Going On the Death of a Friend
The Death of My Best Friend and Going On
It was the summer of 1994, I had turned eighteen that year and was working for the school district in a small town called Phoenix in Southern Oregon as a ground maintenance man. I had turned to faith after struggling to overcome a drug addiction that I had battled with for over a year after moving to Oregon from Los Angeles with my family. I was content living with my parents in an old farm house they rented off the main highway at the edge of town. It was a totally different way of life then what I had known in Southern California, The house was over a hundred years old and had pealing green and white paint with a wrap around porch and an old aged porch swing near the front door by the large bay window that looked out to the highway. I spent my evenings reading astronomy magazines or scripture to try and better myself and keep myself out of trouble.
I knew who I was and where I was going. Oregon was a place that it seemed time had forgotten, the emerald greens that cascaded across the landscape filled my soul with utter delight and an almost soluble beauty that shouted for life to slow down and take a seat to enjoy all that life had to offer. It was larger then life with shimmering lakes and ponds, forests thick with ferns and creeks, I thought this was the closest to heaven I would come to in this life.
I had gained much of my old self back from the point where my life a taken a downward turn with drugs. My former existence was spent in trying to score money for what ever kind of drug my friend and I could find. We had committed many crimes in our teens, so much dismay and I felt the guilt that came with all those things I had done not even two years prior. I was in emotional pain before I moved and I knew I was either going to end up dead, or in prison if I were to stay in Los Angeles. But I was shedding my skin, leaving that old life to rot where I left it and to start a new life with responsibility and new friends. The world seemed brighter for me and my way was clear.
I was still tethered though to my best friend. So much can be said here about our experiences together but I will sum them up for the sake of time... we were like brothers. We had committed so much together, always we were side by side like sidekicks and it was painful to move away from him when we did. I felt obligated to him, he and I had a connection that many veterans of war talk about when they are faced with life threatening situations. The connection was much the same for us. We had faced death, run from police, fought together side by side, and always we had escaped by the narrowest of margins. Fear, hiding, bolstered by the arrogance of youth and ignorance with the feeling that we were immortal. This was our downfall, for we had no fear of consequence and no real forethought to our rashness and actions. But in the back of our minds we knew that it was only a matter of time before those things would one day come back to haunt us.
My friend was two years my junior, though he was larger in height with the muscle and build of a man in his twenties. He had turned turned sixteen the summer of 94, just a kid still... now that I am older I can see just how young we really were. A letter had come in the mail from him and I was excited to see that he had saved enough money doing odd jobs to buy a plane ticket to come stay with us up in Oregon for a week. I knew then that I could repay my debt to him and show him that he could change his life as well, that those things that haunted our dreams could go away if we so wanted them to be forgotten.
He arrived two weeks after I'd received his letter. We spent that week together almost every waking hour that I was not working. We sat up at night talking, we took walks down the highway to the hamburger joint called Adams to flirt with a girl named Ezra that worked there. We harrassed her for chocolate banana malts, and gorged our hearts out on fries and double cheese burgers. The entire time we never spoke a single word of drugs or of life as it had been down in Southern California. It seemed that life was going to be okay for the both of us and I could feel my friends permeable glee that he was with me. We fished the ponds out at the sports park from the back of my father's jeep. We had a contest to see who could finish our one pound awesome burger first at the local truck stop called Withams and we talked of girls and of things most teens I fathom still talk about today. It seemed that we had become the boys we had once been before our addictions had taken us away from who we really were. I could see the same peace that had taken me when I moved to Oregon filling my friend till his cup had run over with joy and happiness.
