To the Absent Friend

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| This is the 400th story of Our Life Logs |


To start this off, let’s get some context out of the way. My name is Mark Taylor, I was born in Groton, Massachusetts, in 1997, and I’ve spent most of my life in this state. I went to public school until my first year of middle school, and after that, I left and went to school on an army base. Leaving to go to that school is quite possibly the best decision of my life because it gave me the chance to meet the few people that I still call friends.

One of them was this guy whom I first met in Academic Support. We both had trouble with our grades and were put into the same group. He failed something every so often, or at least it appeared that way since he was in my group, but strangely enough, it never seemed to get him down. He said that even if he failed, he just had to “fail better than he did before,” or something like that.

I thought he was a little weird at first.

Growing up I was shy and never had many friends, but he was patient with me. He made me feel confident when I spoke. Not only that, once he knew what my interests were, he helped me to get into clubs and find a way to connect to other people. He was a truly kind soul, and he made me feel like everything could be alright.

So, despite all the crap over the next several years, my life turned out to be alright. I graduated high school and went on to college. It’s funny how friends can hold your otherwise shitty life together.

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I was in my first year of college, winter break had just started. Now, most people my age love the holidays and I get why. They get to go home, be with their families and friends, and have a good time.

I didn’t have that. When it comes to families, I did have mine, but I felt like things always went wrong. It felt as if both my parents had false expectations and bad memories, and that didn’t exactly build up a “holiday spirit” environment. And as for friends…well, you already know that I’d never had an abundance of such.

So, every time I left school for the holiday, I would essentially stay home and do my best to not think about my own existence.

This time though, something unexpected happened.

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It was December. Just a few days before I was supposed to go home for the break, I got a message. My friend, whom I mentioned at the beginning of this story and whom I’d kept some contact to through Facebook, asked me if I’d wanted to hang out. We were both fans of this comedy show and a new season had just wrapped up. The two of us had been so preoccupied that we’d let it slip by without watching an episode. So, he invited me over during the break so that we could binge on the season together and catch up on each other’s lives.

I was a bit nervous, as I was socially awkward, but either way, I wanted to spend some time with a friend for a change.

About a week later, the day after I arrived home, I went out shopping with my father. We ended up being out the whole day until I’d finally settled on a gift for my little sister. The sky had turned dark and the ground was covered in snow that sloshed around my boots as I got into the car.

I remember sitting in the passenger seat beside my father, talking to him about something funny that I’d seen, when his phone rang. I stopped talking so that he could hear whoever was on the other end, and when he turned back to me, the look on his face told me that something was wrong, and it made my stomach twist.

He said a name and asked me if I knew that person. It was the name of the friend that I’d made plans with.

“Yeah, I know him, why?”

“I’m sorry, but, he’s dead. He died two days ago.”

And suddenly everything felt distant. It felt unreal. I didn’t believe it, I didn’t want to, I didn’t even know what to say.

• • •

The ride back home was quiet. It felt as if someone had just ripped the energy from my body and all I could do was sit there in that seat and think about what I’d just heard. When I got home, my mother gave me a hug, told me how sorry she was, and then I was on my own.

I went online, trying to find out what had happened. A person told me that my friend had fallen off the roof. Another told me that he’d committed suicide—that simply wasn’t an option for me. I knew him, and I knew that suicide wasn’t in him. But then I considered how everyone says that about everyone who commits suicide, and I felt as if my guts writhed inside of me.

I sat in my room for a while. I felt so lost that I wasn’t even sure what I was supposed to feel. Angry? Sad? Despair? At the moment, all I could manage to feel was hollow. And I still didn’t know what to say.

And then I said to myself, “Screw it.”

I decided to do what I’d always do when it felt like everything had gone wrong: I got off my ass and went to work. The school that my friend and I went to had a large boulder in the front yard. Over the years, people had colored it with spray paint. I decided to put something on it for my friend.

I went out to the garage and grabbed spray paint. Another classmate messaged me and decided to join. So, we went together to the school and put what we wanted onto the rock: my friend’s name followed by the words, “A Good Man, a Great Friend.”

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To my friend.

The golden words almost shined off the black rock while we stood there in the snow and pointed our flashlights at it. One last bow to a friend who managed to shine a light on my life even in the darker times.

After that, we drove back. I dropped off my classmate and went home.

• • •

I don’t remember much of what I did afterward on that day. But I do remember two key moments. The first revolved around the letter I wrote, something I sent off on social media to talk to other students, to get some kind of dialogue going since I was still struggling with what to say.

