I answered the phone and heard my friend Jason say: "Do you know what day it is?"
"You idiot. Look at the calender. Don't say nothin' more until you figure it out."
I glanced at the date, read the month, and then I realized what Jason meant.
"I get it," I said.
"It's been 12 years," he said. And agreed with me when I said it still felt like yesterday.
Everybody has defining moments in their lives, and one person's experience will be different than somebody else's, but for my circle of friends circa 1993, we shared an experience that's still with us. It happened during a time when we were young and wild and ready to take on the world until THAT DAY arrived and everything changed. Suddenly we weren't young anymore and the world became a little scarier all because somebody made a mistake with a gun and that mistake cost somebody else his life. It was one of those accidents that could have been prevented if only somebody had yelled STOP. But nobody did.
I wasn't present when the accident happened. If I had been there, I would have hit the person who made the mistake over the head if it meant getting the gun out of his hand. I was (and still am) the resident firearms enthusiast, a stickler for gun safety and education, and the events leading to the accident never would have happened if I could have checked the "unloaded" gun before events went out of control.
It's all armchair quarterbacking now, but I truly believe THAT DAY 12 years ago could have ended differently if I could have only shouted STOP.
So we buried a friend. For a long time we didn't laugh as much and didn't do very much but one good thing that came out of it was my relationship with a young woman named Sara. We grew really close. Some said it wasn't a good idea considering the circumstances, but we didn't care. Life was too short and we didn't want to waste time. Eventually our friend's death galvanized Sara into chasing a dream and she indeed took off in search of that dream and I miss her a great deal. Every woman I've met since has had to measure up to her and none have been able to do so. I haven't spoken to her in, I think, 10 years. If her family hadn't moved halfway across the country shortly after her departure maybe - but enough of that.
The only member of the old gang that I'm still in touch with is Jason. Everybody else drifted away. Jason and I have never discussed THAT DAY in any detail. A knowing look, a remark, that's about it. Some things you just can't talk about.
So what did this defining moment teach me?
Nobody's invincible. And it astonishes me that some people never learn this fact. When you're young, though, what else is there to believe? We were raised to think that we could have and do whatever we set out to accomplish and we believed that in spades. Nothing could stop us.
I still wonder how our lives would be had events turned out differently.
I still think about Sara and when I do I smell her favorite perfume and enjoy a laugh over her silly habit of collecting - but enough. Those memories are mine.
I still remember the trauma of THAT DAY and how it felt like somebody had punched me in the gut when I heard the news and how it felt like somebody else had a grip on my throat during the funeral and how that just couldn't be my friend in that coffin.
I still miss my friend. I still miss Brandon. We half expected him to jump out of that coffin and shout BOO because that's the kind of sense-of-humor he had. I'd like to describe him in fuller detail but it's tough - I can't form a picture of him right now. To make a half-baked effort wouldn't do him justice. I guess it was from him that I learned perspective. Like with my current job search, and the trouble I'm having. He's say something like: "Don't focus on the jobs you missed. Just think about how neat it's going to be when you finally get the job that's right for you."
It's all in how you look at things, he always said, and that's something I've tried to pass on to others when they're in a tough spot.
Some are surprised I still make a hobby of shooting guns, but what happened wasn't the fault of the gun. And to make sure it doesn't happen again, every chance I get I hammer home the first two rules you must remember when you pick up a gun: It's always loaded, even when it isn't; never point a gun at anything you are not willing to see destroyed.
Sara? Yes, I've tried tracking her down with the wonders of the web but have had no luck. I don't think she's made much effort, either. I'm not hard to find - a simple Google search will turn up my work here at the paper. Perhaps some things are best left in the past. When we parted company it was pretty obvious that we were done. Maybe everybody else was right. Under the circumstances, we couldn't have lasted long.
Writing this has been very theraputic. I've never shared this so openly before and it's left me feeling very raw but I think I'm better for having done so.
Now you must excuse me while I go find something to make me laugh. Brandon would want me to lighten up.