For those of you who have followed me long enough to have heard Inciting Incident #30, pre-transition and all, you’ll know that I’ve had a long history with suicide in my life. I wrote a movie about it in 2015, and that was the first of many times I’d use the song “I Believe.”
18. 18 people. That’s how many I’ve known since the first time I lost an acquaintance that way in ninth grade. An ex-neighbor, a co-worker, a friend, a tag team partner, an ex-girlfriend, and so many others make up the rest of that list. However, this one was probably the toughest one I’ve ever had to deal with; not just because it was someone I’d known for 14 years, not just because of the family he left behind, but because thinking about it made me realize how much of an influence this guy had in my life.
Brian and I went back to 2003, when I first started hanging out with new people again. At that point in my life, I’d made the mistake of returning from Florida so soon because I was homesick. Or rather, friendsick. What else could you expect from someone who was supposed to be in their junior year of high school but had graduated instead?
Brian was one of many I met at another Brian’s birthday party. The other Brian had been my friend since sixth grade and went through junior high with me. However, he’d gone to the Catholic high school in our area as opposed to mine, and therefore had found a completely new circle of friends. With me having returned, he brought me into that circle, which included this Brian.
He and I became close a few months later, when I went to the junior prom with them, and attended the YMCA lock-in afterward. I remember well how he and I sat against a wall talking while his date slept on him. He was the first of many friends with whom I had a lot in common personality-wise, but were extremely different in philosophy and life experience. It made for interesting conversations, disagreements, and even fallings out at several points in our lives.
As I’ve been slowly remembering different ways he was involved in my life, I’ve been struggling with tensions in many places. He introduced me to my favorite band, among many others, could do a dead-on Denis Leary impression, shared many sleepovers and events, was in my first wedding, and also capitulated my first serious relationship ending.
That’s been my biggest point of struggle: remembering that things were far from copacetic over the years we knew each other. We mended fences a few years ago, and I’m grateful for that especially now, but I’ve been feeling guilty for the fact that at two distinct points in my life, he did a terrible thing to me. I don’t need to go into what they were, because that’s not the point of this column, but I’ve been fighting the guilt demon for also thinking about those points in our time together.
At funerals and times of remembrance, you’re supposed to talk about the good things and reflect on the person fondly, right? Especially under these circumstances, with leaving a little girl behind and a grieving family, isn’t it a disservice to remember that he also betrayed your trust?
It’s also true though that those friendships that go through some struggle and issues are the ones that become stronger in the end. Did that happen with ours? Possibly. I can’t say for sure, but I do know we came to a new point of understanding before our friendship met its untimely end last week.
My relationship with this friend was tumultuous longer than it was stable. We were co-workers, roommates, and close friends; but at points, we were also in arguments, disagreements, betrayals, blow-ups, and periods of silence.
That’s life though. More relationships you have will have unpleasant parts than not. But it doesn’t resolve the feeling of guilt when remembering those times when they pass away, especially in such a manner and under such circumstances. Intellectually, you know there’s nothing you could’ve done. Logically, you know there’s nothing you could’ve done.
But then you remember that the last time you saw each other, you promised to catch up. You remember that you could’ve reached out at a couple points, and somehow missed each other. You find out that there was a lot going on that you missed because of your travel schedule and other engagements, and feel like the worst friend on the planet for having no idea of what was transpiring.
Such is the untimely loss of a friend.
Tonight, I’ll be attending his viewing. There’s a lot of religiosity and conservatism in this family, and the funeral tomorrow will be a full Catholic service. Those things would make me uncomfortable before I transitioned, but right now, with the way things are and the atmosphere in which we live, you’ll have to forgive me if I’m not somewhat uneasy knowing how I might be received since almost no one attending this service will have seen me since I started transitioning.
It’s not about me, and I’m not going for them. The same as I know I couldn’t have changed the outcome, even if he had reached out. But that doesn’t change the guilt I feel, the heartbreak I’m experiencing, and the fear of facing those that either didn’t know or don’t agree with it. I don’t feel that’s unreasonable. It’s acknowledging that while good things may take place, and there will certainly be those, potentially bad things may also occur. It’s not pessimistic, it’s realistic to consider both sides of the equation.
Just the same as you have to do with a friendship when it comes to an end in such fashion. It’s not unfair to the person who passed if you remember the bad times along with the good, because that’s how they’re a person. To gloss over that is to disregard part of your story together. Just because it’s come to an end doesn’t mean you tear that chapter out of the book.
That being said, it’s going to be hard to read through that chapter when you pick up that book again, no matter how much you know that it doesn’t make you a bad person for doing so. The only thing you can really do is make the best of the situation, and try to be there for those who are hurting worse than you are.
But this one hurts. Badly. Damn, man. I wish I knew you were feeling such pain.
Help Brian’s Family – https://www.gofundme.com/brian-johns-memorial-fund
Brian’s Obit – http://cumberlink.com/lifestyles/announcements/obituaries/brian-michael-johns/article_d9234ffa-2c1d-57ac-9c73-2c37ae1fc063.html
Permanent Solution (2015) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4DosOKXMvpk