come at a better time.

  • LeatherStuddedFae August 8th, 2012 3:45 AM

    I was listening to Everybody Hurts by REM while reading this article. And I cried. =’[[[

    Just a dew days ago, I told myself that after every time I talk to someone so dearly, I’d say, “I love you.” It’s just that… you never know when people leave or die or… maybe when you, yourself, will die. Death can happen anytime. Even in a blink of an eye, it could just happen.

    People leave tiny fingerprints in our hearts. But we cherish them. But I guess in your case, Marcel left a hand print. :) Because he has been such a huge part of your life. And who knows, he must be smiling at you for being so strong. <3

  • Lillypod August 8th, 2012 5:01 AM

    sad sad sad

  • Lucille August 8th, 2012 5:29 AM

    love this storrrrry!

  • MichyMich August 8th, 2012 8:51 AM

    Reading this article touched my heart and I had a family friend who reminded me of Marcel. He was a quiet guy whenever we had dinners and he loved to be with his friends. I remember that he was a nice (in a genuine way) guy. On the day he died, I cried like CRAZY. I couldn’t even stay in class and had to talk to a counselor. Grief prevented me from concentrating on my piano lessons and studying for tests, but I learned that I could find hope and not take life for granted because things only happen once. Stephanie, thank you for sharing this article with me.

  • Stephanie August 8th, 2012 12:10 PM

    I just want to send love, hugs, and hope to all of you who have lost someone. Thank you for all your comments about Marcel, too. It really meant the world to me to be able to share him with you.

  • 20yroldrookie August 8th, 2012 2:55 PM

    I’m sitting in the middle of a deserted college grounds in Oakland and sniffling because of this touching story. You really conveyed how much Marcel touched your life in a huge way, and how he has been a rock for you through turbulent times. I actually visited the blog and was touched at all the people who have been inspired by Marcel’s larger-than-life way of living. He seemed like such a great person, and I am very sorry that you lost someone so dear to you. Thank you for sharing this.

  • rkfire August 9th, 2012 11:07 PM

    I have been reading Rookie since day one and have never been as inspired to leave a comment before as I am now (seeing as this is my first comment). I just need you to know that I wept throughout this entire piece. You are such an incredible writer, and are so lucky to have known someone as magical as Marcel. Good luck to you with everything you do, I’ll just be over here crying, crying crying.

  • Esther August 13th, 2012 10:13 AM

    This was so beautiful. I’m sitting hear in my room crying as I write this. My brother killed himself 2 1/2 months ago (Memorial Day – yeah it sucks that it’s on a holiday). I’ve felt like I’ve just been existing ever since it happened. Like I’m just living from day to day, with no particular purpose in mind. It feels wasteful to me…just living to live, you know?

    Right now, I’m listening to Lights Inside this Dream by Julia Stone and after reading this post…I have hope. Hope in knowing that this hard time in my life isn’t permanent. It’s just something that I have to go through in order to become happy again. Obviously my life will never be fully whole again – my brother was such a big piece of my life. But things will get better for me…I know it will…I have to believe that it will.

    So thank you for sharing your grief with me…because it’s helped me to understand my own.

  • tove August 16th, 2012 7:11 PM

    This is the most beautiful thing I’ve read on Rookie so far.

  • Nikilodeon November 22nd, 2012 5:42 AM

    Just so beautiful, how you’ve honored your friend. He seems like an amazing person. I can only hope to meet someone like him. Stephanie, I was really so touched, I cried the whole time I read your article. It’s just amazing to think that someone could affect friends and family to the point that even after his death, they are still affected by him. I’m looking for that “Celebrate Marcel” blog.