I've lost loved ones in my short time on this earth. None of those losses, however, quite compare to the unexpected and untimely death of one of my oldest friends. I had lost great-grandparents prior to Jason's passing, but I had never experienced something so stunning and life-altering up to that point. My dad lost his best friend when I was very young. I will never be able to get the sound of his sobbing out of my head. I didn't even know what was happening at the time, but I knew it was bad. I had never heard that sound before. Even at my very young age, I felt the pain and anguish in his cries. Twelve years ago, on this day, I heard my dad cry again, as he was telling me my own dear friend had died.
I don't remember the first time I met Jason, as we were babies. Only a few months apart, our mothers had been in high school together. He was one of my first friends, and would continue to be a big part of my life all through school, and after. The four of us, Joanna, Kevin, Jason and I, were a unit, and then Kevin and Joanna left, both of them heading to the same school in Pennsylvania, while Jason and I remained in Hagerstown. We spent a lot of time together in that last year. We were hanging out with the same people. Sometimes, he would come pick me up at 2:00 a.m. and we would ride around for hours, just driving and talking. Everything seems like so long ago, yet at the same time feels like it could have occurred yesterday. Occasionally, I'll forget what his voice sounded like, or what his crushing bear-hugs felt like, and I panic, but it always comes back to me. I figure it's his idea of a joke, taking it away and giving it back just as quickly, and I smile as I hear his laugh in my head. In the grand scheme of things, his presence will have been but a blip, but he was such a big, larger-than-life person, I can't imagine what my life would have been like without him.
Sure, he could be exasperating. I spent my fair share of hours reasoning with him and listening to him complain about one thing or another, but he also logged the same amount of time with me. I'm grateful for every single minute we shared. The day he died, I walked down into his bedroom and my eyes immediately went to the bulletin board hanging on his wall. Tacked up there, along with numerous other pictures, was my senior picture, the back of which I had addressed specifically to him, as is typically the practice with such things. I felt my breath catch, and the wind go out of me. Just a couple weeks prior, I had been in that very room. I don't remember who, but there were a few other people present. At some point, he said to me "Lindsey, look at that bulletin board. You see your picture up there? I will never take that picture down, because we will always be friends". In that moment, I realized that he had kept his promise, but only because he never had the chance to break it.
When someone who has always been there is suddenly gone, someone you had never even entertained the thought of being unable to call at any time, it uproots everything you have ever known. Suddenly, you realize that nothing in life is certain, anything can be taken away in the blink of an eye. Life is constantly changing and veering in directions you never dreamed it would. You have to mourn, but you also have to move on. Your life can't revolve around someone who is no longer there, and that person would never want that for you.
I see my friend everywhere I look...in the snow, on the hills where we used to go sledding; in the cracked marble counter-top at my parent's house; in the number 70. I can't help but smile when I'm at Kroger in New Castle and see the big propane tanks outside the front entrance; or when I eat Velveeta Shells and Cheese, or a frozen pizza; or when I smell cigar smoke; or hear a tornado warning. Even now, 12 years later, I don't think a single day has gone by in which he hasn't crossed my mind, if only briefly. On days like today, I get sad and feel the loss of him down to my very core, but mostly, my memories of him make me smile. Remembering Jason is to be reminded of how fortunate I was to know him for the brief time I did. Rest In Peace, my unforgettable friend.