I don’t know what real purpose this article serves. The subject of this story isn’t something I ever thought I would be typing up for the site. Reason being that it is not funny. It isn’t funny in the least. But since we are going the whole “emotional, depressing” route this month, I feel that maybe this will be a chance for me to let out something serious. Something that isn’t me being angry about some inane happening, or berating a group of people for whatever differences they may have from me. A chance to really do something different.
I’ll be honest. I’m hoping for a little of the ol’ self-healing through writing thing. That maybe by expressing my feelings and retelling one of the darkest times of my life I can come away feeling… SOMETHING at least somewhat positive. Also I guess it stands as a way to honor one of the brightest souls I have ever had the privilege of encountering in my lifetime. Do you know that type of person? I hope all of you have or will have the opportunity to meet someone as special to you as the person I am going to speak of was to me. Someone that comes in to your life during a depressing period and completely changes your world. Someone that makes you strive to be a better person than you ever would have cared to have been otherwise.
Sadly, it seems that our time with such people is often limited.
Some names will be omitted over the course of this writing. I still keep in touch with the family and friends of the person I am writing about, yet I highly doubt they read this site. If they do, please trust that this is meant to inspire a positive feeling of release from within me, and not meant to be negative in any fashion.
A Fresh Start
That’s what it was billed to me as by my parents. A “fresh start” at everything. To be honest, I wasn’t changing schools because I wanted a “fresh start.” I was changing because for some odd reason by the end of my 10th grade year I was horribly depressed. I didn’t want to go to school, didn’t want to talk to any of my at-the-time friends, and just needed some sort of change. My decision to go to another school was as a means of keeping my sanity, and not because I felt the need to start over.
Of course being the new kid isn’t easy. Especially when you are walking into a classroom full of kids who have been going to school together since kindergarten. So aside from the speculative whispers, oddball stares, and first impression judgements going on, I considered myself lucky that things weren’t worse. I guess for the most part things never got worse, but I ran into the usual obstacle of finding that there were just very few people I had anything in common with. I assumed I would go through the year making friends that I really only talked to for the purpose of passing time, and I would promptly never remember anyone I went to school with again.
But as Fate would have it, I wasn’t the only new person just starting.
I still recall where I was when I first saw her. I was in Chemistry and awaiting the nail-biting act of having a partner assigned to me. All of the other folks in class obviously knew each other and started pairing off without delay. I noticed that the only folks left without partners were… unsavory at best. I mean I pretty much had to pick from the guy who more than likely was still wetting the bed, or a couple of girls who, if I had been partnered with, I would have lived in constant fear of being eaten by. I will forever be thankful that my Chemistry teacher had the idea that two completely new students should probably be put together.
Well, I wasn’t thankful for the first few seconds. I recall rolling my eyes and wondering just what kind of hell I was in for. A moment later all negatives thoughts were silenced when I finally met my partner. She was absolutely beautiful. I will go on record and say I have never seen such a beautiful woman since. That weak in the knees feeling that I never understood, well I understood it clearly at that moment in time. I’d like to tell you I played it cool, but I can’t 100% confirm if I did or not. I’m going to go out on a limb and say I didn’t. I’m imagining worst case scenario. I’m figuring my voice probably cracked 1,000 times. We instantly hit it off. We talked all the way through class, after class, and by lunch we decided we would hang out after school. I could have talked to her forever, and boy I really do hate talking to people. Her voice was nothing short of enchanting. Each word that rolled off her tongue that perfect mix of sweet, sexy, and sincere.
I went over to her home for the first time that evening. Her mother answered the door, and I guess I should have considered our interaction the First Sign. She seemed so shocked that her daughter was actually having someone over. In our brief exchange I had learned that apparently she hadn’t been feeling well at all for awhile, so company was sort of off limits for a long stretch. I do recall hearing the phrase “good spell” when speaking of her health. I probably would have thought into it a bit more, but then she walked down the steps and I started the swooning process all over again.
The Next Few Months
I don’t want to bore you with every little detail, and to be honest it hurts more to talk about the happy times than the sad. We would spend the next few months hanging out whenever possible, at school and outside of school. My entire world revolved around this girl, and that was a little scary for me to realize then. I think if it was anyone else I would have possibly backed off, but something about her just continued to draw me in every single day.
