There’s a popular cliche that goes “time heals all wounds.” That’s either a complete lie, or never enough time comes to pass.
Nathaniel, Andrew, little Nathan and Alex — it’s been about a year since the four of them perished in a car accident. It’s amazing to try and recreate a scene in your head when you weren’t even there. I try to imagine the best scenario: a truck driving the speed limit going west on Pine Avenue in Chino Hills. It’s a skinny two-lane road where drivers occasionally pass by long patches of dirt and small farmlands. It’s especially dangerous to drive on in rainy or foggy conditions. Fortunately, there was neither rain or fog when their truck passed through an intersection. Here, I like to imagine something magical happening, something that isn’t so bad. Like maybe they somehow collided into a tree, and the impact immediately got to them. That would at least allow a quick and merciful death.
I don’t like to imagine the reality of that night. Of a truck dangerously speeding down a tiny road, colliding with multiple cars, which overturned the truck, shortly before it caught on fire. I like to think that they were all at least incapacitated before the flames reached them.
That was the first knockout punch I barely recovered from during the last school year. At one point, I was crying every night before going to bed. But, more tragedy was on the way. I lost my 16-year-old Australian shepherd named Blue in January, followed by my grandmother to breast cancer in February. After her passing, I felt numb. I wanted the onslaught of tragedy to stop.
Time has helped me overcome the loss of Blue and my grandmother. I have many more pets in both of my homes, so the loss of one never stings too badly. And I loved my grandmother the way most people love their grandmothers: with unconditional respect.
But my four friends were a different story. The people you spend the most time with when growing up often have the largest influence on your personality. I spent my childhood right next to these guys. We first met in middle school band, where half the time we dicked around like the immature teenagers that we were. We crumpled up pieces of paper and threw them at each other across the band room when the conductor wasn’t looking. We told the stupid “your mom” jokes to each other.
All of that only got better in high school. It was at this point in our lives where band was life, and we proved this by always sitting at “the band table” during lunch. It was us versus them, “them” being the rest of the world that simply didn’t “get” just how cool us band kids were together. We knew we were band kids, and we fully embraced our nerdiness by being absolutely stupid with each other.
One of my funniest high school memories involve how I always packed a small sandwich, some chips and a granny smith apple for lunch. I loved putting my chips into my sandwich before eating it (please don’t judge me, I was really weird back then). Somebody or something would distract me and, when I turned back, my apple would be smashed into my sandwich with the chips in tiny pieces and the bread flattened. I’d look up to Alex, and he’d go, “what? I don’t know what happened,” while trying his best not to laugh.
We were all dicks to each other, but that’s simply how our friendship expressed itself. I’m happy they were my friends because deep down, I unfortunately inherited my family trait of being very scholarly and serious, but these four guys taught me that it’s good to not take life too seriously. Life’s a joke sometimes, and the best thing to do is laugh at it.
Looking back, I know that life’s occasionally a joke, but I take it more seriously now than ever before. This irony isn’t completely lost on me. I know when I should laugh at things, and I know when to be serious or professional.
But I’ll never laugh at them being forever gone. Time doesn’t heal all wounds; in fact, it doesn’t even heal some wounds at all. Time is more like a bandaid you have to keep ripping off and putting back on over and over again. I kept my nightly crying sessions under control in the spring, but when I returned home for the summer on a Friday, I broke down into tears. Summer Fridays had always been our big days to hang out and do things together. And on that particular Friday, I felt so fucking lonely. It felt too surreal, like it was last year all over again. I’ve cried a few times in the week leading up to the anniversary — October 3.
I wish they were here. I always do.
The one takeaway lesson I could give is to never set your expectations too high for anything. I think I felt so down and defeated last year because I entered it with such high hopes — I was entering my third year of college, it was my first year as a Highlander editor and I had moved into a great apartment with good friends — I wasn’t mentally prepared for all that shit to happen. So maybe that could be the lesson here: lower your broad expectations, and you’ll be better prepared for terrible things to happen to you.
But even the mentally best-prepared people still get sad when bad things happen, so maybe the lesson is to never make friends. Or make some really shitty friends you never get close to. I can’t tell you how to live your life. All I know is that I don’t regret my friendships with Nathaniel, Andrew, Nathan and Alex.
I’ll always love you guys. Wish you were here.