“On the death of a friend, we should consider that the fates through confidence have devolved on us the task of a double living, that we have henceforth to fulfill the promise of our friend’s life also, in our own, to the world.”– Henry David Thoreau
Today would have been my best friend’s 40th birthday.
It should have been.
Instead, she and three others from our small town perished in a car crash in the early morning hours of a Sunday in December, 2001 after celebrating a twenty-first birthday.
I should be celebrating with her or, in the age of the pandemic, at least toasting her over Zoom and reminiscing on thirty-seven years (and counting) of friendship, how it all began before kindergarten. Instead, I’m left thinking about the last time I visited her grave and all of the life that she never lived.
I think about everything that has happened to me and everything I’ve done since her death, all of the things that have come in the second half of my life to this point. I graduated college, started a career, went back to school multiple times, had an amazing wedding, had two beautiful daughters, moved into Philly, then moved into the shadow of New York City, and traveled to Canada, Italy, Mexico, San Francisco, Portland, Phoenix, and more. Not to mention all of the random fun and rewarding experiences I’ve had over the past two decades.
I think about all of that – and more – and am almost paralyzed by the realization that she never experienced any of it.
“In the garden of memory, in the palace of dreams…that is where you and I shall meet.”– Lewis Carrol
I also wonder what if…
A few days earlier, I had offered to come home and act as the designated driver that night for the birthday boy. He wanted me to come home to celebrate with him and I offered to play chauffeur. He said that sounded cool, but never got back to me and I, wrapped up in my own little college world, forgot about it.
I woke up the next day and saw that there had been an accident on the news, which was rare because the Philly stations rarely paid attention to our little rural corner. Later that morning, I received the phone call delivering the news. She wasn’t even supposed to be there. She was just home for the weekend visiting her parents. She wasn’t really friends with them, but we had all known each other our entire lives so I guess she felt an obligation to go.
I’ll always carry guilt that I could’ve prevented it – not only for her, but for all of them.
I should have been there.
Everyone loved her, not only the people we knew since preschool, but even my college friends that only met her once or twice. She was one of those people that had a glow and brought it with her everywhere she went. Even when she was sad or upset, she still had that aura about her. Her smile was so bright and infectious, it was like something you read about in a novel.
She and my wife would’ve gotten along wonderfully – trading stories, laughing, commiserating – all at my expense, of course. I know my daughters would have loved her and been so excited any time she came to visit, full of hugs and presents.
“Those we love don’t go away/They walk beside us every day/Unseen, unheard, but always near/Still loved, still missed, and very dear.”– Unknown
I think about all of the years I’ve had that she didn’t and I feel like I’ve wasted so many of them. There are times I feel like I’m falling short of what I can do and who I can be and how that’s unfair to her. Since she’s not here, I represent both of us and I feel like I’m constantly falling short.
Then I think about how she loved me for me, for basically her entire life, not because of what I did, but because of who I was. So all I can do is try to be the best person I can be, every single day.
That’s the least I can do to honor her.
Happy birthday, Heather. I’ll never be whole again without you.
Christopher Pierznik is a nine-time worst-selling author. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, Fatherly, Hip Hop Golden Age, and many more. Subscribe to his monthly newsletter or follow him on Facebook or Twitter. Please feel free to get in touch at CPierznik99@gmail.com.