Today is a sad day for me and Tate. It would be one of our best friend’s 26th birthday. This March will mark five years from when our friend was taken from us. These posts are about Justin.
I view my life in two sections now: before Justin and after Justin. Before Justin I was pretty much a normal person. I dealt with anxiety, depression and mood swings occasionally, but other than that I was happy. After Justin, however, everything changed.
I met Justin in 6th grade at the private school we (and Tate) attended. I was the new kid and had been enrolled in the second half of the year, so I was still just getting to know everyone. Imagine my surprise and anxiety when they sat me in front of the cutest kid in the class! I had no social skills, was not in any way attractive, and did not know anything about beauty or boys. I became the friend, not the girlfriend.
He and I would talk during class and make jokes, and my earliest memory of him was in Mrs. Shannon’s class. She asked a question and his hand shot up. When she called on him he yelled “SCORE!” (he rarely raised his hand, and it was even more rare that he was picked) and then said “Aww, I don’t know the answer to this one.” I thought that this was hilarious and I went home and told my mom all about it.
We stayed friends for the next few years that he went to the school and I eventually became best friends with his best friend who he grew up with. When Justin left school, his friend did not, and through our closeness I stayed in contact with him.
A few years after he left the school I started dating Tate. One day Tate and I went to my friends birthday party and Justin was there. He and Tate knew of each other from school, but had never officially met before this day. At one point Justin somehow got his shirt soaked through with water, and because mine was dry and also because he was used to our platonic relationship, he grabbed me in a bear hug and squeezed me in an attempt to get the front of my shirt wet. I didn’t care and I didn’t even think about how Tate would feel until I heard a low voice from behind me say “that’s enough”. Justin let go immediately and apologized.
On our way home, I told Tate more about Justin and how he didn’t mean anything by it. Tate was still a little upset but seemed to be okay. Later that night I got a call from Justin.
“I’m sorry for upsetting Tate. He seems like a really cool guy!” He said. I agreed that he was and then gave Justin his number, because he wanted to apologize himself.
From that conversation on, he and Tate became best friends. I honestly don’t think Tate has ever been that close or will ever be that close with another person. Not even me.
The years that followed consisted of constant contact between the three of us. We would go smoke hookah at the local hookah cafe. Then we started hanging out every weekend at my mom’s house. When he walked into her house he would say “Hey Mom!” and she would laugh and give him a hug.
We, like most kids, started drinking at a young age; around 17 or 18. More than once, I would give him a ride home or to a friend’s house because he couldn’t drive. He and I would stay at the hookah bar until the lights came on at around 3am, just talking.
We talked about everything; politics, current events, life’s ups and downs, you name it. My favorite thing about Justin was how, even if we disagreed, we always had civil conversations. I often wonder how he would feel about the fact that he changed the way I think about so many things. I once was a very rigid social conservative; now I am a liberal through and through. I also loved how he was always genuinely interested in what you thought and why you thought it. To this day I have yet to find anyone who I can talk to like I could talk to him.
At one point I broke up with Tate right around the same time his girlfriend broke up with him. I have to say that his girlfriend and I are two totally opposite people. Where she just liked to play with his emotions, I genuinely did not mean to or desire to hurt Tate. Either way, Justin started seeing me the same way he saw his ex: a bitch who cared about nothing but herself.
This was when he and Tate got really close. I broke up with Tate at the end of 2008, we got back together in the beginning of 2009 and Justin and I did not get along until one night in late 2009.
Tate, Justin and I went to a party together one night. Because Tate had school the next day and Justin and I were off, we took separate cars: me in my car and Tate and Justin in Tate’s. When we got to the party Tate stayed for a couple of hours and then left me and Justin there. Justin and I hung out until about 2 or 3 that morning and Justin got pretty drunk.
When we got back to my mom’s house, where his car was, we ended up standing out in the driveway talking until the sun came up. I learned so much that morning; some of it hilarious, some of it deeply upsetting and frightening. But, the best thing that came from that morning is the fact that, from that point on, he and I were closer than ever. Throughout our friendship, he was more like a brother to me than my own brother was. Maybe that is why his death has taken such a toll on me.
I was at work when I heard the news. Tate called me multiple times within a few minutes and I immediately knew something was wrong. Tate never called me at work, and he definitely never called multiple times in a row like that. So, I told the extern I was training to take over and went in the back to call him.
“Hey baby, what’s up?” I asked.
“Hey, Justin got in an accident last night. He’s at Shands and it doesn’t look good.” He said. My heart sunk to my feet. Tate didn’t know much about it other than that he and a friend had gotten in an accident and he was in Shands, our trauma hospital.
I called my other friend who I thought would know more. At first he didn’t answer so I texted him. He finally called me back and confirmed my worst fears. The driver of their car was dead, he died on impact. Justin had no heartbeat when they found him, but they resuscitated him. His spinal column in his neck was severed, and there wasn’t much hope. I went into the bathroom and collapsed in tears when I got off the phone. It couldn’t be true! This had to be a dream. Surely this couldn’t really be happening!
Tate and I visited him that night. I still am unsure if that made things easier for me or harder. Seeing him laying there, lifeless and connected to tubes and wires and covered in ice packs, dug that knife in deeper. A part of me thinks that it was good to see, because I was able to grasp the fact that he would never have lived a normal life had he recovered, and that, if I was honest, my friend wasn’t even there in that room.
His dad told Tate: “That’s not my son. My son left the minute that car wrecked.”
I knew he was right, but that didn’t stop the overwhelming grief when I got the text saying “LJ passed”. I was just numb and heartbroken and confused at the same time. I’m not quite sure of anything that happened within the following hour or so after receiving that text. All I knew was that my best friend, my brother, was gone and never to be seen again in this lifetime.
I didn’t know, however, how much my life would change after that text came through. Oh, but it did…