I never thought you would end up this way. Honestly, I didn’t really think about you much at all. In all of the years that we’ve known each other, it never struck me that you would be like this. But here we are. I don’t really know what to say here. Shocked isn’t the right word. It’s too extreme. Surprised? Maybe… There’s a better word here. I just know it… ah, to hell with it.
I don’t know why I feel this way. It’s not that we were friends. Hell, we weren’t even acquaintances. I barely knew of you outside of class and all the things you did. But we always came back around to being in the same spot again in one way or another. I guess you could call it fate or coincidence. I don’t know. Whenever we did, I’d always get a feeling of one part confusion, another part relief. Maybe you were what my sociology professor would call being a familiar stranger? That’s a great way to put it, for real.
I remember when I first met you. I just moved into the neighborhood two weeks after my eighth birthday. We were originally from a place called Kokomo. I doubt you knew that that place existed. My family and I were bringing stuff in from the U-Haul when you and your parents came to say hello. Your mom had a pumpkin pie, and your dad had some cigars for welcome presents. I remember the cigar smell on your father’s jacket (I remember he stood a little too close for comfort near my mom). It was the most horrible thing I had ever smelled at that point. My dad didn’t seem to mind; he was too busy talking to mom. I remember you just standing there, looking like you do now. Though you were probably eight, as well, you stood tall like an oak tree. You had your hands to your side like you had bound them with an invisible rope. You didn’t smile or grin to say hello. You didn’t seem really happy that day. As you and your parents walked away, I felt so strange. Maybe I should’ve made the first move to say hello. But perhaps if I did, I’d have gotten punched in the face. That’s a great first meeting, eh?
After that, I didn’t really see you much. We had a class together, but we might as well have been in totally different worlds. I found my friends while you got yours. I only remember you next when we played basketball together in our fifth-grade year. You were the star athlete. You seemed to just live and breathe basketball. Every shot you made found its mark, and every pass you made went just to the right person. At age ten, you had the energy and talent of those in the NBA. Jesus, I’ll admit it was pretty fun watching you play. Compared to you, I was just a floundering fish. Oh well, it’s not like I was really jealous or anything. I played basketball for something to do. It wasn’t my livelihood. Still, we never talked. We were on the same team, but that was it. If we ever did, you were just barking orders at me. After that, I didn’t see you again.
When middle school came around, it was the same song and dance. Of course, when you add puberty into the mix, things would get a little weirder. You were on the basketball team again and played all four years. I stayed behind and mingled around with what your parents said were the ‘bad crowd.’ Yeah, we smoked a little and screwed around a little, but who didn’t? Parents couldn’t see the hypocrisy if it jumped up and bit them. We made fun of kids like you; goody two shoes followed the crowd or living off of daddy’s money (ironic we said that, isn’t it). I dabbled a little closer to the dangerous stuff. I skipped school and even dealt a little. My parents must’ve been so ashamed to hear from the truant officer. They must’ve started losing faith in me really quickly.
On the other hand, you started making the papers, even at that young of an age. The high schoolers weren’t getting as much attention as you. Every other issue had your face in it; you even made the front page more than a few times. But with every photo you took, you always had that same look you had before, looking dead inside but hiding a great wave of emotion. God, you were like a robot. Cold and lifeless. What made you so angry in life? What made you so dead inside?
This pattern continued until we were in high school. Then we really went our separate ways; I went into the army, you went into college on a full-ride scholarship to Georgetown. You were one step closer to the NBA. Then we got the news; you, the great pride of our town, found dead in a bathtub. Gunshot wound to the head. Nobody knew; not your coaches, your friends, nobody. Not even your parents.
Do you think they knew? Do you think they cared? I’m not sure about that myself. That minor incident when we were kids makes me think no way. They didn’t care about the life they had to raise. All they wanted, maybe, was their own dreams to be fulfilled. I guess they got their wish but at the expense of someone they were supposed to love. I don’t know.
Maybe, in another time and place, we could’ve been friends. Perhaps I could’ve helped in some way. Maybe you could’ve helped me. I’ll never be able to know if that’s possible. For what it’s worth, I’m so sorry you were in so much pain. I’ll never know what it’s like to be you. It’s too late to understand you. I hope that, wherever you are, you’ve found a little bit of peace. That’s all you really wanted, right?