Friendship is an interesting thing. The older I get, the more I think about the concept of friendship, and what it really means to be someone’s friend. It feels as though the more I look around, society continues to bastardize the word friend, almost rendering it meaningless. Through the advent of social media, everyone is your friend now, even people you’ve never, and probably will never meet in real life.
I’m sure some will brush this off and say that there’s clearly a difference between OLF (On-Line Friends) and IRLF (In Real Life Friends), and we should all know the difference. But do we know the difference? And furthermore; do we tell those that we hold so close in our hearts as to call them friend, exactly how much they really mean to us? To me, the word friend is power, and should be treated as such..
I’ve been thinking a lot about my life-long friends lately. Friends I met when I was a kid. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older and finding it harder to make friends as an adult. Maybe it’s because I live across the country now, over 3000 miles from those that mean the world to me. Or maybe it’s because I’ve come to realize how little I’ve told my friends how much they mean to me, and have simply taken it for granted in a way. I mean, they’re always going to be there, right…right???
I couldn’t really think of a clever way to segway into the rest of this story, so being the clumsy ass I am, I’m just going to push on through.
I want to tell you a story about a dear friend of mine; Tim, or as I’ve always called him, Timmy.
Timmy and I met in 2nd grade. While Timmy and I never really ran in the same circles, life always brought us back to each other from time to time, and we were always very close. I consider Timmy one of the best friends I ever had.
The sad thing is, like most friends in my life, I don’t think I ever told Timmy how I felt about him. Well, I think it’s high time I change that. So, here is my letter to Timmy:
You know, it’s funny man, for as long as we’ve known each other, we’ve spent very little time actually around each other. But I really wanted to tell you how much the time we have spent together has meant to me, and I also wanted to say thank you.
We don’t really think about it much, but the words thank you can accomplish so much, and can convey more than one could possibly imagine.
Thank you for being one of the first people to be nice to me in elementary school. I think you saw the fear in my eyes when I showed up at a new school where most of you had kind of grown up around each other. You hung out with me on the playground and would always invite me to play games with you at recess.
Thank you for always being the same back then, no matter what. I sadly hit my popular peak in 5th grade, and even though we were in the same class, we didn’t talk so much – that was my fault and I’m sorry.
While I was feeling the joy of being popular you were being labeled as trouble maker, and worse, a lost cause, by the very adults that were supposed to be guiding us, teaching us, nurturing us. No child should be made to feel that way. You would act out in class and had anger issues, but what those adults never understood was all that anger was actually a cry for help. A cry to let others know about the abuse you were seeing at home. The drugs, the alcohol, and worst of all the violence. I knew, because you told me about it when you noticed the telltale signs I tried hard to hide from my own abusive mother.
I think you told me as a way to help me not feel alone, and maybe (hopefully) it helped you too to know you weren’t alone either. You were the only one that knew about my home situation for so many years. You saw me cry. You hugged me when no one was looking, and most of all you helped a weak kid discover some sense of bravery when he desperately needed it the most.
Even at the young age we were then you were so smart. At times it felt like you were a grown up with the way you talked about life. But I guess that happens when you’re forced to grow up the way you did. It’s like you knew life wasn’t going to get any easier for you, and you also knew there was no way I would hack it the way you had to, so you made sure I kept smiling. At least one of us would be able to maintain some sense of youthful joy during our childhood.
Our teen years could not have been more different. My popularity from elementary school gave way to chubby teenage nerdum. I enjoyed acting and performing in drama classes, pretending to be someone else, while you probably wished to be someone else every day. Sure, I had sadness and angst like any other teenager, but nothing compared to what you were going through.
I think the memories of 1995-1997 stand out the most when I think of you. That’s because we saw each other a lot during that time. A friend of yours lived in the same apartment complex as I did, so you were there a lot to hang out or when you and your younger brother needed a place to crash for a while.
We would hang out in the complex courtyard and just talk, sometimes well into the night. You always asked me about me. How I was doing, what my new interests were, who I was hanging out with, making sure I was surrounding myself with the right people. But I was always more fascinated with you. I would sit in awe when listening about all your experiences of living on the streets. But any time I would express any sort of admiration or envy you quickly shut it down, telling me not to envy your life. In reality, I think it was you who envied my boring life.
I remember one of the last late night conversations we had, I shared with you about my depression. You were the first person I ever told. You listened to me talk about my feelings, asked me questions, and gave supportive counsel. But when I shared with you that I been having thoughts about committing suicide you became very stern, almost like an older brother, or father, and said, “Don’t ever talk like that. That’s not you. You have to keep going. Don’t let the bad shit win.” I responded with, “Thanks Timmy.” You always told me you hated it when I called you Timmy, you were Tim. But I think you secretly like it, because it reminded you of where we started our journey, as two little kids. Nevertheless you told me if I called you Timmy again you would beat the shit out of me, almost daring me to do it. I knew you could too. Your hulking muscular frame could have easily destroyed me in seconds, but I said, “Ok….Timmy.”
You just smiled and said, “Good…don’t ever back down.” Then you proceeded to punch me in the arm over and over, all the while laughing while you made my arm feel like hamburger meat. That’s one of the last times I saw you. I left San Diego and joined the Army shortly after. It wouldn’t be until the winter of 1999 that we would connect again; just not the way I would have thought.
I received a letter from my mom one day. In the envelope it contained a newspaper clipping along with a handwritten note that read, “I’m sorry.” The newspaper clipping was a short, throw-away story about a young man who, during the very early morning hours before the daily work commute would start, stepped onto the trolley tracks in Lemon Grove, where he was struck by oncoming trolley, and died instantly. They ruled it a suicide. That young man was you.
I collapsed to the floor after reading the article. I couldn’t believe you were gone. It just didn’t seem real. I didn’t want to believe it. How could you do that after telling me so harshly not to ever give up? How could you stop moving forward? It took me a while, but I eventually realized, just like when we were small, you were telling me the things you wished someone would tell you. I just wish I had known.
I was talking with our friend Sara the other day. I told her I was going to write this. We both talked about how much we loved you, and how special you are to us, and most of all how much we miss you. We both shared our regrets of not focusing on you more, asking you how you felt, what you needed. My biggest regret though is that I never told you any of this. I never told you what you mean to me, or what a good friend you were. I’m not naive to think it would have changed what happened, but I just wish I would have let you know. And for that I am forever sorry my friend.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you,and I will always miss you.
To all my friends, I love you so very much. You are some of the most valuable parts of my life. I promise I will do a better job at telling you…because you deserve to know how valued you are.
September is National Suicide Awareness and Prevention Month. If you or someone you know is possibly in danger of committing suicide, PLEASE, reach out for help. The national hotline number is: 1 (800) 273-8255 and website is:www.SuicidePreventionLifeline.org