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For that I can never repay you.

This is a poem by Blaze Bernstein. This is one of the poems I read at his memorial service, in front of a synagogue full of people mourning the loss of a 19 year old boy who was standing on the precipice of the rest of his life. Blaze’s poetry was always prolific. But this poem is the one I could barely read, for these words, these shiny marbles he picked from the dirt to say to a reader, were exactly the words I wanted to say to him right then.

On my first day in the Creative Writing Conservatory, I met you. You were skinny, wearing a striped T shirt, glasses and an inquisitive look. You didn’t even introduce yourself to me. There was no need. We didn’t have to build a friendship, because within days, it formed all on its own.

I knew I liked you when you, our friend Lily and I wrote a musical based on the song “Mambo No. 5” by Lou Bega. I knew I liked you when you helped me change the AP English language teacher’s quote of the day to be grammatically incorrect every week just to mess with her. I knew I liked you when our friend Julienne tried to teach you how to dance to trap music. I knew I liked you when you ranted about why Buca di Beppo means “Joe’s Basement” (claiming that “Beppo” is short for “Giuseppe,” which in English is “Joe,” and “Bucca” means “hole,” which can be slang for “basement”).

I knew I loved you when I realized our conversations lasted till three in the morning. I knew I loved you when you ruthlessly shamed me for liking plain La Croix not pamplemousse and when you selflessly took time out of your day to help me get a B in AP calculus. I knew I loved you when you took me to your senior prom.

You asked me with cupcakes that each had a flag in them, “prom” spelled wrong on every one: “Prum,” “prawn,” “pram” and my favorite “the Tron legacy.” I knew I loved you when we wrote and submitted fake poems to the Penn Review under the pseudonym Kirk Gingle. I knew I loved you when I watched you remind Lily she was beautiful when she didn’t believe it and when you consoled Alex through rough times when you were simply being good.

You were a golden blip in the timeline of my life. You emerged when I didn’t know I needed you, and like a prince vying for the love of a princess, you proved yourself a hero. Having a friend like you was like falling asleep in a freshly made bed,
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knowing that tomorrow you fly to the tumbling mountains of Tuscany or the mighty, snow kissed glaciers of Iceland for an unprecedented adventure.

Knowing you were a phone call away was like knowing that your childhood stuffed animal, tattered from so many years of playdates and nighttime snuggles, is in your room at home waiting for you to come back from college. You were a constant even though everything about you was always changing your ambition forever driven, your list of accolades forever growing, your life forever grand.

I hate that someone took away my chance to say all this to you. I wish I could look in your blue eyes and say these things to you. Instead, I will tell everyone else.

I am honored to have known Blaze. The heartbeat of his 19 years on this Earth beats like the brightest flame on the august altar of Rome. The river of his life is lined with Spanish candles blazing in a summer breeze and thousands of painted rocks from every person who loved him.

I want his parents, his friends and the whole world to hear that I know Blaze is more than this senseless tragedy. He was an astronaut, an explorer, a scholar and a poet. He wanted to be bold and impressive, and he was. He wanted to stand on the mountaintops, legs tickled by streams of grass, and understand everyone and everything, and he did.

So to you, who has washed onto my shore, taught me so much about myself and changed my world, I can never repay you. All I can say is that I will seek knowledge and kindness for you, and I will live everyday with you branded on my heart. All I can say is that I love you. I loved you then, I love you now,
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and I will love you forever.