Tuesday, February 15, 2011

I Remember You

"Friends are the family you choose for yourself." - Sicilian Proverb

When I was 16 I got my first job as a Subway Sandwich Artist. Subway taught me more than just how to make an excellent sandwich. It taught me about life, learning to understand all different kinds of people, and how very important friendships are. There I made new friends, learned important life lessons, and met a boy named Ben.

The first time I met him was when I was taking my friend, Jen, over to someone's house. When we arrived, there on the living room floor, passed out face down, was a guy in all black. I looked over at Jen and asked her who the scary guy on the floor was. In his defense, he was taking a nap, but I was kind of sheltered back then and had never met anyone while they were so very seriously passed out napping and also all clothed in black, so scary was my term.

The next day at work this familiar, somewhat goth looking guy walked in. He looked at me, smiled and said, "Hi, Scary Girl."  That was the moment our friendship started along with our new nicknames and over the next three years I got to know the real Ben.

The real Ben would wait for me to get off of work or come and spend the afternoon at the store so I would have some company. The real Ben would tell me jokes and make me laugh. The real Ben always had a smile that would light up the darkest moments. I came to know that the real Ben wasn't just some guy in black, but an amazing, brilliant, kind and loving guy who would leave an impact on me forever.

I remember being at Jen's house one night and seeing him dressed, unexpectedly, in white jeans and a plaid shirt. A first and last where I would see him not in his traditional black clothes. I also remember finding out that one of his favorite artists was Tim McGraw, another shocker since normally he would blast Korn out of my SUV while waiting for me to get off work.

There were the funny moments, like the times he would go jogging with me and Jen when I went through this "I love running" phase. There we would be - me, Jen with the baby in his stroller, and Ben in his black clothes and chains - jogging down the streets. Neither one of them loved running, but they did it for me and it's only now that I truly understand how kind and wonderful they were. Especially Ben. He was always up for anything I wanted to do. One time it was just him and I and some friend of his (also in non-jogging, black, chain hanging clothes) who went for a run and while on this run discovered a tarantula, with which the two of them chased me down the road. I laugh now. I screamed then. But those are great memories - precious memories. Regardless of the day or weather, whenever I wanted to go for a run I could always count on Ben to be there with me. I could count on Ben for a lot of things, actually.

There were the serious moments, like when he had just gotten a new car and we went for a drive to the park. We sat on a bench and he told me what he wanted to do with his life. How one day he wanted a house with a porch and a rocking chair, where he could look out at his grandkids playing in the yard. That same night he followed me home to make sure I made it there safe and sound and in doing so, he cut my mom off in traffic. This did not go over well until I fully explained his intentions to her. From then on she loved him. She still does.

There were also the sweet times, like when I was going to visit one of my best friends in Wisconsin and I was terrified since I had never flown before. The day before I left he brought me flowers and gave me one of his amazing pick-me-up-and-spin-me-around hugs, the likes of which to this day have not been topped.

Then there's the memory of our birthdays when we both turned 17. Mine was two weeks before his and he surprised me with several CD's of my favorite rapper, Eminem. Two weeks later I gave him his gift- a black (of course) Eminem shirt that simply said "Remember Me" on the back. I had debated and debated and debated over getting that shirt for him. I almost didn't, but at the last moment I decided he would love it. It's funny how that moment, so small and insignificant at the time, would later mean so much more.

There's also a memory I can't quite grasp, can't fully remember. I'm pretty sure I've just blocked it out, and that may be for the best, but it still haunts me that I can't remember everything about it. One night we got in a fight in a parking lot over something someone said and I laughed at, when I'm pretty sure I should have done anything but laugh at that moment. You see, when I get nervous I laugh. When I don't know what to say, I laugh. When I have no idea what's going on, I laugh. I am Anthony from Designing Women.

Maybe the fight is even worse than what I do remember, maybe it's not. I can't be certain. At some point we made up, but we were never as close as we had been before. Then again, it had only been a short amount of time that had passed. I guess I always thought we had more of that thing- time. Time to get over it. Time to sort it out. Time for us to get back to being Scary Guy and Scary Girl. Plenty of time for this small blip in our wonderful friendship to pass. Still, I have always felt bad about that moment and if I had the chance to go back in time and change it, I would. Or I would at least have apologized for it better. You see, on February 15th, 2002, Ben died.

