You know, it’s funny, but I can never quite remember the first time I meet someone. Something about that first encounter always tends to get lost in the ether – like some brain gremlin has found his way into my head and snatched up that memory.
But that wasn’t really the case with a good friend of mine named Joseph. I remember exactly the moment I met him. And honestly, I don’t think it was for any deep or clairvoyant reason – like I knew he was going to make some huge impact on my life – but just because I thought he was a little funny looking that first time around.
Now, the reason I say that is because the first time I met Joseph, he kind of reminded me of the Pillsbury Doughboy. He was bald and plump and round in his features, and his skin color had this pale hue to it.
We had ended up in the same “computer systems” class together – which, really, was just an excuse to play video games in school – and he had come up to me and made some snarky remark about this stupid cat t-shirt I had on. Naturally, I found it funny and sometime during the ensuing conversation, I realized that I had made a new friend.
Of course, this being a not-so-tough class, we had plenty of time to socialize. And it was during that time that I really got to know Joseph. And it was also during that time that I learned that he had had osteocarcoma. Or bone cancer, as you might know it.
Evidently, the surgery he had undergone to remove a portion of the infected marrow in his arm had caused his body to retain fluid, which explained why he looked the way he did – the chemotherapy being responsible for the hair loss and pale color.
Fortunately, though, the operation had been a success. And as time went on I began to realize that Joseph was becoming noticeably healthier, regaining his hair and skin color and losing a great deal of his former “plump” self.
And we were all happy to see that.
Now, it may come as a surprise to you that I wasn’t exactly the most popular guy in my high school. Even amongst my group of friends, I was pretty consistently the butt of a great number of poorly constructed jokes. But the one thing I do remember about Joseph is that he never made fun of me. In fact, he usually came to my aid, turning whatever high school jeer had just been thrust at me back onto the offending party.
And he was pretty good at it, too. Not really because he was the wittiest guy in the world. But because he had this amazing confidence that could win out on almost any argument. And on more than one occasion did he use it to humiliate one of my many detractors.
I’m not really sure why he did all that for me, but if I had to take a guess, I think it was because we were both loners. Me, by choice. And him, by necessity.
The fact that I was an introvert and the fact that he was recovering from cancer meant that we both spent a lot of time by ourselves in our rooms. And I think we alleviated a lot of that loneliness with each other’s company, playing online games together.
Soon, though, we graduated. And I eventually found myself thrust thousands of miles away from home in some city I had never heard of in some state I had never been to. I made absolutely zero friends that first year of college, and it was during this period of interminable loneliness that my depression took a turn for the worse, with the thoughts of suicide first beginning to creep their way into my head.
My only respite away from this was really through my computer. Where I knew, as soon as I logged, I would find Joseph, usually sitting by himself in some TeamSpeak lobby and usually already in-game.
I never told him about my depression – or the fact that he was my only escape from it at the time – but some part of me thinks he already knew and that that’s why he was always there for me. I couldn’t help but drop a few hints just from the state of mind I was beginning to slip into.
Still, time dragged on. And I did eventually make new friends. And while my depression wasn’t getting any better, I tried to find solace in these new people.
So I just stopped playing one day. And before I knew it, I had lost contact with him – and everyone back home, really – for a good year or so…
That was until one day when I got a text from an old friend. “Call me, it’s about Joseph,” is what it said.
Of course, it was a jarring thing to read, and my initial fear was that his cancer had come back. So, hastily, I grabbed my phone and began to redial the number. But before I could finish, I accidentally pulled open some Facebook app and much to my horror, began to read a litany of “RIPs” and “condolences” from friends all in dedication to Joseph.
He was dead.
In the matter of a week, his cancer had grown aggressively, metastasizing from his bone to his lungs and killing him by basically suffocating him. And as much as I wanted to deny it, I couldn’t. He was really gone this time. And it was staring me right in the face…
It wouldn’t be for some time after that I would hear the full story. Apparently, a group of my friends had dropped by his hospital bed to say “hi” and even though he knew just how dire his situation was, he never told them. Because he didn’t want them to worry. Because, really, that was just his character.
I often can’t help but imagine how I would act had I been in his shoes. And, honestly, in every scenario I can think of, I’m bawling like a baby — clinging to my friends, begging for help or comfort. But not Joseph. He was brave as hell, and the last thing he would ever want or do is to become a burden or source of worry to other people.
In any case, my friends left him that night completely oblivious of the fact that that would be the last time any of them would speak to him. And, naturally, when he died the next morning, they didn’t quite know how to process it all.
Really, I think for me, the worst part of it wasn’t only the fact that I didn’t get to see him that last time but that so much of him has been left behind. So many of our conversations have been archived in chat sessions and scoreboards. And I don’t even play online anymore because I have to face that every growing timestamp under his profile: “…hasn’t signed in in 2 years.”
And while I know I should cherish some of these things, a lot of the time they just feel like a ghost to me — one that I can’t say “goodbye” to and one that I can’t ever make peace with. I guess the world just seems a lot emptier without knowing he’s there, and for someone like me, already riddled with depression and loneliness, that can be the emptiest of feelings…
People, in their infinite stupidity, like to say that ‘all things happen for a reason,’ but I know better. I know they don’t, and I know they’re wrong. Because there was no reason for Joseph to die. Because if anyone deserved to live a long and happy life, it was him.
And I’m certain of no greater truth than that.
Wish you were here, buddy.