You were lying there in the grass under the cold rain on that November night.
It was a chilly Saturday morning after my first night home for Thanksgiving break. I was hungover, surrounded by college friends, slap-happy with the remnants of last night’s buzz. My phone was across the room where it was charging during the night. When I checked it for the first time that morning around noon, I had dozens of missed calls from family and friends. An ominous black cloud that would soon enslave my mind for the forthcoming week. When I finally called back, that cloud turned to rain. With a racing heart and shaking hands, I walked onto the patio away from all the smiling faces. I turned my back to the glass door so that nobody could see me. And I started crying like a baby.
You know how the song goes.
I wake up and the phone is ringing
Surprised, as it’s early
And that should be a perfect warning
That something’s a problem
To tell the truth I saw it coming
The way you were breathing
But nothing can prepare you for it
The voice on the other end
You called me twice last month. I never answered. I never even texted you back with one of my habitual excuses. I just ignored you. And now you’re gone. I’m sorry. I hope that this post will bring me some sort of spiritual catharsis, because I can’t really think about much else, let alone write, until I get this off my chest.
On that (fateful) evening, I was roughly forty-five minutes away from you. At another bar. With other friends. Laughing about other things. You were drinking with him – a slimy loser that you’d only call if your other friends (me) didn’t answer. You guys were drunk. You were going back to his house, which happened to be in my neighborhood. After close, you stepped into his vehicle. You were so close to home.
He lost control of the wheel. He drove the car off the road. He hit an evergreen tree. You were ejected from the vehicle. You were sent soaring through the windshield of a Mercedes sedan onto the well-kept lawn in the front yard of a suburban home. You were lying there in the prone position. You sustained massive injuries that I do not know the details of. He, the driver, was fine. Unscathed. He did not call the police. He did not call an ambulance for you. He left you there. He left you there, bleeding. He left you there, gasping for air as you experienced your last moments of life. At the moment of collision, the timer had begun as your life faded away like sand trickling down the center of an hourglass. He left you there to die.
The details are still murky. He either walked home or called his scumbag dad to come pick him up. Because he was drunk and didn’t want to get a DUI. Because he probably had weed on him and didn’t want to get charged with possession. He left you there, decided to call his dad instead of an ambulance, because the possibility of insignificant legal concerns were more important than your life.
Meanwhile at my friend’s place, I eventually calmed down and insisted everything was fine. It was not. We went to breakfast, where I enjoyed an omelette and drank two beers and laughed like everything was okay. As you know, denial is the first stage of grief.
After the momentary repression of my sorrow, I began the drive home to your house. The second stage of grief is anger. I listened to “Someone Great” by LCD Soundsystem and “As Tears Go By” from the Rolling Stones. Pain burst through my body as I screamed and punched my steering wheel.
When I finally arrived at your house, disheveled and unshowered and likely smelling of beer, I found a parking spot several houses down amongst the dozens of cars lined up for the occasion. I sat in my car for five minutes gathering myself and mentally preparing for the hell that awaited me behind your front door. When I walked in, my heart sank as I immediately saw your mother and hugged her. Her tears dripped onto my jacket and she held me close with a death grip. I was silent. I didn’t know what to say. As I would soon learn, there is nothing to say. “I’m sorry for your loss? You’re in my thoughts and prayers? I’m here for you?” No. I simply let her cry on my shoulder as I stood there in silence. There are no right words. I finally said, “I love you” before breaking our embrace to face your father.
Your father… man, what a guy. He saw me walking towards him and spread his big arms to welcome yet another mournful encounter. Your father, at six foot two and two hundred fifty plus pounds, shattered my heart. He wept and moaned, “J, you know he loved you. He loved you so much. It was always J this and J that. You guys were the crew. Remember? That was so great. He loved you so much. He told me all the time. He always talked about you, J”.
At this moment, the reality of your loss cracked me in the face with a knockout blow. I cried and hugged your father and again, the only words I could muster were – “I love you. I’m sorry”. Why man. Why are you gone. Why am I here. Why are we doing this. Just fucking why.
