Sunday, February 12, 2012

Monday Mantra: I Love You

mantra is a sound, syllable, word, or group of words that is considered capable of "creating transformation".

Every Monday I will post a new thought, idea, or focus for the week. When you need a breather from life, when you need a little inspiration, or when you're about to jump over the conference table and strangle your co-worker, remember the mantra.

Monday Mantra: I Love You

Every year at this time I can't help but think of my friend, Ben. I can't help but miss him and wonder what he would be like now as an adult. What he would look like, where life would have taken him, if he would be one step closer to his porch with the rocking chair and the view. I can't help but think about him because that's the only option I have. I can't talk to him, visit him, call him on the phone. I can only remember him, and remember him I will.

The world has been an emptier place since he died. There is a hole that will never be filled because no one will ever be Ben. He was one-of-a-kind and the magic of who he was went with him when he left.

I posted this a year ago, but I wanted to bring it back one more time. This week holds the big day when we buy chocolate and flowers and say "I love you" to all of our significant others. I suggest we say that to everyone we love. Every day, all the time. Don't wait for a holiday to let the people in your life know that you care about them. Tell them now. Tell them often.

To all of the wonderful people in my life: I love you. I am blessed to have you and am thankful for you every single day. I may not have a chance to talk to you all the time or spend as much time with you as I would like, but you are always in my heart. You are always with me.

I'll be by to see you soon, Ben. I miss you. I love you.

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.

Update---> Sorry guys, this is the final version. The old one is what was accidentally posted. My bad or Blogger's bad, really. Or mine. Anyway, I wanted to add some more to the story to really let you see Ben and who he was. There are some edits on the online version vs. what you were emailed.

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Mediocre Renaissance Man said...

First, I love you. I think you're wonderful and a great friend.

I think the phrase, "I love you," is one of the greatest phrases in the world. I want to make sure it is the last thing my wife hears out of me. I never get off the phone without saying it to her, and I never leave her presence without saying it. I say it randomly when we're together, and I say it following "I'm sorry" any time I'm wrong.

For friends I reserve the phrase for my very closest, best and most significant friends. At any given time I have never had more than half a dozen friends whom I truly loved. In a heartbeat I could name them all off because they are always present in my heart. I never forget the friends I love, and I think of them often.

Even though our "in person" times have been limited and brief, your friendship means as much to me as my friendship with my closest coworker here in Maryland. His name is James and I love him. I think he is super awesome.

Some of these awesome friendships go deeper than others (obviously more time together usually translates to deeper friendships), but they are all significant and meaningful to me.

I am truly grateful to know you and have you (through your blog, mostly - though you're pretty great on Twitter too) in my life. The things you share mean something to me, and I am really glad you decided to start doing this blogging thing.

Second, you are really good at heart-felt, human storytelling. My favorite posts from you all contain great stories.

Another awesome post. Thanks!

Mediocre Renaissance Man said...

Of course I forgot to subscribe to the comments. Of course.

Chantelle Says said...

Your comments made my day. They were kind, loving, funny, and wonderful. Thank you, thank you!

I feel incredibly blessed to know you as well, even though it was brief in person. I know what you mean, though, and I must say, you are much better at Twitter than I am!

I really, truly, from the bottom of my heart, appreciate your support around my blog. This was a scary leap to take, but it's been the best leap ever. And you, my dear friend, are one of the reasons why. Thank you!!

Mediocre Renaissance Man said...

No, no. Thank you.