So far in this series I’ve looked at how I’ve lost friends due to being weird, to an expanded worldview, to romance, and to babies. Of course, there’s only one way you can ever truly lose a friend for good, and that’s death.
In a way I’ve been lucky as I’m almost 40 and I haven’t lost many friends, while a lot of people I know who are younger have lost many more. I’ve lost a lot of family and perhaps that evens things out as I never had a lot of friends, but was close to my family. I still only have a handful of friends who have lost a parent, while I lost my father 9 years ago. Anyway, the point is we’ve all known suffering and that’s one of the things that unites us all. Back to friends…
There is a tendency among some people to try to make themselves a bigger part of the story when someone else dies, particularly when it is an unexpected or tragic death. I have known three people my age who died unexpectedly. The first two were part of my life, but I’m not about to say we were super close. But, I considered both of them my friends, and as the first two people around my age that I know that died, they will always hold a unique place in my own timeline. The third was a close personal friend of mine.
The first was a girl I went to high school with. Her name was Jody. We had an English class together, one which would introduce me to F. Scott Fitzgerald, which ultimately led me to try to be a writer myself. In the minutes before class started, before the teacher arrived, another student, a very large boy named Justin, who was on the wrestling team, would harass me, often throwing me onto his shoulder and bouncing me up and down so that his shoulder dug into my stomach over and over. I was weak and skinny and afraid to stand up for myself. Jody, a transfer student from Kentucky who sat in front of me, stood up for me and told him to leave me alone. It was the first time anyone really ever did that for me. Not even my sisters ever did that for me. From that day on we were friends. We didn’t hang out outside of school but I looked forward to that class every day and to seeing her. This was in the days before Facebook and so once she graduated I had no way to contact her. Several years went past, in which I thought of her occasionally. One day, while watching the noon WGN news before I was to head into work, there was a story about a young woman whose naked, strangled body was found behind a dumpster in Chicago. It was her. She somehow got into drugs and prostitution and ran afoul of someone with the brutality capable of the most heinous of acts. Glancing around the Internet it appears as if her murder has never been solved. Thank you for what you did for me Jody, you probably thought nothing of it, but it meant more than I can ever say.
The second friend I had who died was when I was at school in Washington DC. His name was Andy. He was from England and really into punk rock music. So much so that I was often intimidated to talk to him, thinking he was too cool for me. I see how ludicrous that is now, and I regret that insecurity, which has held me back my entire life. But since we ran in the same circles we would be in the same place at the same time and occasionally talk and he was always super nice. At some apartment or house party, I can’t remember where or when, the two of us got to talking about how we got into punk rock in the first place and the most important records in our lives, which brought us into the scene, and the community, and all the positive things that came with that sense of being and inclusion. It was a great conversation and afterwords I thought, “This guy is awesome, I hope we can be better friends.” I have no idea on the series of events or when things happened, but I know it wasn’t too much longer after that that the car he was in was rear-ended by a drunk driver, sending him sailing through the windshield, ultimately killing him. That night my roommates and I were partying in our house. Heartbroken over a girl, I was drinking excessively. I put an Alkaline Tree record on and was dancing on top of our coffee table with a butcher knife in my hand covered in fake blood (I was super into “dark” things at the time, but never in a way that hurt anyone or myself). Someone showed up at our house to tell us he was in the hospital and everyone rushed over to see him. I was so drunk there was no way that I could leave the house and because of that I never got to be there for him. I know there is nothing I could have done, but a caring presence is always a positive thing and I couldn’t even do with that because I was so wrapped up in my own suffering. To say I regret that is an understatement. There’s nothing else that can be said about this one. A young life stubbed out by a Georgetown grad student whose blood alcohol content was way over the legal limit, so high that she never even touched the brakes before slamming into their car.
The third friend that I lost was very close to me. His name was Josh and we met in high school. He was a year above me. Josh was an odd fellow, but so was I, so there we were, being oddballs together. We both loved horror movies and metal and they were the two foundational things about our friendship. He had a lot of health problems, none of which he ever discussed with me, and I never found out his cause of death, but I assume that it was related to those issues. He could be rough and abrasive and downright insulting sometimes, but I can still hear his laugh and remember all the good times that we had together. The news of his death came through Facebook, when I was living in Alabama. I don’t remember if his brother posted something about it or a mutual friend, all I remember is that I had a piece of paper on my desk that said “Call Josh.” It had sat there for a while, but things kept coming up and I never ended up calling him, and then it was too late. I had some contact with his parents but never asked what happened, and they never offered. I haven’t found any news reports about it, so I assume his body just couldn’t keep going on and failed him. I miss you Josh, but am glad to have known you, even the times when you drove me bananas.
All of these are reminders of the impermanence of all things, something that would behoove us all to keep in mind every single day. Each and every person that you know and love will die and you will be separated from them. If you are thinking about calling someone, call them. If you’re thinking about reaching out in any way, do it now. Get out of your own head, your own desires, especially for material goods, and connect with the people that you care about. Remember them always and keep them close. Once they’re gone, they’re not coming back. Even if you believe in some form of spirit world, or the afterlife, you will never have that same relationship with them that you have here on earth. Cherish it, remember what’s important, and stop the relentless pursuit of things over people. No one needs a luxury vehicle, no one needs a 72 inch screen TV, no one needs a giant house, but everyone needs people, everyone needs friends, and the only way to ever truly and completely lose a friend is for them to die.