I wiped away my tears and stepped down the stairs into your basement, a haven of memories from our childhoods. I hugged my friends. Your friends. Our friends. They were in better shape than I was. They were keeping the mood lighter, but the atmosphere was still clouded by your absence.
After spending a few hours at your house, we regrouped and went to the bar. It’s what you would have wanted, after all. I wish you could have seen it. Everyone was there. Estranged friends who I haven’t spoken to in years. People who I had once considered my brothers, who had since faded to memories behind the tragedy of growing up. School, careers, whatever. We reacquainted ourselves. We smiled. We laughed. We told stories. And God, man… you gave me an unlimited amount of stories that are etched deeply into the vault of my brain. Stories I could never forget, stories that only you could give us, stories I’ll never stop telling. We told more stories, and then we cried. The brief illusion of happiness came and went. We were laughing one minute and tearing up the next as we were remembered why we were gathered at that bar.
It was one of the weirdest nights of my life. I’d be having a positive conversation with a few guys at a table, and see another friend in the corner crying by himself. People I’d never seen cry before. People who have never shown outward emotion. Crying. Sobbing. It comes in waves. One minute I’m good – the next I’m destroyed. It has been a nightmare. Sometimes I can’t breathe.
Dozens of people inside the bar laughing and appearing as if they’re having the time of their lives, periodically walking towards the patio with tears in their eyes to shield the rest of the group from their catastrophic emotional breakdown. I wonder what the bar staff thought.
You’d probably be laughing and saying, “this many people cared about me? Hell yeah”
We do, man. More people miss you than you would have ever expected. We took comfort and solace in the presence of each other. I never wanted to leave. I never wanted to come back to school. I never wanted the night to end, as fucked up as it was. If one positive did come from your passing, it’s that you’ve made me realize who I truly care about. And how much I care about them.
All of our lives we’re pushed away to new cities and schools and jobs. We’re told we need to move on from our high school friends and grow up. Expand. Branch out. All of that bullshit. I did what I was told. I met new friends and kept in regular contact with only a few guys, you being one of them. And now all I want is to crawl back.
I hate myself for missing your phone calls. I hate myself for not calling you back. I hate myself for not talking to you more, when you were one of the three people on this earth to call and talk to me while I was alone here at school. Not to make plans. Not for any reason. Just to talk. And even if I didn’t realize it at the time, that meant the world to me. I do hate myself for not initiating any of those phone calls. I let you down.
But in the midst of this storm, I have one memory, amongst the hundreds of others, that pops into my head every time I think about you. It wasn’t the craziest, nor was it the funniest, and it didn’t even seem like that big of a deal at the time. But now, I know it was. It was our last day together.
It was this past summer, before I came back to school. We went out and got drunk Friday night. We slept at T’s house. Usual stuff. I had plans on this Saturday day to hang out with my girlfriend.
However, during that summer of debauchery, I had a hard time saying no to anything that would result in a good time. We went to get brunch to satiate our hangover with greasy food and a little hair of the dog. I told my girlfriend that I’d be a little late, but I’d be on my way once we were done eating. That didn’t happen, though. You, filled with that fun loving spirit and youthful energy that I now miss, refused to let me leave. I had plans and I think everyone else simply wanted to go home to nap, shower, and recover from the night before. But you somehow convinced us to go back to T’s house and play two-on-two basketball.
I told my girlfriend that I’d be just a little bit later, and she was not pleased. I couldn’t resist spending a couple more hours with you, because I know how badly you wanted me to stay. We ran up and down the court, sweat, and felt like dying. The other two guys didn’t like the idea of mixing alcohol with strenuous physical activity, but you and I were pausing the game to sip on some beers every two minutes.
After playing basketball, hyperthermic and dehydrated, jumping in the pool to cool off (with beers of course) was the only conceivable next step in our day. We swam, dunked each other, did flips of the diving board, talked, and as always, sipped beers throughout the process. Before you know it, I was not in a state to be driving.
