It still seems almost surreal, as if the memory itself is of something not quite real: a dream. If only it was.
It was 8 years ago, today: February 21st, 2002. It was 3 days before my 18th birthday and almost 3 months left until graduation. We were seniors, and at the top of our games. Soon, we would be out of this school, out of our parents’ homes, out of this little town, and we were unstoppable. That is, we thought we were until that morning.
It’s not often that the principal comes to pull you out of class. If you have a call or someone like your mom stopped by to give you something, they’d just page you from the office. I almost hate to admit it, but my first thought was of myself. “What did I do? I don’t remember doing anything worthy of class extraction by Principal.” I followed him down the hall and then to left, which was an odd direction considering his office was to the right. My brain still whirring, we rounded the corner into the school counselor’s office. Three of my friends sat around a table. My next thought, “What did we do?” Except my friend Kirk was at the table, and to be honest, he’s not the trouble type.
Then the principle sits down and almost as he’s speaking, we notice that one of the five of us isn’t there. “On the way to school this morning, Brandon slid into an oncoming lane of traffic on the ice and was hit head on by another car. He was killed instantly.” The unstoppable stopped. Kirk burst into tears; he’d known Brandon longer than all of us. Jon, Matthew, and I sat in shock.
The next few days were a blur marked by small events: the announcement in chapel later that morning; having the rest of the day off class, but just hanging around as if nothing mattered anymore; going to work in the evenings like a zombie; the viewing; running sound for the memorial service; and finally, the funeral where I carried a casket and placed a friend in the ground. It didn’t feel right to celebrate a birthday that week. Nothing was really right.
The memory that stands out was that night, the day I heard the news. I remember laying in bed and staring at my ceiling. I was numb, and I hated it. I wanted to cry, but no tears came. Instead there was nothing. Numbness turned to anger: my friend was dead and I didn’t even have the decency to feel anything. 2 days later, I was standing at a memorial service in the high school gym, bawling my eyes out.
Now that I’ve written it out, telling my story doesn’t seem like much of a memorial. But in some ways, I hope that telling my story is a part of telling his story. Despite the fact that many would’ve called him weird or strange or a nerd (when it wasn’t cool to be one), he was my friend. He was a part of my life and he taught me what it meant to be yourself, regardless of who that person was and what people thought of him. And he taught me what it is to be a friend and what real friendship means and does for others.
It’s been eight years, Brandon, and I still miss you. You never got to come to my wedding, or meet my wife or my daughter. But I got to meet you. And I still count it a privilege to call you my friend.