We talked for long stretches on the phone. Let me tell you about my phone usage. I’m the same guy who has 700 minutes on his cell plan but uses roughly 40 every month. I was no different back then. But we would talk for hours upon hours, sometimes about important things and sometimes about nothing at all. As lame as it sounds, sometimes I just liked hearing her breathing on the other line. Yeah, I’m a creeper. As incredibly corny and retch-inducing as it sounds, it just comforted me to know the world had such a good person in it.
One night I recall a conversation that sorta served as the first real tip that something might not be quite right. We were discussing school, and talk of college came up. It was being talked about heavily in my home at the time, and I just wanted the opinion of a peer. When I asked what her plans were for college, I got a very long silence and then an awkward “I’ve got to go” for a reply. A little worrisome, but I made up a million little excuses in my mind as to why she had to go. I think I eventually figured she just had those sort of jitters teenagers get when the end of school is slowly coming within reach and you realize you have to venture out in to the real world soon.
As more time progressed I noticed that she was missing school. Missing it a LOT. When I would call to see how she was doing, it was always the same thing. She was either “not feeling well” or “sleeping.” I was every bit the gossip then that I am now, but I was too respectful to really pry. I just assumed she had shitty luck when it came to health and was probably catching a cold every week or something. Whole lotta denial going on in my head this entire time. But we would still hang out some, though not as much as I would have liked. I would take her homework to her, most of the time having to settle for handing it to her mother and getting the previous work in exchange to turn in. For a stretch of a few months we went from seeing each other daily to once every couple of weeks. Phone calls still happened sorta frequently, but were always brief because she felt like she was going to be sick, or was tired and needed to lay down for awhile. I could feel that ol’ depression creeping back up on me.
I was back at a low.
And At My Door, She Appeared
We hadn’t spoken (on the phone or in person) in a couple of weeks, and at this point in time I wasn’t even sure if she still lived in the same house. I went to deliver her homework one last time and her mother informed me that she appreciates the help but it wouldn’t be necessary any longer. When I asked if she was coming back to school, I was just met with a firm “No.” That was the truth, as she never attended my school again. I could feel the impact instantly. School once again became that place I had to go whether I wanted to or not, with plenty of friends but absolutely nobody I wanted to talk to. There was no hanging out in between classes or after school. It was going from Point A to Point B until my day concluded and I could get the hell out and go home.
I had just gotten home from school one day, and was about to sit down at the computer (and do WHATEVER people did on computers back in the late 90’s), when there was a knock at the door. I got up to answer it, and there she was. After weeks of silence, she stood there smiling that smile that made me completely forget the previous months and all of the depression I felt. What happened next was goddamn oh so welcomed, but completely unexpected. Instead of merely saying hello or hugging, we kissed. Like full blown, puddle of spit forming underneath us (not true), kissed. No clue what motivated her to do so, but I wasn’t complaining. We started heading toward my room, doing that awkward stumbling and knocking over at least one or two items walk folks do when they are kissing and trying to ambulate at the same time. You’ve seen it in every shitty romantic comedy.
We finally managed to make it into my room, and without going into too many trashy details, we had sex. That’s really all I’ll say about it, as I’d feel kind of shitty going into detail. It wasn’t my first time with someone, but I’ll tell you it is the time that has stuck in my head the most over the years. The moment was absolutely amazing. It would be a few minutes later, after the initial period of regaining composure, that I asked her if she wanted to start going out together. I mean, I figure it was a pretty safe bet given the happenings of just a few moments ago. This was when it hit. She was laying on her back, and she proceeded to turn over to face me. There was a seriousness in her eyes the likes of which I had never seen. She opened her mouth and I could only assume that what was coming out was going to change my life for the better.
“No. We can’t date,” was the exact quote.
What the shit, man? I was instantly consumed in a quiet rage that I was able to at least hide. I had to be in a stunned silence for at least 30 seconds or more. I was only able to internally cry. Before I was able to even ask why we couldn’t, she answered for me.
“I have cancer, and I don’t know how much longer I’m going to be around.”
Shoot me in the fucking head. I mean, really? This has to be a joke. But brother, I could look at her and tell that it wasn’t. Tears started to well up in her eyes, as they did in my own. I did the only thing I knew how to do, and from her outstretched arms the only thing in the world that she assumed could help her at the moment. I took hold of her and held her tight up till the point to where she had to go home. It was a moment I wish never had to end, but like everything in life… it did.
