I debated writing this entry. Part of me feels like I don’t have a right, because as the title suggests, this is about an old friend, not a current one. But the more I decided not to write it, the more it wanted to burst out of me. I think part of me needs to say it all in one place, one time, so I don’t ever have to do it again. So here we are.
There’s a picture of a bunch of us watching that He Is Risen movie in Sunday School on Easter 1996. I’m sitting next to my then frenemy and current best friend, Danielle, wearing an all denim dress and my ever present RBF. Sitting a little ways behind us is a kid in a Yankees hat, a bold choice for a kid in Massachusetts. This was Josh.
The first time I ever spoke to him, I stared at him and said, “You’re in the fourth grade?”
“Yeah,” he said.
I didn’t believe it. I was in the fourth grade. No one in my class was as tall and mature looking as this kid. That was my first impression of Josh: There’s no way you and I are the same age.
It wasn’t until next year that we actually started hanging out. His parents used to host “home group” (a weekly Bible study) at their home and my parents went. I was 11 and my brother, Spencer, was nine and they weren’t entirely comfortable leaving us home alone at night when they would be about a half hour drive away, so they brought us along and sent us upstairs to hang out with Josh. At first, I was bored. Josh and Spencer would play video games or talk about other boy stuff that I could care less about and I would end up doing homework or reading my Animorphs books. But by the time next year rolled around things were different. At church, we had the same friends and we all hung out in a big group, doing whatever normal preteens did back then, plus some things they didn’t. We went to movies and got pizza or walked around town of whoever’s house we were at, but then we were also doing a lot of outreach and volunteer work through the church.
Halloween 1997. I’m giving a peace sign. He’s giving me bunny ears.
So not only did Josh and I hang out all day Sunday, but then every Thursday night at home group and whatever extra thing was going on that week. We got very close and I considered him one of my best friends at the time, definitely my best guy friend. We talked a lot, pretty much about everything: God, girls, guys, friends, art (he was an incredible drawer), music (he was also an incredible musician), writing (yeah, he was good at that too). He always told me I was really easy to talk to and I always looked forward to being around him.
We never liked each other more than friends. I think in the very early stages of our friendship at the ripe old age of 11, he acted a little flirty with me one night, but I thought he was just trying to annoy me at the time. And then there was one night at home group we fell into an intense talk where he got me to admit that I told my friends that I thought he was cute once. To which he said, “Well . . . I think you’re kind of cute too,” and then said, “Wow. It was really easy to tell you that.” To which I didn’t respond because it was then my dad called up that home group was over and it was time to go home. But other than that admittance of cuteness, we were never interested in each other like that.
Despite our great talks and the fact that we enjoyed each other’s company, our friendship wasn’t perfect. We were both incredibly stubborn and that definitely made us butt heads on more than one occasion. He was an only child and therefore used to getting his own way. Sometimes, he would just say to one of our friends. “Come on. We need to go talk,” and they would go without argument. He was very authoritative, which really made him a natural leader and that was normally a good thing. But if he and I got into a fight, and he came at me with the, “We’re gonna go talk,” I’d scowl at him and say, “No. I don’t want to talk to you right now.” I didn’t care that the reason he wanted to talk was so that we could fix the problem. My stubborn ass was still mad at him and didn’t want him telling me what to do. He, in turn, didn’t like the fact that I was one of the few (if not only) people that told him no. Our fighting would get intense and cruel sometimes. To this day, he holds a spot in the top three of the most hurtful things anyone has ever said to me. (In his defense, it was in response to me telling his girlfriend at the time that she should break up with him).
Even though we never went to the same school, he signed my 7th grade yearbook.
Everything changed when Josh and a friend of mine broke up the summer before eighth grade. We all know the only middle school relationship that made it to marriage is Cory and Topanga, but when you’re that age, it’s the BIGGEST DEAL EVER OMG. Of course all our parents were still besties, so there we were on a big old awkward camping trip together. And of course, Josh wanted to go “have a talk” with me. We went and sat on some big rock looking out at the lake that night. I can’t remember the exact conversation, except telling him that I was pissed about the way the break up went down, which he agreed was bad on his part. But he wanted to make sure he and I were still okay, that we would still be friends. I didn’t want to lose him in my life. I didn’t want anything to change. So we left the rock, both assured that everything would be fine between us.
We barely spoke the rest of the trip, much less hung out. And when we got home, nothing went back to normal. Spencer and I were old enough to stay home alone for awhile now, so Thursday night home groups weren’t a time for us to hang out. We stopped hanging out on Sundays too. There were new people he hung out with at church and it literally got to the point where if he spotted me and my friends coming, he’d get up and leave. That particular part caused me to pen a very angry email to him, accusing him of dropping our friendship even though he said he wouldn’t. I don’t remember what else I said, but I know he wrote back an equally angry email, telling me to lay off him, to stop judging him, that there was a lot going on I didn’t know about. I wrote back that that was the point. I didn’t know what was going on with him because he wouldn’t talk to me anymore. He didn’t respond.
I was angry at him for a long time. Through the rest of our teen years, we both went through our own private shit. We stopped talking completely, even though we were still going on these family vacations together every summer. I think every now and then, I had moments where I hoped this would be the vacation we would make up and be friends again. But mostly, I didn’t want anything to do with him anymore and I’m 99% sure he felt the same about me.
