Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Ten Years

My friend Dan is the only person who I will ever say was better than me. He was taller, more muscular, better looking, more athletic, and got better grades than me. The only thing that people may give me the advantage in was humor, but nobody made me laugh harder than Dan. Most importantly, Dan was a better friend than me, and that's the one thing I'll never get completely over.

Today marks the tenth anniversary of my friend Dan passing away. Passing away is the nice term when, in reality, Dan committed suicide. That is the first time I have ever typed those words, and even ten years after the fact, it isn't easy.

I met Dan in sixth grade. It was my first public school experience, so I knew zero people when coming over from my Catholic school upbringing. Dan and I had a lot of classes together, and we quickly became friends. We made each other laugh, and that was always our strongest bond. We pushed each other to be better, but I could never push past him. But that was Dan. He was always pushing the limits in his interactions with people. It's tough to explain, but he would mess with people without ever being mean about it.

Dan was the best. Literally, the best. Nobody made things look easier than him. He excelled at everything, and God, that was irritating sometimes. The guy had washboard abs in middle school; meanwhile, a mosquito bite would have doubled my bicep size. Judging a book by its cover, nobody was more blessed than Dan.

In high school, it was more of the same, Dan excelled in baseball and football while also doing pretty well with the ladies. He helped me see naked girls for the first time, and introduced me to marijuana, both of which were pretty neat experiences (I've long given up the latter, but still very much enjoy the former).

But one event during sophomore year is the best story I can tell about Dan as a friend. I was driving by myself and passed out while driving and totaled my car. My face was all bruised and swollen, but I was lucky to be alive. I spent the night in the hospital. The next day I went home, and Dan came over. Instead of just hanging out at the house, he took me for a drive. I was a little uneasy being in a car at first, but we put down the windows, sped down some backroads, and listened to Jim Croce. It sounds so simple, but it was exactly what I needed. Dan had no experience in how to handle that situation to help a friend, yet he still did the perfect thing. It's something that was so important for me, and I never told him how much it meant. He was my best friend.

A little bit after that, Dan started to do weird shit. It was mostly harmless, but it made people turn against him. He had always loved fucking with people, and I thought it was just more of Dan messing with people because he could. It was never malicious; it's just that he never had to play by the rules of in order to be cool. Still, he did enough weird stuff where he became an outcast. I never turned on him, but he wasn't quite the same guy, and we started drifting away.

Then he was admitted to the mental hospital for the first time. My friend, Ty, and I went and visited him. I was nervous, but we got to see Dan and it was the strangest thing - Dan was Dan again. Dan was in a very depressing place, and he found a way to have fun with it. We were sitting at a table and Dan started talking to another patient who claimed he owned six of the United States. Instead of ignoring him, Dan engaged him. When Dan asked where the states were and the guy replied, "The Midwest," Dan shot back "Oh, those are the good ones!" without missing a beat. Only Dan could find a way to have a good time in the mental hospital.

It was that glimpse of Dan that made me believe everything would be alright. There was one time where he came over to my house and we were hanging out with my parents. He would just start randomly mumbling to himself and laughing his ass off. After he left, my Mom asked if he was okay, and I lied and said that he was, that he was just messing with people for the fun of it. I went up to my room and cried while still holding onto the fact that the positive glimpses of Dan would win out over what I saw that day.

And you know what? Dan did bounce back. After high school, he got an apartment with a few other guys from high school and was working towards getting his life back on track. They had parties at their place when we were all back in town for winter break, and I remember Dan making fun of me for throwing like a girl (he wasn't wrong), but most importantly, he was the old Dan I knew, and he was happy.

After that, things start to blur together. I went back to college; Dan ended up struggling again and moving back in with his parents. He seemed to be making progress. His parents left him alone while they went out of town. That's when he went to the garage and ended his life. He was 20 years old.

I'll never forget when I heard the news. Sports Column in Iowa City for FAC. I was out with friends when my buddy Chris called me to give me the news. I calmly walked back inside and let everybody else know. Then I calmly called my parents to let them know. And finally, I calmly walked home. When I got back, I stopped being calm. I used a textbook to repeatedly pound the wooden post of my bed, because although I was angry, I was still smart enough to know that breaking my hand was not the best way to go about things. I didn't let anyone see me cry; Dan wouldn't have wanted me to.

In fact, nobody ever saw me shed a tear for Dan. The only time I was close was at the cemetery, and that was more out of guilt that everyone around me was crying and I wasn't. It still hadn't fully hit me.

It wasn't until five years later until I finally let it all out and cried for Dan. I went for a walk and crossed by the mental hospital building where we visited him. I walked by the entrance, and it may have not been until that point that it fully hit me - Dan was never coming back; the most talented person I ever knew would never tap into his potential. It was pretty late, so I just walked in darkness and bounced between fits of laughing and crying. It was a sad ending, but man, there were a whole lot of great times before that.

At first, there was rarely a moment where he wasn't on my mind. But those thoughts slowed down to once an hour, to once a day, to once a week, and finally, I only really think about him about once a month. Sometimes, it's just a funny anecdote, and I go about my day. Sometimes, it is enough to make me stop in my tracks thinking of what could have been.

I remember going over to his parents' house a year after his death and hanging out with his Dad. We obviously got to talking about Dan, and he told me that this time of the year really didn't mean much to him when it came to Dan, because by that time, Dan wasn't Dan anymore. It was his birthday and holidays that were the toughest. And he's right; Dan wasn't Dan by the end. Yet I still had the opposite feeling, and the reason this time of the year sticks with me more is this was when his potential wasn't met. No matter what happened, I always assumed he would bounce back and do amazing things; I didn't have a single doubt until I heard the news. And to this day, ten years later, it still doesn't seem right.

And here I am today. The thoughts may be less frequent, but they still haven't changed. Mental illness is a motherfucker. If you know somebody struggling with mental health, my only advice is to be there for them. There is no perfect method, and even if there was, you would want to find it from somebody far more qualified than me. But just be there. That's my biggest regret. I could have been there more, and I wasn't.

Even though I can't be there for Dan, I can do the next best thing, I can be there for my friends, and if you are reading this, I do consider you a friend and wish you nothing but the best. I can be there for my family; in fact, my parents could probably use a call right now.

Most importantly, I'm going to be there for my wife. She's the first person I can consider my best friend since Dan died. I wasn't there as much as I should have been for Dan, but I'm not going to make the same mistake twice. I'm lucky to have her in my life, and I'm going to continue to do my best to make her happy.

Dan, I love you, I miss you, and if there is an afterlife, I am sure you are having a blast fucking with people up there. Rest in peace, buddy.

3 comments:

  1. Beautifully written. Mental illness is so difficult and hard to understand. I think he would feel proud to have had a friend who cared so much about him.

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