He

I’d known him for three years before he…

It was the beginning of freshman year in high school when he came over to me while I was sitting alone. He struck up a conversation about something I don’t even remember, and from that day on, he was the closest friend I had. We had three classes in common, and I’m glad that he only sat next to me for one of them because it is very hard to focus with a humorous fool sitting next to you. Naturally, we ate our meals together and, believe me, we had a friend group. This included Amy, the best drawer you’d ever meet, Christen, the activist, and Jared, the debonair actor, among others. I am very confident in saying that we had the most diverse friend group in our school, not only in regards to race. 

We went through struggles together. The solidarity built made us stronger. We were connected through our pain and our achievements. In my sophomore year, I had my first boyfriend. It didn’t last long, but, sure enough, he was there to comfort me when it was over, counseling me the way I could counsel him. Our lives never had a dull moment; our moments together included laughter, tears, and a bit of madness. 

At the end of my junior year, I broke the news to him that I was not going to be with him the following year. I had been granted a scholarship for a year-long pre-college program for gifted students. He, of course, congratulated me and was genuinely happy for my achievement and opportunity. I felt a little rude and guilty for accepting such an incredible opportunity, but he wanted me to have it. I wanted to have it. We assured each other that we would keep in touch.
The first few months were filled with daily texts and weekly calls, but as time went on, the frequency of our contact decreased. A phone call once a week became once a month, then not at all. I was too focused on my schoolwork and my leadership duties I had fallen into. By the time almost all connections had ceased, I was almost done with the program. My former life seemed distant. I was ready to head off to Harvard to get my law degree and be successful. After all, that’s the point of life, right?
I messaged him once in May; he didn’t reply. I know how busy senior year can be, and assumed that he had a lot on his plate, like I did. I didn’t think much about it, but when I saw the graduation pictures on my former roommate’s Facebook wall and didn’t see him in them, I knew something was wrong. I messaged him once again – no answer. I couldn’t fall asleep for the next few nights. Thoughts and blurry memories tore through my head, stealing every possible ounce of sleep and possible moments of happiness.
All it took was one phone call from Christen to break me. He couldn’t have. He wouldn’t. Not him. His life was worth more. Why? I was suspecting something, but I didn’t think we were “like that” anymore. Thoughts and feelings surged my mind until I passed out on the floor, right in the hallway between my Economics and Constitutional Law classrooms. The combination of tiredness, shock, disbelief, and grief was too much for my weak body to handle. When I woke up, I was confused, with vague memories of what had happened. My confused mind with now hazy memories thought it was all a dream. But it wasn’t. Christen’s number in the Recents section of my Phone app proved that.
I could’ve done something. Why didn’t I? Was some stupid “gifted students” program worth my friend’s mental health and life? Why didn’t I say best friend? He was my best friend. Was — the word that haunts me. He was my best friend. He was alive. I was okay. Was.

Despite my decreasing mental health and constant analyzing of every situation and person presented to me for fear of another tragedy, I continued on to attend Harvard Law. Although my grades were less than desirable in my freshman year, they slowly inched back up, leading me to be on the Honor Roll in senior year. When I was on the stage at graduation, smiling into the audience for my proud parents to take pictures of me that they were most likely going to post all over Facebook and send to all my family members, I saw him. I had to have a double-take. Of course, he wasn’t actually there. I was seeing things that I wanted to see.
Currently, I am 27 years old, writing down my story on college-ruled notebook pages while in my office at Burns Law Firm. I’m happy, but that phone call is ingrained in my memory. I have a family, an amazing husband and I’m “successful”. Now could is the word that haunts me. I could have done something. He could have come to my wedding. He could have celebrated with me at my graduation. He could have still been alive, now with a family of his own. Heck, we could have started a family together.
Now tears are streaming down my face as I reminisce in the vastness of this office, which reminds me of how alone we all are or maybe just how alone I am or how alone he was. I’ll never forget. I don’t want to. I can’t.

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