The Last Few Months
She knew personally that she wasn’t going to be around for a long time, but I think my friend even underestimated how quickly that goddamned disease would work her over. It was a mere handful of months later and the change was noticeable. I could hear it in her voice, which rarely carried that happy melody to it that I had grown to love so much. I could see it in her eyes, how tired and worn out she was from her chemo, billion doctor visits a week, and just the general fatigue of being so sick all the damn time.
I tried to hang out with her all I could, but she was making it more and more difficult. It was hard enough seeing her so sick, but I still toughened up and spent all the time with her that I could. After all, she was the best friend I had ever had, and the first person in my life that I felt strong feelings for. It was also hard to visit with her because there was a stretch of time where she just didn’t want me there. She didn’t want me to look at her, or touch her, or be around her. She insisted that she had become so incredibly disgusting that she didn’t deserve to have friends or anyone around her. Sadly enough, her list of many friends had dwindled severely as they were just too busy or too freaked out to still interact with her. Aside from her parents I was pretty much all she had. But she still pushed me away for a good while.
I assumed it was just a phase. Just a depression brought on by her lot in life. I was correct, as there came a point in time where she really came around and was seemingly happy again. She was still sick, and from the few updates I got from her mother or from her directly she was not going to be getting better. Anyway, there was a point where she seemed to be doing at least somewhat better. She laughed again, smiled that beautiful smile again, and welcomed me over as often as I could come. We became sort of physical with one another again. We would have sex several more times over the next bit. Though it was still nice just because it was her, I would be incredibly paranoid the entire time.
Seeing her undressed I could really tell for the first time at the toll that had been taken on her. She had lost an incredible amount of weight, and she didn’t have much to lose to begin with. Though she still was amazingly attractive. During our goings-on I remember being so paranoid that I was crushing her, or otherwise going to hurt her in some other manner. I recall not being able to touch her without feeling bones. I’d run my hands along her sides and feel nothing but ribs. I’d run my fingers down her back and could feel every little bit of her spine. If that sounds disgusting, and if it sounds off-putting… you just don’t understand. I can’t be angry at you for not being able to, really. You just had to be there I guess, and you just had to have the kind of feelings I had for her.
Then there was our last day. I think she knew it was going to be. I had no damn clue. She had actually started to look a little better, had a healthier look to her altogether. The last I heard of her prognosis it still wasn’t good, but to sit and talk with her you’d forget that this was a soul not much longer for the world.
Now this is where you really have to excuse me. Our last conversation. Recounting this always brings tears. Here they are right now as I type this. We had spent the entire day together, lazing around watching movies and just enjoying our time together. We laid on her bed watching a movie, when she intertwined her fingers in mine. She told me that she had been thinking a lot, and she finally knew what college she wanted to attend. That she was excited to finally make up her mind and that she hopes that maybe it is one that sounds appealing to me and I could go too. I told her I’d be more than happy to do so. She also said that hopefully in a few months when she is feeling better that we can start going out to do things. I told her I would enjoy that. She then went on a tangent that I could only assume was due to her being delusional or maybe she was just that full of hope. She spoke of the future. Spoke of marriage, and children, and just living a happy and healthy life. She said she would look back on this time in disbelief and just laugh. She thanked me for always being there for her, apologized for the times she pushed me away, and told me she couldn’t see a future without me in it. That I was her best friend. I let her know that she was mine as well. We kissed for a while. For a very long while. Something about it seemed so final, and I would find out soon why that was. The last thing we really spoke about was the upcoming winter. She was too sick to really go out the previous year, and she was excited about going out sledding. I told her of a few places I knew about that were prime sledding spots. She excitedly asked if I would take her, and I told her that of course I would. Her head was on my chest, and I recall her looking up at me and smiling.
And right now if I could stop crying it would be nice so I can just finish this.
There wouldn’t be any sledding for her that winter either. She never made it to winter. She passed away suddenly (or not so suddenly considering how sick she actually was but I blissfully was ignoring) the next day. Her mother said she was violently ill that night, but insisted after awhile that she was okay and just needed to rest. Her mother told me that after she escorted her to bed she was leaving the room when her daughter started laughing. When she asked her what she was laughing about, she told her she was just thinking of a joke she had heard that day that I had told her. Her mother would personally thank me for making her laugh on what would be her last night, and for just being a friend to her in general. That even during the times we weren’t speaking her daughter would go on and on about me.
