It was ten o’clock on a Tuesday night. I had just turned off my lamp, added my last witty remark to our nightly group text, and was ready to turn in for the night. Less than 10 minutes later I heard my phone ring; I turned over to see my best friend’s name appear on the screen. I ignored it, as I am prone to do, and let it ring out loud and clear into my quiet night. She called back. Then again. And again.
Eventually the text messages started coming in, “Answer me. It’s an emergency.” Other friends started calling. And texting. “Call me.” “This is important.” “Where are you?” “Have you talked to her?”
I rolled over and closed my eyes. I knew what was wrong, I didn’t need to hear the exact words out of someone’s mouth. At this point it’s become such a staple in my life I know the signs almost instantaneously: someone we knew had died. I drifted soundly to sleep, knowing full and well I would deal with it in the morning. The morning that always comes for me, but not for too many of the ones I love.
The first time this happened was December 22, 2010. My good friend John had passed unexpectedly, and at the ripe age of 19 this was the first loss I had ever experienced in my life. Christmas sucked that year, and the following, because how on earth can you celebrate at a time like that?
Me and my friends huddled close, breaking down in strange places at the odd chord of a Fleetwood Mac song. I remember wandering the mall only two days after and eating disgusting things like Showmars fried fish filet sandwiches because we didn’t know what the right way to grieve was. I know now there never is a right way, and that way was ok too, because at that point you do whatever you can to wake up in the morning. I miss John, I miss him a lot.
Then there was Charlie, the happiest person I ever met which made it even sadder. I found out in a text message in the middle of my Honors 501 Economics class; everyone thought I was crying over my exam results, and I let them believe it. Friends turned to me and asked how I handled this with John, to which the only appropriate response was a shoulder shrug. We got inappropriately drunk after that funeral, racking up a $1,000 bar tab because that’s what 20 year olds do when they can’t handle reality.
The absolute worst was Salvador, a drawn out process involving life support and too much hope on my end. This was someone I spoke to every single day, and who’s trip to the hospital I had traumatically been a part of. I’ve never really been the same since Sal passed, and I carry a deep wound at the loss of such an amazing person. I locked myself in my room for over 48 hours after I found out, crying in the dark while listening to sad James Taylor songs on repeat. I had to deal with increasing phone call check-ins from my mom and best friends living out of town. They were worried I wasn’t going to be ok. I really wasn’t.
There was also Michael. And Stedman. And Hollis. Great-grandparents. My extraordinary grandfather. A laundry list of funerals attended in a span of 4 years.
A list this long is one that belongs to a different generation; it belongs to someone nearing 80 years old, who has watched dear friends die because of cancer, Lou Gherig’s, and all the other diseases older people can’t always fight. But no, this list belongs a 23-year-old. This list belongs to me.
The one bit of solace I can really take in all of this is that I’m not alone. My 5 best friends all carry a list this long — if not longer for a few. It’s strange right? Like we’re our own club of sad young people trying to figure out what the hell went so wrong.
I was great friends with these people before any of this ever happened to us, but of course there is a bond there now that cannot be explained. You can be sympathetic to our club, certainly, but you’ll never really get it until it happens to you. And then it happens to you again. And again. Membership is granted once you start to live with the looming nightmare that any of the troubled souls around you could be gone in an unassuming instant. I wouldn’t wish that feeling on even my worst enemy.
And yet in that fear, we have all received one of the greatest gifts that I wish more people understood. It’s the gift of understanding, the knowledge that perhaps these kind of things happens for some insane reason we haven’t figure out yet. And that it’s ok. It’s knowing that absolutely none of the stupid stuff matters. It’s acknowledging that even though your coworker is talking about you behind you back, the garbage disposal is broken, that guy never called you back, and you could stand to lose 10 pounds but none of that matters.
Joining the club has allowed me to grasp that there are just bigger things out there, and I can control only so little. I’m not some wise old soul, but I know that sweating the small stuff or regretting something that makes you happy is no way to live life. I know that the people I love, and that love me, are what truly do matter. That long list of mine? They all lived like that. They all died like that. They taught me that.
I finally called my best friend back at seven the next morning. It was a scary dial, and took a few deep breaths and sips of coffee to muster the courage. It turns out her boyfriend had died, the love of her life, in a brutal, troubling accident. I never met the kid, but I felt like I knew him through countless stories she had told me and lots of Facebook stalking. “Why us?” I thought to myself, “Why is it always us?”
I gave my condolences, sent some flowers, and have begun the workings of helping my best friend heal. I reminded her there will be hard days and bad weeks ahead, but she’ll make it through. She’s a member of the club, and has been for a while. Life will continue and more mornings will come. You might never always believe it but…we’re all going to be ok.