The second was the moment when I prayed. I’m not a religious person, not by any stretch, but when things went this wrong, I found myself looking for someone to talk to. Or really, I guess I was just so terrified that all I could do was speak and hope that there was someone on the other end listening. I begged anyone who was listening to take care of my friend, to be kind to him, and to share the hope that I had that, wherever he was, he was happy. And if he wasn’t, I told them that I would make them pay.

Then I said my goodbye, almost as if I was hoping that he could hear it.

“You were one of the best friends that I ever had, and you were one of the best people I’d ever met in my life. You will always be my friend. I don’t know what comes next but I hope that you’re happy, and I hope that we’ll meet again. Goodbye, my friend.”

• • •

I went online a few more times over the coming days. I wanted to know everything I could, and thankfully I learned that it hadn’t been suicide. I admit, that news was welcomed, but even still, it barely made anything feel better. Either way, I was never going to see him again, never going to talk to him again, and everything I enjoyed felt like something he had been cheated out of by fate.

I couldn’t help but to think back on the times I’d spent with my friend. I found myself flashing back a lot to the times we’d shared in high school, talking about manga and anime, both of which were things that he’d helped me to get into in the first place. Both of which are now interests that I’ll probably carry with me for the rest of my life.

Anyway, after all of that, I ended up shutting myself off. Not all that different from a regular holiday, really.

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Towards the end of break, my parents suggested that I go visit some old classmates instead of shutting myself off in my room all day. It made sense. My high school has a returning students’ day, where people who’ve come home from college can gather and catch up.

I figured that I might as well, at least it would be a change from what had become my regular routine: wake up at noon, eat, watch videos online until it was 5 AM, blackout, and then start the cycle all over again. Rinse and repeat. I’d done this for so long that the days had actually started blending together. I decided to go.

When I got there, I saw that the usual signs to direct returning students weren’t there. Instead, I saw signs that said, “Support Group.” The school was offering grief counseling to the people who knew my friend. My parents tricked me. I was tempted to turn and leave. But then…I just walked in.

I was greeted by a few teachers and some students. This was where things got weird for me. In my honest opinion of myself, I was just kind of an asshole who did whatever he felt was right, and yet here these people were coming up to me…and thanked me. They thanked me for what I did on the rock, for what I’d written.

I stayed there for a while, we talked, and I opened up: how my friend and I met and became close, how he helped me, and all that. It felt like I was gutting myself as I let out everything that was held inside me. It broke my heart that he was gone. We always thought there was going to be more time.

All things considered, the day was well spent. We all talked for hours, shared stories, and helped one another the best we could. And there was a moment when I realized something: though gone, my friend was still bringing people together, and that was so him.

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Still, my grief lingered as life went on. I thought about my friend all the time. Everything I got to enjoy was something that he was missing out on, and that tore me up inside. I felt like he could have been doing so much more if it was him standing on the earth instead of me.

In the time before my friend died, I had just been trying to get by. Really that was it. I just had to do enough to get good enough grades so that I could pass my classes and so I could work my way through to getting my degree in electrical engineering. Nothing mattered. I was simply doing what I could to make my way to a job that could earn me money.

But after his death, all that suddenly felt meaningless. What was the point in making it to that end if the entire journey there was nothing but settling and wasting opportunities?

So, I made a big decision. I changed my major from electrical engineering to English—something that I truly loved. And I’ve never looked back. I was done with simply existing. No more “just getting by.”

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Something to admit, even years after all this, I still think about my friend. However, now it’s not the same. Now I don’t tear myself apart over it. I think about him when I try to be a better version of myself, and when I get things right, it makes me feel a sense of pride.

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This is the story of Mark Taylor

Mark grew up in Massachusetts and went to school on an army base in middle and high school. After years of feeling like an outsider, Mark met a classmate who genuinely wanted to be his friend. While in college, Mark found out that his friend died in a sudden accident. In his grief, Mark decided to honor his friend with the way he continued living. These days, Mark is working on a book series about futuristic mercenaries who have been stranded in an alternate dimension. It’s chocked-full of horrors that they’ll have to overcome. He’s currently on his fourth book in the series. Mark is unsure where his future will take him, but he’s ready to face whatever comes his way.

 

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This story first touched our hearts on August 7, 2019.

| Writer: Mark Taylor | Editor: MJ |

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To protect the privacy of the storyteller and those involved in this retelling, some of the names may have been changed. (1)

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