When a friend dies, at this age, unexpectedly, it feels like a mistake. Like the kind of thing you call in tomorrow and get fixed — an incorrect cable charge, or a return that hasn’t been processed. You have proof that they’re still alive: you just saw them last weekend, their Facebook profile is still active (they just checked in yesterday!), and you see photo after photo of them happy and alive…living. It’s a mistake. You’ll call someone tomorrow. Get it fixed.
It’s a different thing at this age. I had a classmate die when I was younger, and I remember it being devastating in a surface-level way. Like, I cried a bunch, but I couldn’t have told you one detail about his life besides the fact that he hacked the shit out of me at basketball practice. I was more crying at the idea of death than I was actually mourning someone.
When someone dies later, at say, forty or fifty, after they’ve married and have kids, it’s tragic. When they die at eighty, it’s expected. But when they die now? It’s like a glitch.
When a friend dies, you remember the drunken nights with a nostalgic glow, like the time he was so drunk at the bar he danced alone with the Megatouch machine (for balance) until he tore his ACL. Thats right, torn ACL. From dancing. And you remember the time you that toasted his blue-collar hometown; he screamed its name like a Viking-conqueror and smashed a glass over his head. We couldn’t stop recreating the moment the next day (and always), and he could only sheepishly smile, embarrassed, bandaged, but God, what a night. And you remember the days, too, like when he hid in the Pledge Dorm, sitting in the window, huffing cigarettes, staring out as the sleep deprivation and hunger and cleaning and push-ups got to him, and when you came up with a pilfered plate full of food. He smiled and asked you to make him laugh. You did your best. And you remember how he loved the song “Glory Days,” and, well, who doesn’t like “Glory Days?” But that was what was so awesome about it – one of the most famous songs by one of the most famous songwriters in history, and he acted as if it was his own personal anthem, going apeshit and thanking the DJ like he just played one of the deep cuts. That floppy-haired goofball had a pooka shell necklace on the first time I met him. Bid night. Shit.
When a friend dies, jokes about dicks and frats and babes all feel simultaneously cheap and integral. A bunch of thin threads weaving us together, killing the silence, putting us at ease, and becoming the baskets we lay our friendships in. You talk about pointless, dumb shit because that’s the most important shit to talk about, the absurdities of life practically acting as a celebration of how fleeting it all is. (Who did you sleep with last night? How much did you spend at the bar? Why is your face covered in sperm? Oh it’s mayo? That’s gross. Yes, more gross than sperm.) In the context of death, it all feels a bit magical, those moments you sat in your boxers and waxed idiotic over beers.
When a friend dies, you want to call all your buddies, the ones from college. You want to tell them that you had such a good time with them and they mean alot to you. You want to, but you won’t, because it’s a tiny bit weird, like the way your mom hugs you a little too long when you come home. And they already know.
When a friend dies, some parts of those nights you spent together die with him. And all of a sudden, you’re older than you knew.
When a friend dies, you remember the last time you saw him, you shook his hand, grabbed his shoulder and said, “I’ll see you soon, bud.” It’s a mistake. You’ll call someone tomorrow. Get it fixed.