We got out of the pool, I called my fuming girlfriend, and told her that I’d be there by dinner time because I needed to sober up. That didn’t happen either. We sat on the back patio, drank, and talked. We caught up, told stories, and simply talked for hours on end. That’s when I realized that I couldn’t leave. It was just the four of us guys, sitting around, drinking and talking for an entire afternoon and evening. Sounds lame, I’m sure. But there is something special about a friendship when you can sit there for hours talking nonstop, never running out of things to say, and never going ten minutes without laughing.
I had completely blown off my girlfriend (my b, hope you understand), my neurotic mother was texting and calling me nonstop, and it seemed like the world was trying to pull me away from you in that backyard. But as I said previously, it was a Saturday. And we all know what Saturdays are for. You reminded me of that each time I stressfully checked my phone. Saturdays are for the boys. And that Saturday was for us.
We ordered pizzas, drank far too much beer, and basked in brotherhood. When nighttime came, we invited some of the girls over, pre-gamed, and went out to the bars. When the bars closed, you and I were not ready to go to bed. We proposed to T that we should drink more and go for a night-swim. He wasn’t about it. In fact, he locked you and I out of his house. Some of the girls were staying at a house in his neighborhood. We called and asked if we could stay there, where we were greeted with more drinks. We sat on that back patio and did what we’d done all day – reminisced on good times and traded ridiculous stories back and forth until five in the morning, when we eventually fell asleep on the floor.
We got drunk Friday, drank with breakfast on Saturday, and didn’t stop until five in the fucking morning. Why? Because you were one of my best friends. And I usually made no effort to express that to you. I never reached out to you like you did to me. I rarely tried to make plans with you. But on that day, for once in my life, I savored every last minute of the beauty of friendship. You were magnetic. You were infectious. You were downright hilarious. I am so thankful that I spent every last minute of that day with you. That day has been tattooed into my memory, forever, along with dozens of others I was lucky enough to experience with you.
I hate that I have to write this. But I do have to. It is now 2018. I’ve written and deleted this post many times. Because I cannot articulate my anger, my sadness, and how much you meant to me. The worst part of this is – I don’t matter. I am insignificant. Because I know that no matter how much pain I have felt, it is a minuscule fraction of what your mother and father feel. Your brother. Your cousins.
I was with them on New Years Eve. Towards the end of the night, we were at the table, smiling and laughing and enjoying the bottle service and libation of the New Year festivities. Then a song came on – “All the Small Things” by Blink 182. Hundreds of people packed into this club, dancing and screaming the lyrics, in a state of drunken bliss. That’s when I pictured you in the crowd along with us – dancing and belting out the lyrics like you used to when this song came on. For a moment, my bubble of happiness burst and I was reminded that there was a void. You were not there. And when that song came on, I looked at your cousin, and amidst the pandemonium, I saw him standing there was a blank face & dead eyes. The same as I was. And I was reminded, yet again, that you are gone and that the little things like a stupid song will always remind me of you.
Things have been better, but that week was a nightmare. Every morning, I woke up hungover and drifted through the day like a ghost, absent and unaware of everything around me because you were the only thing I’d see. Every night, I’d gather with all of our friends and drink. We’d tell stories and comfort each other and distract ourselves from the horror. But every single night that point came where I remembered that you were gone. Whether it was a single tear or a full-on emotional breakdown, every night that sadness stabbed me in heart. Each day, I’d wake up and repeat the process.
But that stage of grieving has passed. And during times of darkness it’s always good to seek wisdom from those wiser than you. As Kurt Vonnegut once said, Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward.
And in the new year, that’s what I will do. I will never stop telling stories about you. And I will never stop laughing. I will never forget the entertainment, friendship, and laughter that you provided me with during your time on earth. It’s bullshit that you’re gone. That you were taken by the hands of some disgusting piece of shit who doesn’t deserve the right to smile or experience any form of joy until the day he expires. That your mother and your father will think about what they could have done differently – every single day of their lives. That your little brother is now an only child. That we will never be able to pregame at T’s with the crew ever again, because it would be incomplete without you.
I’m still trying to wake up.