I wanted nothing more than to sleep tonight, for things to be as they were, but they’re not. I prayed to God that they would, that the insatiable feeling of a feeling kept in a hardened self would be loosed, but I’ve always had a hard time letting go. Here’s an attempt. I’m not sure what to do, but I’m trying so goddamn hard.
A couple days ago we were unpleasantly reminded of Thomas Imel’s birthday, a man who was at one point in an early part of my life my best friend. He’s dead now, and I have never come to terms with that, not when I stood by Jamie and learned the news of his coma, nor when I stood by Jessica and learned of the news of his death, nor when I stood over his open casket next to my father while the casket of my childhood was lowered, weeping like a baby while he held my shoulder.
At this moment I am faced with the difficulty of comparing the person I am with the person I used to be. I used to wake up in a room with NASCAR wallpaper, shelves filled with Hot Wheels cars and action figures of superheroes, Nintendo 64 connected to the TV with Mario Kart ready to be played again, and VHS tapes of movies like “The Phantom” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” laying about. My clothes were thrown next to my sleeping bag because it got hot at night in the summer. It was always Sunday, but I never was obligated to go to church if I didn’t want to. I would wake up and call my parents and they would drive me home from my best friend’s house. Accompanying the drive home were the questions, “So what did you do? Who else was there? Did you have any fun?” And while the answers to the first two questions changed, the response to the last always remained the same.
We used to have sleepovers. I remember when Michael Kohlmann locked me up in a dog crate, later feeding me Ritz crackers between the bars. We played stingpong, for whatever reason. We used to take off our shirts and fight one another without managing to hurt ourselves or deal any pain unto each other. We would play videogames until it was midnight, when we would start watching videos on tape and fall asleep in the middle of them. One time we stayed up all night and pretended to fart in Will’s face because he was first to bed. We’d trade Pokemon cards but never play the game that was designed for them. Basketball in driveways, street hockey in basements and soccer in backyards not only served as appropriate sports venues, but also the preferred ones. I would be lying if I claimed to not love every second we wasted.
Somewhere along the way we made mistakes. Things changed, and I pushed away some of my friends and who I used to be. Others chased others, a few picked up addictions and some just got some shitty new friends. Regardless of what we did and whose fault it was, we gave up something we previously loved and that changed who we were. We still look back and think fondly of those times, but still we let it die. We exercised our only viable option, and then we continued to grow up together, but separately.
Thomas Imel was different. What pains me the most is that I don’t know where he ended up after the drift. I can’t remember the last time I talked to him, nor the last MySpace photo comment or time I mentioned him with someone else before I heard that he died.
It was junior year and we were pretty deep into putting on the play when we learned he died a couple days following his accident. It seemed as though we were all pretty close to him in our own ways, or at least it upset us all.
I’m trying to remember what I was going through, and I’m not doing a very great job at that. We had been so close for a sizable portion of my life; my memory of him was frozen in time for so long. I can’t even properly finish the thought, and that’s how I felt. It was empty. For a long while my Mom would have Earla over (his mother) to console her and comfort her. She would ask me to tell Earla about stories I had of him. I contested, “But that was only who he was.” My Mom essentially told me that was all Earla could hold onto, now. My memory of him won’t ever change. It doesn’t even have the option to.
When our bodies go cold and our blood stops, that’s supposed to be it. I’m starting to think it’s only this way if we allow it to be. All we really have is the time we spend together, what we choose to do with that time, and the memories we decide to keep. That’s where life happens. So of the memories I hold of the people I love, thoughts that are in no way up to date or completely accurate or even sometimes realistic, I wonder what makes any of these memories wrong.
I’ve struggled to write about Thomas not only because of my own fear, but also of the fear of impeding on the memory others have of him. I can’t count how many times I have been asked to write about him, and it required a crisis to push me to share this with everyone. I do not wish to make it appear that I am the only person who cares about him (so many do), nor solicit pity merely because I am in grief, because we all grieve sometimes. I merely wanted to present my life with him and what he means to me. Life, because while the knowledge of what was in the face of what is may not yield the act of living any easier, or meaningful or beautiful, it is what we have. I don’t understand why I should feel alone when we have that. Thomas is still the curly-haired kid in his messy room because that’s all I know. And all I know—it’s enough.