I spent my 18th birthday surrounded by friends.
One of them was dead.
It was his funeral.
I made my first “guy friends” Sophomore year of high school. We ate lunch together most days. They were friendly and snarky, and our friendship was different from every other experience I’d had with guys, which generally consisted of:
A) unrequited, unilateral crushes (by me on them),
B) merciless teasing (by them on me), or
C) a combination of A and B.
Now, four days before my 18th birthday, one of these boys–the one who always told me to “smile” when he passed me in the hall, sometimes passed me notes, and usually tried to tickle me–was dead. He had shot himself in the head.
They had called our class to the gym for a special assembly. They made the announcement to a collective gasp. His girlfriend cried out and ran out of the gym. I started shaking. It was a couple of days before the shaking stopped and the tears began.
Twenty-one years later, I still get the birthday blues. I don’t really think about his death, so much as feel it. It’s a grief that percolates up through my consciousness, some years never making it into the form of a thought. But it’s always there. Every year.
Along with the drizzly, gray weather of late November in the Northwest, it casts a darkness over my birthday, and clouds my thoughts.
It has helped turn my birthday into a day to just get through, instead of a celebration.
I’d already had mixed feelings about my birthday. It’s near Thanksgiving, so people are usually busy traveling and spending time with their families, and it’s easily forgotten. Plus, as a child, I had to share birthday parties (and guests and cakes and presents) with a brother who was born two years and two days after me. It sounds like a “first world problem” to complain about this, and I know my mother tried her best, but I just never had the sense of having a special day just for me. It’s not that I wanted presents and fancy events, I just wanted to be surrounded by friends. It all comes down to wanting to feel loved, right?
I don’t know why my friend killed himself. It probably came down to wanting to feel loved, too. We all want that.
This holiday season, tell the people you care about, “I love you.” Spend time together. Talk about something real. Hug them. Hold them. Those are the best presents.
Show the people you care about that you love them every day. Don’t wait for a birthday or holiday. Make every day matter.