If I had to pinpoint a culprit, it definitely was the fifth glass of pinot noir I consumed the night I drunk friended my ex boyfriend on Facebook. Choosing to do so was a decision of unfathomable consequences. I had just graduated from undergrad, as had he, and I thought that in this phase of our lives where we were within a 20 mile radius of each other (in a city much bigger than the one we grew up in); we could be friends. And we did become friends again, for seven bittersweet months. Those seven months broke me down and built me back up; teaching me so much about loss, love, and friendship.
At the time I’d friended him, we hadn’t spoken for six years. I largely blame this on the fact that I was an incredibly naive teenager, unaware of how my words, actions and thoughts that I hardly kept to myself affected those around me, and he was very much a casualty of that. I hadn’t really thought much about him until he showed up on Facebook’s ultimate jedi mind trick, the “People You May Know” section. The amount of liquid courage I’d consumed that evening meant I was more than willing to call Facebook’s bluff and hit “add friend.” The next morning, when I awoke to “(Name Withheld) has accepted your friend request,” I decided to keep playing and see if he wanted to meet and catch up. We did, and it was wonderful. It was like meeting him for the first time all over again. To be clear, my persistence was a genuine attempt at friendship. Now, in my twenties, I thought I had been blessed with the social graces to make it right. And that was what I exactly intended on doing. Until July 21st, the day that would become the ultimate game changer.
I was home visiting my parents, and the terrible news reached us that (Name Withheld)’s little brother had died in a tragic accident. He was just 19. The same age as my little brother. It’s stunning how fast news travels in a small town. The news was out, and I felt my insides crumpling themselves up into a ball of horror and disbelief. Just then, I felt my phone buzz in my pocket. A text message. From him. “I’m coming home. My brother passed away.” I responded almost instantly, “I know, I just heard. I’m so sorry. If you need anything let me know.” And to my surprise, a response flashed across the screen, “ I’d like to see you. Could you come over?” Retrospectively, I had a choice, though instinct told me I didn’t. I could have said no. Instead, I pushed my reservations aside, and that evening drove the 10 minutes it takes to get from my house to his.
The entire way there, I forced myself to compartmentalize the six years of silence between us, and the fact that we were still very much strangers. When I parked, he was waiting at the end of his driveway for me. Without a word I crossed the space between us and just threw my arms around him. I felt him sigh and I felt the weight of his sorrow. “I am so, so sorry,” I whispered. He hugged me tighter and we just stood there , hugging for ages, in his dimly lit driveway. That moment taught me so much about loss, and the mercilessness of its destruction. I’d experienced loss, but never something as earth shattering as the death of an immediate family member. Being there that night and the following week, for him and his family, to this day, despite how things ended up between him and I, is not something I regret. I stand by my decision to support him that night, because that was the evening the importance of putting others before myself became overwhelmingly clear. And if I had to do it over again, I’d be there hugging him in his driveway, every single time.
The week leading up to the memorial held many moments that were particularly poignant, and strengthened our seemingly instant friendship. The first, the day we planted flowers together at his house. After planting we went on a walk to take his mind off things, and we found ourselves at a bus stop outside his old high school. I put my hand on his shoulder to comfort him, and he laid his head on my shoulder. We didn’t say anything. Just sat there, until he felt ready to walk home. The second, the night we said goodbye in the parking lot of the local bars we’d been at that night. We hugged and he shared with me the pressure he’d felt having to write his brother’s obituary. I looked him straight in the eyes and told him it was beautifully written (and it was), that his brother loved him very much, and that I did too. What I’d meant was not a romantic love, but a selfless one. The kind that allows you to put someone before yourself, and you want with your entire being for them to get better. This was the first time I’d experienced it, and it both humbled and terrified me to feel something so strongly for someone I was just getting to know all over again.
The rest of summer came and went, and I returned to the city to attend graduate school. He and I stayed in touch, had meals, and once drove home together for a weekend to visit our families. He ended up leaving school to take some time to heal, and while I understood his decision, that was when our insta friendship began to deteriorate. I admit fully that I did not handle this gracefully, failing to accept that he needed time, and space. I was no longer going to be a part of the healing process. I was selfish. Our feelings towards each other had gotten pretty crossed too. It was impossible at times to draw the lines between just being there for him as a friend, and the potentiality of something more. Tragedy does strange things to people. Under the weight of my graduate program, and social pressures and my work with children that required me to be extra cheerful all the time, I began to crack. He saw it, and I saw it. And after that there was no going back.
Months of silence passed before I passive aggressively ruined whatever was left of our friendship, making me a bitter shell of the person I’d used to be. I was resentful towards him, and he was just resentful, period. “We’re not friends anymore,” he said. I didn’t fight, and I didn’t scream and curse him for using me; because it had always been my choice. My choice to be there for him, and my choice to act selfish, ultimately failing at the one thing I’d always wanted to be to him; a good friend. It wasn’t about me. It wasn’t about him and I. It was about the loss of an incredibly bright young man who had met his untimely end on July 21, 2012. A loss that everyone must deal with in their own way, on their own terms. If I had to do it over again, I would still choose to be there for him. But I’d let him go and deal with it the way he needed to. You cannot save people from their darkness, you must let them face it and help when asked. To this day, he and I cease to exist to one another. When someone says our names together, I flinch a little from the pain of remembering. Though, I also remember a lesson on failure, a lesson I learned from him, the day we walked back from the bus stop, “You know, everyone thinks of failure as something that’s final, you know, but I see failure as just another shot at getting it right.” Someday, I hope I do.