The night before he was to leave he came to me. We sat out on the porch of my parents house and talked about him going home and it was then my friend turned to me and said, "Sean I can't believe you got baptized." I nodded in agreement, "Yeah me either." I responded with a chuckle. He then turned to me and said, "Dude, you changed so much bro, why'd you change so much?" I didn't know how to respond so I just said, "I didn't want to have that sort of life man, it wasn't good, I hated being so scared." He shook his head in agreement and then he broke down shaking his head, "Sean, I need to talk to you, I need your help man." He then confessed to me all the events that had followed since I had left him down there in Los Angeles. The pain that filled my friend from deep within his heart was breaking him to the point of no return. Tears ran down his cheeks as he asked me for help. I could do little to ease what he was feeling inside. I knelt at his side and took his hand in mine and began to pray that he would be forgiven and that he could have the strength to forgive himself for all the pain and suffering he had caused and that we had caused others together, I asked that we be free of our pain and that those we'd hurt be healed and free as well. He sobbed at my words and I held him in my arms trying to find a way to say the right words that would bring my friend back from the precipice he now stood upon. I could feel a tangible fear in his shuddering body. Then there seemed to be some hope in him. His sobs ceased, his composure regained he stood and smiled. We embraced like brothers do, our arms in strength and in the knowing that we had beaten back a demon much more powerful than ourselves.
That next day he did a victory dance as he walked to board his plane home. I watched him as he walked up the staircase to his flight and he turned to wave goodbye to me. That was the last time I'd see my friend alive.
It was a week later when we got the call. I was upstairs getting ready to head out to work. It was four AM and I needed to be at work by five. I came down the stairs ready to take a shower when I saw my parents on the couch in their night clothing. They had been talking to my friends mother on the phone. My mother's tears streamed down her face her hand shaking over her mouth, my father only shook his head. It was my father who told me that my friend had died that night. "Sean", he asked, "why would Brent's mom call this early?" I looked at my father quizzically. "She wouldn't call, why is that who is on the phone?" I asked. My father looked at me with saddness in his eyes. "Sean, why would she call?" He asked again. My mind shrank back inside and began to spin. "Either Brent has run away and is in trouble and is coming here, or he's dead." My words failed me at the end of the statement and I turned to go into the bathroom and take a shower. My father's voice trailed behind me as I heard him say, "I'm sorry Sean."
I couldn't accept the news. I washed and tried not to think about what I had been told. I tried to act as though I had never heard my father's words. I pushed my thoughts down inside as though I were on automatic pilot I brushed my teeth and put on my clothes, then as I came out dressed and ready for work I went to my father and asked him to take me to work. He shook his head, my mother sobbed and my brothers and sister were now in the living room all crying. I asked my father again to take me to work and he came and held me tighter than he had in my entire life. I pushed him away, "No it isn't true, he's fine, I don't believe it! Dad take me to work!" My father sat down and held his head in his hands. I was the only person not in tears. I walked out the back porch and out towards the jeep and it suddenly hit me when I came to the spot I had prayed with my friend that week before. My friend was gone. A great void suddenly opened up inside me and I fell to my knees, my fingers gripped into the palms of my hands as I punched at the ground. "No! No! No!" was all I could say as the tears relinquished and I wept for the loss of my best friend.
Two days later I was back in Los Angeles with my brother and my father. So much had happened and so much seemed left undone. The death of someone so young takes it's toll on so many. My friend's father came to me and spoke to me about him, he talked to me as if I were him. I could only nod and respond in ways that I knew he would have wanted my friend to. I felt his loss, so great a pit that nothing in this world would ever fill it. His mother came to me and told me about how he had changed in the week that he had come home. Staying home at night working to get more money to come up at Christmas to spend his break with his best friend in the world. He had taken down his music posters, cleaned up his room, and even helped his father trim back the trees in his backyard. It was as if the same peace I was given was spread to him before he died.
I look back now at how tragic the events were that lead to his passing. But I see now that in the days that followed my friend had found peace, he had found that he was not who he thought he was, that he could be what ever he wanted. I loved him as a brother, I love him still. So many years have passed now but even as I wrote this tears still welled in my eyes for the loss of my best friend, but I also know that my life is not yet complete. I have three children now, and I have made many mistakes since those days of my youth but that is life and I have much of it left to live. I am grateful that I had that time with my friend, that I was able to touch his life in a way that may have helped his passing and I will always have those memories of his smile, of our time as friends, and that feeling of brotherhood we shared together.