This is not a normal Talk Wordy to Me post, but it's something I needed to write. Back to regular posts tomorrow. When I was a senior in high school, I forgot my best friend's seventeenth birthday. I felt like hell when I realized it, especially since he had remembered my eighteenth the week before.
It wasn't a mistake I repeated. But I didn't have many more chances. Christian Jones died in a car accident when he was nineteen.
Today would have been Chris's twenty-fifth birthday. He never made it past his freshman year of college, never became an engineer like he was studying to be at the University of Pittsburgh. He died only a few weeks after he got his driver's license. He'd failed the test probably five times, every time on some small technicality. It frustrated him to no end, and I made fun of him all the more for that.
I'd say I wish he'd failed the test one more time, but I don't. He wanted that license, and I've never second-guessed that. Not because I think there was any higher power that had Chris's death in his plan. I don't. It's just that there's no way to foresee the consequences of our actions, and I don't think it's worth debating the might-have-beens.
Like how he'd asked me to hang out that day. I didn't because I was going to see the second Matrix movie with my girlfriend. If I hadn't, who knows if he would have gone out on a long drive that August night to visit friends at a camp? And then fallen asleep at the wheel on the way home.
Doesn't matter. It's what happened.
There are lots of little things I still have that he gave me. A collection of pirated 80s music. Postcards from trips to Italy, Germany, Normandy, and the Badlands of South Dakota. The things he taught me about carpentry and building computers. The things he taught me about being a friend.
The knife he gave me for the eighteenth birthday he didn't forget.
I wrote a eulogy for Chris that I never got to give. There were hundreds of people at the funeral -- many had to sit in an overflow room at his church -- and too many wanted to speak about him. Everyone just said a few words.
Here's what I wrote that August five and a half years ago:
Chris meant a lot of things to a lot of people. He was a builder, an explorer, an engineer, and as he liked to say, a problem-solver. Chris was always trying something new, and he was always planning some project to help someone else. One of the best memories I have of Chris is working long hours after school on the sets for the plays at Central. He just took such joy in creating something. The time we spent together under the stage building, listening to music, singing, and talking about the lives we were living sealed our friendship.
And that was what Chris was most of all, a friend. You couldn't help but be friends with him; he didn't really give you any other choice. He was my first good friend in high school, and he soon became my best friend. I was a shy kid, and Chris helped draw me out of my shell. He was the first person outside of my family who was genuinely interested in who I was and where I wanted to go in life.
Our friendship wasn't just a thing of high school, like so many of those we forge in those years. The two years since I graduated were just as good as the three we were at Central together. We saw plays, built computers, and wandered around Best Buy, talking about all the gadgets we couldn't possibly afford. He showed me around Pittsburgh when I went out to visit him at school, and we took a road trip to Ohio in June. Chris was going to take me to San Francisco with his frequent-flier miles; he wanted to get me out into the world, a world that at age 19 he had already explored as much as many people three times his age.
Chris lived a life that was fuller than anyone else that I knew. He taught me about carpentry, computers, stereo equipment and getting the best deal on whatever we were trying to buy that particular week. He taught me how to be myself and to never be afraid to show others who I was or to be ashamed of what I wanted.
And he taught me what it meant to be a friend. Chris always had time for me, no matter how busy he was or what else he wanted to do. We argued a lot, but in a good way, bouncing ideas off each other like ping-pong balls and learning who we were and what we stood for in the process. We grew together, but we never stopped being who we were.
I don't know how else to put it: I loved Chris, and he gave me more in the five years we spent together than I could hope to get in many lifetimes. I feel blessed and privileged to have known him, and I will miss him more than I can ever express in these words.
Happy birthday Chris.