When You Just Can’t Be Strong
Her funeral was the first I ever attended, and the only one I ever will. I can’t do them. I put on as strong of a show as I could. For her, for her family, and out of that foolish sense of male pride that I have learned can go fuck itself over the years.
Inside I was broken. This was not how life was supposed to be. I was in disbelief that such a beautiful human being could be taken so young. I had realized just how cruel the world really was. Just how pointless it all was. Just how horrible it was to open yourself up. To let down your guard and let someone in. To completely entangle your life with anothers. That futility of loving something that is guaranteed to not always be there.
After I got home from the funeral I went to my room and just sat. I’m fairly certain the sun was up when I sat down, and it was dark when my father stepped into my room. My father has and always will be my idea of what a strong man is. We never had many heart-to-heart conversations, but when he came through with one he made it one for the ages. This was one such night. He told me that he knew I was hurting, and that he could only imagine the hurt he would feel if he was in my situation. He told me that what I had done was such a selfless act, a true act of friendship, and something that he will always be proud of me for.
He also told me that he knew I was doing my best today to be strong for her family. He said that was all good and well, but I couldn’t and shouldn’t keep up that facade. That there was no shame in being emotional, and no shame in breaking down. He told me that he probably gave off the impression over the years that a man shouldn’t cry, and that a man shouldn’t show emotions. He was quick to inform me that just because I didn’t see it, he had his moments just like everyone else. That is when he laid it on me. He told me that no matter how hard of a front you put up, no matter how mighty of a man you think you are, that there are times in a man’s life “when you just can’t be strong.” There was no shame in his words. It was at this moment that I realized that he was right. That I could walk around an emotionless husk for the rest of my life, or I could begin the mourning process. He gave me that 1,000 pound grip on the shoulder, and then walked out of my room, respectfully closing the door… as he knew what was to come.
Not just a few tears running down, but a full-fledged bawl. I cried till my chest hurt, I cried till the act of breathing hurt, I cried till I was literally just going through the motions without any tears. I had lost someone that I felt so strongly for. I had lost someone I loved. Someone that, maybe foolishly since it was such a young age, I think I could have spent the rest of my life with. At the very least someone I wanted in my life for the remainder of it.
I still wish the phone would ring sometime and I’d pick it up to hear her voice. To hear the words dance off her tongue in those melodic tones that just soothe whatever pain you are feeling. I long to feel her embrace again, back when she was healthy and whole, the warmth coming off of her and warming me to my very soul. I wish she was still breathing. I wish she was still laughing. I wish I could see her smile one more time. I don’t know if there is a place for good people to go after they die, I haven’t really come to a conclusion on that aspect of life… or life after death as it were. But if there is such a place, I know she would be there. She lived such a short life, but maybe that is how it was supposed to be. Maybe she was destined for better things and better places.
So, a rare little glimpse at a heartache that would have otherwise stayed hidden. I guess as I type out these last sentences, I have accomplished something maybe. I’ve shed some tears, that is for certain. But I do feel a certain sense of release. I guess even though I’ve cried a billion times over my friend, I still haven’t fully let all of my feelings out. I figure I’m just too stubborn and bottle up too many things, but I’m working on fixing that.
I miss my friend. I do wonder what life would be like if she was still alive. Such only exists in the realm of speculation though, so it is hard to say. I mourn the loss of her life, and I hate the fact that it ended before it even really began. My only hope is that I was able to improve the quality of her life during those troubling times. That maybe something I said, or just holding her hand, or anything on my part made her forget at least briefly about the pain, forget about what was to come, and to forget the cruelty of the world.
I’m done. Don’t really know what else to say. Time to finish this up, proof-read, and send it on in so Depression Month has some more content. But this is more than just content to me. It’s my heart opened up just briefly in remembrance of a friend and in an effort to find some sort of relief. Yeah, gonna send this in and then put my brave face back on and go back out into the world. I’ll try my best day to day to be happy, to be caring, and to be strong.
But you can’t always be.
A Southerner, Billy seems to be the most adult of us all. Especially in that shady, seedy kind of way.
Contact him: firstname.lastname@example.org