If I could say one thing to my past self, I would tell her to never put things off. Don’t procrastinate. If something can be done today, do it. Apologize sooner rather than later.
I had a friend once, his name was Michael. He was my friend. He was my first date. But we were in high school, and young, and careless, and I was confused and didn’t know what I wanted in life, and I’d never known anyone who could love as selflessly as he did. I knew I didn’t feel as strongly for him as he felt for me. I just wanted to know him and be around someone who was as funny and caring as he was.
I told him it had to end, and I never told him why. I pulled away, I stopped answering messages. I didn’t meet his eye when we passed in the hall. But worst of all, in my mind, when I promised my father, one Wednesday night, in January of 2016, that I would tell him to be more careful on his motorcycle, I broke it.
I never said a word, even when I saw him at school that week.
It wasn’t even a week later, Sunday night, when I got a text from a friend I’ll never forget. Michael was in a motorcycle wreck. At first it seemed funny, I texted my friend jokingly that my dad and I had just talked about how he seemed to think he was invisible the week before. But it stopped being funny that Tuesday morning.
My mother left for school as she usually did, and I slept in (I hadn’t been feeling well, and had missed Monday afternoon as well. Later people would assume I had left because I had heard about his accident, but in truth I left because of severe cramps). But before I could get out of bed, I heard her come back. It was almost an hour after she had left, and I was confused and still mostly asleep. It turns out, her friend (who was a grief counselor in the school system she worked in and I also attended a different school in) had texted that she wasn’t going to make it to the middle school that day, because she was needed at a high school. A boy had died she said. My mom had asked what him name was. Michael.
I missed two days of school that week. I couldn’t function. Wednesday I crawled out of bed and went to school just long enough for our class picture, which had been planned months earlier. In the photo you can see the entire front row holding pictures of Michael, and me, in the background, sitting in a windowsill with my best friend. After that, I walked my friend to the chemistry room, had a meltdown in the supply closet, and then left.
I thought it was my fault. I told my best friend I killed him. She told me I was “a fucking idiot.”
Everyone, even people I had never spoken to, came up to me. They remembered how close we had been. They wanted to help. They asked if I needed anything. They promised to be there if I needed something. For his funeral, we packed over 1,000 people into a church meant to hold 300. The school only had 600 students. I sat between a muslim family in full religious garb and a Jehovah’s Witness.
The first time I publicly spoke about Michael was at a pre-graduation event, and I wept in front of the entire gathering. I told everyone to learn from Michael. To #LiveLikeMichael, and to pass on his legacy of love and kindness.
If I learned one thing from all of that, it’s to live in the moment. Looking back, I know his death wasn’t my fault, but that doesn’t mean I don’t wish I’d had time to say goodbye. So please, if there’s anything you’ve been meaning to tell someone, tell them.
Do it for me. Do it for Michael.