It was one of those friendships that came together so slowly that we weren't sure when it began. I met Tom in grade 2. We were on the same soccer team but the only memory I have is from a surviving photograph. Tom had Cystic Fibrosis and was always a frail kid. He had a keen sense of humor and lived with his mother. His father had passed away almost before he was born so he never knew him. Our friendship blossomed from the ages of 8 until his passing at the age of 24.
His fragile health actually benefited our relationship. He had more of an urgency to do things. He hatched plans to go to concerts, to make a business partnership with my father and lots of other things. Though there were improvements in his medication, the life expectancy was still quite short. He lived almost ten years longer than the doctors thought he would. His fearless urgency got us to go see concerts from the young age of 14. That was something I would never dare ask my parents on my own. He lived close by to me so he always made the effort to come up so we could mostly play tennis.
His hospital visits became more frequent and longer. As time went on, he became even thinner. He withered almost into nothing. Each time I left the hospital, I felt that it would be the last time and there was sadness. However, the next time I went, he made me feel silly and over-emotional. That was how confident he was. He managed to get his degree in Economics at McGill. I was in full admiration on his ability to chase his dreams in such a short time although he never got to fully pursue a career. He passed away two days after I last saw him. His funeral was open casket. I didn't recognize him. He was in a suit and tie. I kneeled before the coffin and attempted to make a prayer. The strange thing was that I could not feel his presence in the room. I remember thinking that if he was somewhere, he was far, far away. I gave the eulogy at church and after we went to the cemetery. It was late September, and the leaves had begun to shed. I felt nothing but absence. There was nothing in my religion that could sway me because I felt the hard, cold reality that he was gone and gone for good. I didn't cry and I became concerned that I wasn't tearful. Partly this was because he made it clear while he was living that he didn't want pity or sadness. I purposely stopped myself and tried to grant his wish to do so.
A few months had passed and the holiday season was upon us. At New Year's, my then girlfriend drove me to a party to bring in the new year. It was a house party and I was okay. The clock ticked to midnight and everyone was jubilant to bring in the new year. For me, 1988 was gone and my friend went with it. The permanence sunk in and I felt the full onrush of sadness. I asked to leave and I got no further in the car when I bitterly wept for what seemed like a long time. He's been in many of my dreams throughout the years. Many of my dreams take me by surprise as I often dream about him coming back. I somehow got it wrong that he died and that it was all a bad misunderstanding. It was so convincing at times, that I often woke up extremely disappointed that things were what they always were.
Our memories really are important at keeping those loved ones that we lost, alive. Our brains scour our memories and re-manufacture them in dreams. While we can speculate if they have an afterlife or not, our memories often remain with us to remind us that they were indeed right here.