I still don't quite know the whole entire situation, whether it was ruled to be murder or not, but that's mostly my fault. I couldn't believe it. I still can't sometimes.Things like that shouldn't happen to people like Ben. People like Ben are meant to live long, wonderful, happy lives. I couldn't even go to the funeral back then. I have dealt with a lot of death in my life but losing someone so young was unbearable. Knowing on top of that, that everything happened only a few houses down from my grandparents, where I most likely was that night, also makes it hard.

If only I had known, if only I had helped somehow. If only, if only...those are always the thoughts that we, who are left behind, plague ourselves with. 

After the funeral Jen took me to his mom's house. She was having a horrible time, understandably. I had met his dad and picked Ben up from his house before, but never met his mom or been inside his home, so I was a little nervous. It was beautiful, as was his red-headed mom who laughed when she saw me and told me she had heard a lot of stories about me. She said Ben had particularly loved my red hair when I'd returned from Wisconsin with it's wild color. I guess maybe I looked a little like her for that small amount of time, and that's a nice thought.

His mom took us upstairs to see his room and on the way up I spotted something I was not expecting. There, framed and hanging on the wall, was his Eminem t-shirt. I gasped and went over to it. His mom came over to me and told me that when she was digging through his closet for funeral clothes she saw it and at that moment she knew what they would put on his tombstone. She didn't know I had given it to him and started crying when I told her about our birthday gift exchange years earlier. She hugged me and told me he loved that shirt, that it was his favorite, and that he wore it all the time.

That one moment killed me and healed me all at the same time. I've always felt bad that I never went to the funeral, never said my goodbyes. On the day of the funeral Jen came to my new job and tried to get me to go, but aside from not wanting to believe the truth, somehow I felt like I didn't deserve to be there. That three years wasn't enough time for a friendship that good, so I didn't go. I felt like maybe I had made it all up, all of it. Thank goodness Jen later made me go to see his mom and thank goodness to this day she's there to reminisce with me. Thank goodness for Jen.

While at his house his mom took us into his bedroom which was my last discovery of the real Ben: a greenish room with fishing wallpaper everywhere. No black, no anything like I imagined, which I really should have expected since he always did surprise me like that. Later, Jen and I went to his grave site and sure enough, on the tombstone was his name with the words "Remember Me".

Him not being here still gets to me. I recall specifically five years after he had died when I had this moment where I had decided he could not be dead. He just couldn't. What if he was just in the witness protection program? That was fine, but being permanently removed from my life forever was not an option. I had the scenario all worked out in my head...

I would somehow bump into him at an airport, unplanned, accidentally, and we would recognize each other. I would start to say his name and he would show me his hands to prove to me it really was him, since he had unique pinkies that were bent just slightly. This would be how I knew, how I knew he was OK. How I knew he was still here.That, of course, could never happen.

To this day when I go home I wave at his old house as I pass it by on the highway and when I can, I go visit him at the cemetery. It makes me feel better knowing he's buried there with my dad and grampa, like he has a little family with him, even if it's just mine.

Ben taught me many things over the three short years that I knew him, but most importantly he taught me two things that I will never let go of.

One day I had asked him why he wore black all the time. He told me it was so that people would make an effort to get to know the real him and not just judge him by what he wore, what he looked like. That was the first lesson. Thanks to Ben, to this day I make it a point to  get to know anyone who dresses or looks differently. As true as it was with him, no one proves to be what they appear.

The second lesson, really the most significant one,  was to always make sure your friends know how important they are to you. The saying, "You never know what you have until it's gone" is true. I had this amazing, wonderful, kind person who will never be replaced. There will never be another Scary Guy. There will never be another Ben.

So, to all of my friends, I want you to know this: You are important to me. I will never fully be able to explain just how important you are. Each and every one of you are wonderful, amazing, talented and unique. There is no one else like you and you cannot be replaced. I am better for knowing you and you have helped make me a better person. Thank you for the memories. Thank you for your friendship. Thank you for everything. I love you.

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Lydia L said...

What caught my attention on this blog was Subway. I cant believe I forgot that you worked there. Life is beautiful haha. All great businesswomen start at Subway... Eat fresh! Anyway. I love this blog because I have never really had a friend like that. My whole life, I have never had a close friend. My closest friend is my husband but that is still different than a friend. Its so sad that he died, but you are so blessed to have had this kind of relationship in your life. His memory truly lives on in you. And, you are such a good friend Melia.

Chantelle Says said...

YOU are such a good friend. And person. What i realized is that I never realized how great that friendship was until it was gone. So look around you now and see them now. You might just realize you have all kinds of great friends like that. :) Love you and congrats on the baby!