The other day, a very good friend of mine passed away. He swallowed pills, and died by himself. He was loved by everyone, but was alone late in his life. I hadn’t spoken to him in over a year. I really regret that.
He was my teacher. We became friends through film. We’d stay after school and talk about the hidden meanings in scenes. He printed out IMDB movie trivia about classic films, and got me hooked on the site. I spent hours researching my favorite films. I’d take screenshots of movies on my computer, print out scenes frame-by-frame, and analyze them. Then I’d bring my findings to school and we’d go over them together after class. He gave me an academic award.
I showed him why he needed to switch to Apple. I went to his house and set up his computer. We hung out long after I graduated from high school, and got in a routine. I’d go over to his house, fix any problems he was having with his computers, then we’d watch great movies and TV shows together. I’ll never forget seeing There Will Be Blood at the historic Mayan theatre. We both walked out, completely blown away by Daniel Day-Lewis. We had chills. I saw the movie three more times while it was in theatres. It’s still one of my favorites.
We were good friends for more than ten years. He was 70 years old, I think… I don’t know. The age difference never mattered. We had over 600 email exchanges. We went into business together for awhile. He took the pictures, I made them into slideshows, and we sold them to the parents of high school football players.
He confided in me that, although he’d taught in a Catholic school for most of his life, he knew that a lot of it was nonsense. Humans could be moral and good, with or without God. But he saw that people usually used religion as an excuse to judge and inflict shame on others, rather than to love. To my knowledge, I think I was the only person he admitted those feelings to. And I’m thankful, because we made each other feel less alone in that regard.
What I regret is that he was alone, at the end. I regret not calling my friend for a year. For thinking about him and not telling him that I’ve been thinking about him. I know a lot of his friends feel the same way.
How a man loved by so many became isolated. That shouldn’t happen. When I found out how he’d passed, I got sick to my stomach. It made me think about all of the friends I’ve lost touch with, who might feel isolated and lonely themselves. And everyone who moves to new cities, who leave behind the people they love in pursuit of the success they’ve been told to chase. The one true love they’re supposed to find. The frustration they feel with being alone.
It’s easy to isolate yourself in America. It’s easy to watch shows and listen to podcasts about other people who have friends, and to get enough Facebook and Instagram likes that you feel like you’re still connected to your real friends. To work all day long and pretend that it’s all coming together. But it’s hard to wait around for the people you care about to reach out to you. Because they’re all trying to live their life in the best way they know how, and if you’re not around, they won’t be calling.
If we all lose touch with our friends, what’s the point of success? Why climb to the top of a mountain, if you can’t turn to see your friend there with you? I’m proud of the work I’ve done, but I’m not actually friends with the people I help. There’s an embarrassing emptiness to not feeling anything when a stranger says that something I wrote helped them. That my work snapped them out of a funk, or prevented them from taking their life, or got them over PTSD. I experience a flash of pride, but then it’s gone. Because who is this person? I have no idea. And what about the people I grew up with? They’re not here.
I’m using my free time this week to call my friends. Even just to talk for a minute, or to leave a message. I need to do this more often. I’ve been talking with one of my best friends every Thursday for the last year. We made it a point to set aside the time for each other. Sometimes we don’t do it, but it’s better to miss a weekly appointment than to not have the appointment at all. My girlfriend is amazing at this. She calls her best friends before she goes to work. She gets them on Facetime and everything. No appointment necessary, they just do it.
The day I found out my friend passed away, she came over to my apartment. She insisted on hugging me. And it really helped. Because I spent most of that day in tears, and I wanted to spend that night alone. Instead, we went to Barton Springs. The air was warm, and I jumped into the freezing cold water. Cold water helps with staving off depression.
When I flipped over to do a backstroke, the sky was dark orange. There were bats flying overhead. I flew around underneath them. When I got out, I felt a little more alive, and grateful to be with such a wonderful person. To have someone who cared enough to reach out.