Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Those Were the Best Days of My Life

Growing up, Sete, our cousin DJ and I were best friends. More like three sisters than cousins. As we got older, we went through spurts where we made Non-Family Friends and didn't hang out as much, but we always stayed close.

A couple of years after high school, DJ started dating Jeremy. Jeremy was outgoing, goofy, and very down-to-earth. He endeared himself to my family about 3 minutes after they started dating. He came to all the family functions. It seemed like he had been there all along.

Jeremy came equipped with two best friends - Jete and Mike. At the time, it seemed perfect. Three girls, three guys. DJ and Jeremy planned to fix us up into three couples. Specifically, they thought Jete and I would be perfect for each other.

The night they arranged for us to meet, I determined that I could NEVER be interested in this ... boy. Really, he was just that - only 18 (almost 19, but that doesn't count) - while I was a mature 20. He was scrawny and dressed funny and hardly said a word all night. I teased Jeremy, talked with DJ over dinner, but Jete hardly spoke. I found out later, he had a negative first impression of me as well (I think his exact words were "stuck-up, know-it-all, bitch"). We separately told our matchmakers to forget it. "We" as a couple would Never work.

Pressure off, the six of us became friends and started hanging out as a group. We'd get together and do fascinating things like listen to music, play board games, and go to IHOP at 2 AM. We were dorks, but we didn't care. We had fun.

As the months went on, I decided Jete wasn't so bad. He was growing into his scrawny body, and I was relieved to see that he could actually speak once he got to know you. He was just really, really shy. He eventually saw past his first impressions of me, too. We had no interest in each other romantically, but we were becoming good friends.

About a year later, DJ and Jeremy got engaged. They moved into their own apartment about a half hour away from the rest of us. They were the first of my friends to have their own place. We moved them in and helped them decorate. The apartment became our new hangout. We spent most of our nights and weekends there. Still living with my parents while attending college, this was my first taste of freedom.

One Sunday morning in November, my mother called me at my part-time receptionist job. Jeremy had been killed in a car accident on his way to work. He was just 21 years old.

I went to see DJ at Jeremy's parents' house. She was sitting in the backyard, crying. Jete and Mike were there, looking lost. None of us really said much. After a while, DJ decided to come back to my parents' house with me. I said goodbye to Jete and Mike. I fully expected that to be the last time I saw them. Why would they have any reason to see us anymore? Without Jeremy, there would be no group. The nucleus was gone.

The next day, we went back to the apartment to help DJ get his things together for the funeral. Jete and Mike came up to help. It felt strange to be there without Jeremy. But at the same time, we felt closer in our grief. No one on the outside could understand what we were going through like the five of us could.

DJ wanted to sleep in the apartment until she was able to pack everything up to move out. I offered to stay with her the first few nights, and Jete insisted on staying, too. He slept on the floor and let me have the couch. We talked in the dark. He told me that he and Jeremy had a half-kidding talk a few months before he died. He made Jete promise that if anything ever happened to him, Jete would look out for DJ. He knew Jeremy wasn't serious, but he intended to keep the promise anyway.

The wake and funeral were hard. We gathered in a huddle, the remaining five, for a good part of those days. At the funeral, Jete and I hugged and cried. He had been best friends with Jeremy for six years, and I had barely known him for two. To me, Jete had suffered the greater loss, yet somehow, I felt like he was comforting me.

As the weeks went on and DJ got back on her feet, we spent more time alone, or talking to each other on the phone. I got to know him more than I ever did in our days of "hanging out". Every time one of us needed something, he was there to help. I started to realize that he was always like that. He's the kind of guy who is constantly there when his friends need him. He's the first to offer to help, and the last to accept it.

We hugged at the end of every visit. There was something amazing about his hugs. Whenever he hugged me, I felt ... whole. Like I had been waiting for them my entire life; I just didn't know what was missing until that very moment.

I eventually confessed my feelings, he reciprocated, and blahblahblah happily ever after. Well, happily so far. And I hope, ever after.

***

The last time I saw Jeremy was two days before he died. We all ran into each other accidentally and had an impromptu group gathering. We hung out in the parking lot of the convenience store where DJ worked, waiting for her to finish her shift before heading to IHOP. Jeremy sat in his car with the door open, eating Twizzlers, sharing them with strangers. He blasted the car radio. We sang The Summer of '69 together.

I heard that song today. It still reminds me of him.

Oh when I look back now
That summer seemed to last forever
And if I had the choice
Ya - I'd always wanna be there
Those were the best days of my life

This month marks nine years since Jeremy passed away. The brief time I knew him is now a small blip on my timeline. But knowing him has changed my entire life. I would absolutely not be where I am today if it weren't for him. I would not have met Jete, married him, or had my children if he had not been in my life.

His death made me look at the world in a whole new way. Jeremy was one of those people who was never afraid. He would try almost anything, and enjoyed every minute of his life. If he, the most lively person I had ever met, could pass away so young, the same could happen to me, my friends, my family. I would constantly think, "If I died tomorrow, would I regret not doing this?"

I had the courage to tell Jete how I felt - something I would NEVER have done in the past - because of the example Jeremy set. I was afraid of ruining our friendship, of rejection, of looking like a fool. But I kept thinking - if I don't do this, what might I be missing out on? I didn't want to waste even a minute of potential happiness.

Jeremy lived a short life. But nine years after his death, he still puts a smile on my face when I think about him. My life was changed incredibly - for the better - from knowing him. I will be a lucky person if someone can say the same about me someday.

Man we were killin' time
We were young and restless
We needed to unwind
I guess nothin' can last forever - forever, no

And now the times are changin'
Look at everything that's come and gone
Sometimes when I play that old six-string
I think about ya wonder what went wrong

Standin' on your Mama's porch
You told me it would last forever
Oh the way you held my hand
I knew that it was now or never
Those were the best days of my life
Back in the summer of '69

4 comments:

Gwensarah said...

That was a beautiful entry.

Day said...

This made me cry. What a beautiful post.

The Fuz said...

This post was amazing. It also made me cry. My mother lost her fiance when she was 20 years old and still thinks of him often to this day - your cousin is a strong woman. I'm so glad you posted this.

Rachel said...

I've been reading your archives since I followed the link from Julie and thought "I'll leave a comment on the most recent and tell her what an amazing writer she is" but this entry requires a comment...what a beautiful memory and how lucky you are that out of that terrible thing you were able to create something amazing. Thanks for sharing all of these posts.