It’s been 20 years.
Today I have my first parent-teacher conference, and I am sure they are going to rave about my amazing daughter. I have no doubt about it. They already do with regularity. She’s fun and easy she is to get along with. She really brightens up the world, and has given me so much perspective on life.
20 years ago today, when I was 15 years old, my best friend died suddenly and in the strangest of ways. He went into cardiac arrest in his mom’s arms. I think the paramedics revived him briefly but I don’t think he ever regained consciousness. If I am not mistaken his last word was “mom.” She told me this story through the most intense tears I had ever seen just days later. The extreme pain and confusion I felt personally at the time was greater than any I had ever felt before, but hers was worse than I could understand. When she said “I know you were his best friend,” her voice was cracking even though she was already crying. This was the first time that that thought of he and I being best friends had occurred to me. It was a natural friendship and we really just always got along.
His death changed me permanently in ways that I used to think made me deeper. That’s literally what I thought, that his death had deepened me as a person. For a long period of time after his death my thoughts were only about him. Not just everyday, but maybe every minute. I did things and saw people and went out but I was usually thinking about Sean, trying to fathom that he was gone forever, or trying to imagine where he was physically. These thoughts went on so ceaselessly that it seemed like part of me became planted in another dimension, and all my decision making and even my well being came from that other side. I could feel things before they happened and I knew I could get as out of control as I wanted and that somehow I would be protected. There was a special kind of magical feeling that I had in all of my thinking and all of my behavior. And this never really went away.
The thing that is striking to me on this day in particular, 2/3/14, is how long it has been. How far removed I am from being 15. Sean and I would get together when I cam home from boarding school and we would hang out a lot. We’d go to the mall and try to find girls. We’d hang out at my house with the group of friends that we had, and we would talk. We would generally talk about girls. He did not believe me that I had had sex. He was really interested in snowboarding, something I had the privilege of doing everyday in boarding school, and he was really interested in playing bass. My last memories of him were from Christmas break 1993. First I remember we would go on long bike rides, and one day I had All Apologies stuck in my head, just the guitar part, and I though that I had come up with it. I was singing it and singing it and kind of bragging, and he couldn’t place where it was from. When we were on the bike path at the beach he finally said “last song of Nirvana.” It was the last song on that album which was still new. Maybe that happened in the summer. One thing that did happen in the winter was we went to see Nirvana at the Forum. And I remember New Years Eve a few nights later. We were just walking around our neighborhood. I broke a friends window, he may have pushed me into it.
My very last memory of seeing him alive was the morning I left to go back to school. We had been drinking the night before. There were four of us there but only he and I were drinking. I remember he had taken a beer out of my fridge and started drinking it. He was fucking with me to see if I would get mad and worried about my family finding out. I didn’t care. I had already begun my drinking career about a year prior. I don’t really remember anything we talked about that night. I do kind of remember the sound of his voice. He had very cool inflections. He had very graceful hands. He was very funny. He could kick my ass, but for some reason I felt like he mostly let me lead in the hierarchy of our group. I don’t know why. But that morning I left all four of us were sleeping in my room. I had to get up early to get on a plane. I gave everyone 5. He was on the top bunk and I gave him 5 last. It was like a handshake-high 5. And he said “later dude.” He was amazing. I walked out of the room and as I shut the door I heard a voice inside my head say “and that was the last time I saw my friend alive.”
I talked to him maybe a couple more times on the phone. The last time I remember talking to him was around the Northridge Earthquake. His apartment had been hit hard and he really tried to convey to me how intense it was. The night I found out he died, 20 years ago today, I heard the phone ring in my dorm. It was late at night. After lights out. The phone rang and rang. As soon as I heard it ringing I knew he was dead. I don’t know why I knew that. I knew it was another friend of ours calling. I acted surprised when my dorm parent came in to get me. I acted surprised when my friend told me over the phone. I acted strange for a long time.
The thing that compelled me to write something about this is how different my life is today. How different it is from how I thought it would be. I’m thinking about how much more life I have had than him. Todays date seems futuristic in a lot of ways. I think about what he and I would think of my life today. I know that we couldn’t really fathom it. I couldn’t explain to us what it’s like to look at my wife in her eyes and the sense of completeness that she can bring to me. I couldn’t explain to us what it’s like to hold my daughter and make her laugh and to hear her laugh. We wouldn’t understand and I don’t know how interested we would be in it. But one thing that I do understand better is how his parents felt when he was gone. I can only imagine it. It the most terrifying part of my day when that thought creeps in.
Soon after he died my mom and I were driving. It was a summer day, I think. Someone had given me a bunch of pictures of Sean and I was going through them in the car. One of the pictures was from the 5th grade talent show. He was lip singing a song. My mom asked “what song was he he singing?”
I said, “this one.” and I turned on the radio and it was playing. On the radio. It was Patience. That was the song he was singing in the picture.
I wonder if we would have grown apart. The odds are. We definitely would have kept in touch, although I don’t know who I would be today if he hadn’t died. I am certain that he death greatly effected the trajectory of my life. The depth of my coolness. He became something so profound to me. He became my link to the other side. He became the guide that brought my consciousness to another dimension, and I have though about him every single day since the day he died, 7,300 days ago.