By the time we graduated in 2004, the idea of resolving our lost friendship wasn’t even on my radar anymore. We had both moved on with our lives and were at completely different places. Our parents were still extremely close, but even though they went to parties and vacations together, we were adults and we didn’t have to come along. I think the only other time I thought about him with any sort of depth was the first time I heard the song “How To Save a Life” by The Fray. I thought the lyrics were spot on with the way I felt our friendship had ended and I’ve always attached him to that song in my mind.
I did see him briefly at his uncle’s 40th birthday party. At the time, I babysat weekly for his three cousins, but that night, my friends and I were there working as waiters and various other jobs for the party to make a little extra money. I remember at one point Josh leaning down and putting his chin on my shoulder and asking me a question about where something was, which I told him. However, I didn’t dwell too long on how comfortable he was being with me. I knew he had been drinking and besides, I was way too focused on the fact that there was a guy there I had a crush on at the time.
The next time I really saw him was when I was working at his dad’s company. He spotted me in the office and his whole face lit up. “Cailin! Hey!” I said hey back as he walked into my office. “Give me hug!” he said, coming towards me. I remember being taken aback by that because, again, the last time we had really had an actual conversation, it wasn’t pretty. But evidently he forgot about it and moved on and I decided to do the same. I worked there a year and would see him around the office every now and then, but there was really only one time we talked a little more than casual hi’s and that was when I mentioned that I was moving out of my childhood home with my parents to someplace new. He sympathized, talking about how it was hard when he moved out of his childhood home too. It was a short conversation, but it was a real one, and I remember thinking that it was still so damn easy to talk to him.
I only saw him here and there over the next ten years. I saw his parents all the time, since they were still close with mine and I became his mom’s unofficial dogsitter, so I was at his parents house a lot. Sometimes Josh would come to my family’s Christmas Eve party, but even then, we didn’t say much or anything to each other.
The last time I saw him, was about two years ago. I was dogsitting for his parents while they were away. His mom texted me and told me Josh was going to come by to pick up some firewood. “I told him not to bother you though!” I think she was joking, but I’m still not sure.
Anyway, he came inside and said hey. “I’d hug you, but I’m all sweaty.”
I laughed and said that was fine. We exchanged the usual BS adult pleasantries. How are you? Where are you working now? Stuff like that you’re expected to say when you’re an adult that makes me want to bang my head against the wall because I usually just don’t care.
And then somehow we got on the subject of getting older and aging. “Yeah, the other day I found a hair coming out of the top of my nose like my dad has,” he said, cringing. “So I have that to look forward to.”
I told him him that I swore the day I turned 27, there were three new gray hairs and I just keep finding more.
We laughed for a bit and then he said he had to get going and he left. And again, I marveled about how once we got past the usual pleasantries, we were easily talking and laughing.
Again, that was two years ago. Life went on for us both with our own friends and problems and good times and bad times.
And then on Monday of this week, I got a comment from him on my latest Instagram post.
I was totally surprised. Just the fact that he initiated contact with me out of nowhere was enough to make me double check that it was actually him that left the comment. The next thing that surprised me, was that it was an actual substantial comment. Maybe not the most well punctuated, but it’s not like he just left a thumbs up emoji or something simple. But what surprised me the most was what he actually said. He’d actually read my blog. He didn’t just see the top post and make some vague comment about it. He referenced something that I wrote well within the post, and also commented on another post I’d made more than a month before that.
I commented back and nothing more was said, but I kept thinking about the comment. I actually had the fleeting thought that maybe this was the start of something. Maybe this was a little door opening up that could maybe lead back into us talking again. Hey, it was a longshot, but the comment felt significant for some reason and this was the only reason I could think that it would be.
It was significant.
It was the last thing he ever said to me.
Tuesday night at about 12:30, I was just getting into bed when I heard a noise, music and talking. I thought maybe my cat had accidentally stepped on the remote downstairs and turned on the TV, but when I opened my door, I heard it coming from my parents room. “We’ll be there in 10 minutes,” I heard my dad say.
When he came out, fully dressed, he opened my door.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
He said they were going to the Glynns. That Mrs. Glynn had just called him, totally upset.
“Josh was killed in a car accident.”
It’s all beyond my understanding. There’s always the whys. Why him? Why now? Why did his parents have to lose their only child? I’m crushed every time I think of them, his dad who was like a second father to me and his mom who is completely generous to everyone.
And it’s a weird position to be in from my standpoint. There’s a weird part of me that feels like I don’t have a right to grieve because he and I weren’t friends anymore and there are so many people that still were, that had even closer relationships with him. It almost feels like I’ve been grieving the loss of our friendship for a long time and felt that I had come to peace with it some time ago. With him suddenly initiating contact, it feels like now I’m grieving the potential that was lost from that.
But then, the fact that I heard from him so recently, that he reached out to me the day before he died, weirdly gave me closure after the fact. It’s not a huge comment. It’s about six lines, give or take what device you’re reading it on. And maybe I’m reading way too much into it because he’s gone now and I have an overactive imagination.
But I like the fact that the last exchange we had wasn’t in the kitchen where we were (now ironically) joking about aging, where the only reason we were even talking was coincidence. I like the fact that he initiated reaching out to me. And I like that in those six lines, he somehow, though I’m sure unintentionally, managed to sum up the way we used to talk.
“I heard what you’re saying. It’s easy for me to relate. Now let’s have a laugh.”
Rest in Peace, Josh. Let’s have a talk when I get there.