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A long goodbye

A month after writing about hope while his best friend was on a ventilator, he comes back to the keyboard one more time

Jared Misner and Alison Schwartz pose for a photo during his wedding in 2018. During the ceremony, Alison read a passage from “The Velveteen Rabbit,” a British children’s book.
Alicia Barrington

For the second time in a month, he sits at his dining room table, his bright smile dulled, to write. Two pit bulls lie at his feet, near his usual chair, the one on the left, closest to the wall behind him. Wearing his deep blue, orange-lettered University of Florida hoodie, Jared Misner shuffles through the many things he’d like to tell the world about his best friend.

The first time he did this, in early April, Alison Schwartz had just been rushed to a New York ICU. He decided to write a piece for Charlotte Magazine to show how the virus had impacted him, and how it can impact anyone. “This can’t be the end of our story,” he wrote to her then. “We haven’t written that yet.”

She’d endured a cough and a fever for most of a month. Jared kept tabs on her throughout from his home in Charlotte, North Carolina, with daily phone calls and text messages. “Sorry I’m being super annoying,” he’d tell her, “but I have to do a temperature check.”

They’d been BFFs since 2008, when they met in Gainesville as incoming freshmen, through friends of friends. By January, she was throwing a party for his 19th birthday — his first-ever surprise party. She arranged it with his mom, who she’d never met. She drove four hours from West Palm Beach to Clearwater where she decorated a park pavilion with pink streamers and balloons and filled it with gifts. She invited his friends and even baked a homemade cookie cake, cementing her reputation as a “terrible cook.”

“It was delightfully, wonderfully, accidentally underbaked,” Jared remembered.

As March passed, Alison seemed to be getting better. He was surprised again when her roommate texted him on April 6, saying she was in the hospital.

By then, temporary morgues were parked around New York. That week, the city authorized crematories to work faster. Video footage showed workers digging mass graves on Hart Island.

But back in Charlotte, Jared wasn’t too worried, even when doctors put her on a ventilator. He was busy picking his favorite memories of her to share her with the world.

A “professional Secret Santa,” he called her, a person who gives year-round. For example, consider the 42-square-foot quilt that now decorates his bedroom, stitched with the 1,450-word vows he exchanged with his husband at their wedding. It arrived a year late, in part because she returned it twice after noticing typos.

More ideas sprung faster than he could tap the keyboard of his black HP. He wrote with her in mind, imagining the tell-all she’d write someday, about her brush with the virus.

She was a big reason he became a writer. His dream of studying environmental law had crumbled in the face of advanced science and math. So Alison encouraged him to apply to the student newspaper, the Independent Florida Alligator, where they ended up working together.

But he couldn’t write everything, so he kept it to essentials. Like how she fostered rabbits in college and spoiled them with yogurt drops, or how she burned a Kate Nash CD for their 2009 road trip to Atlanta. They’d taken three road trips, and planned another, to see the American West. Those trips gave them moments they loved, from late nights out in New Orleans to buying roadside blackberry-pepper jam in Vermont from a woman named Rain.

Essentials be damned, he wanted to say more. About her enthusiasm for pumpkin anything, or her devotion to Taylor Swift, or the writing talent that got her a job at People Magazine. But he didn’t want it to feel like the last word. “Be well, my friend,” he concluded. “We still have those plane tickets to use.”

Alison’s oxygen levels improved, and her ventilator was removed.

Then, she was back on the ventilator.

Then off again.

Then back on it. Every time she slid back in a little deeper.

Her fever soon spiked. Her liver stopped functioning properly and her kidneys faltered, so she needed dialysis. Jared calls that “the day I knew she was going to die.” He curled up in the quilt and called his dogs onto the bed — a rare treat — looking for any reason to smile, to hope, to cope with the inevitable.

The next week, on April 28, the phone rang. Weeping, Alison’s brother, told him that a brain scan showed no neural activity. They had a final family Zoom call before the nurses removed her from life support.

Alison was gone. She was 29 years old.

And so Jared is back at the dining room table, trying to do the thing that Alison believed he could do. Tapping black keys, trying to bleed his love for her onto a page — in 400 words, no less. The end of their story has arrived, and he must write it. He must tell the world who Alison Schwartz was, and why his world will forever be worse without her.