By Cameron Sinclaire
It’s been a while, hasn’t it?
I wanted you to know I remember you. I remember your stories, what you loved, what you dreamed.
I wanted you to know that I miss you and that I think of our memories often. I have told your story so many times that I think it is forever cemented in my mind, but I’ve never talked about mine. I never talked about the grief or the pain or the recovery. I always stopped after the accident, because learning how to live without you has been the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do.
I was lingering in the hallway of Middleboro High, scrolling through my phone as one of our friends worked on a mural for the school. You walked out of the auditorium. Rehearsal for Grease had just ended, or perhaps you were taking a break, I can’t remember.
It’s funny how such little details were easily brushed aside, but now I strive to remember each one.
We hadn’t talked much this month. Between your upcoming play and my schoolwork, it left little time for anything else.
I was sitting on the ground scrolling through my phone as you and Jason talked.
“Yeah, Cam hates me, huh?” I heard you say. I hadn’t been listening to what the two of you were talking about.
“Yup,” I said, not even bothering to look up from my phone.
I was kidding. I was kidding. I didn’t mean it. You knew that, didn’t you? You walked back into the auditorium before I had a chance to say anything else.
It was the last word I ever said to you.
It was a Sunday. You’d been performing in the school musical all weekend and I had planned to go see your show that night with our friends. I expected to spend my Sunday as I always did, sleeping well into the afternoon, playing video games, going for a walk with my dog.
What I did not expect was for him to call me at 7:26am.
“Hello?” The word came out more like a croak.
I remember sitting up immediately. Jason never used my full name. His voice was strained, like he had been crying and a million different scenarios swam through my head.
“Nathan was in a car accident last night. He went out to dinner after the play with Will and Nick.”
I remember forgetting how to breathe. I remember waiting for him to say you were all fine, that you were alive and maybe a little banged up, but fine. I felt my heart plummet from my chest, the edges of my vision darkening.
“What happened?” I whispered. The silence was stretching on too long and I wasn’t sure how much longer I could stand it.
“Nick and Will are okay, but -” Again, that agonizing pause. I heard him take a deep breath.
You have to say it. I won’t believe it unless you say it, I thought.
“He didn’t make it, Cam.”
Your wake was today. It felt like the entire school came, the entire community, even. The line wrapped around the block and I think I must have stood in it for hours with my mom by my side. Our friends were just ahead of us. No one did much speaking, though. Part of me felt a little detached, surrounded by people who saw you everyday at school. I wish I saw you as often as they did. Being the only one in our friend group that didn’t go to Middleboro High was hard, and part of me wished I stuck with my hometown.
The sun had started its descent, taking the last of the day’s warmth with it. I hadn’t even realized I was shivering until my mom offered me her scarf. My cheeks were numb, my nose red, and I found I preferred it that way. I didn’t take her scarf.
When we got inside, the rooms were filled with your art, with pictures of you and your family and friends. It was beautiful. I don’t think you knew how much happiness you brought to so many people.
When it came time to kneel at your casket I didn’t know what to do. I had been lucky enough to not have experienced the death of a loved one until you left my life. So I kneeled awkwardly with my hand on top of the wooden casket and thought of nothing; I couldn’t conjure a single thought beyond the fact that you were gone.
But I didn’t cry.
Everyone else was crying. They were dabbing tissues to their cheeks and embracing each other. I felt like I should be crying. I didn’t want people to think I wasn’t grieving, because every night I lay awake trying to wrap my head around the fact that you were gone. That I was here and we were apart.
I didn’t cry.
It’s been 5 months, Nathan. I’ve grown closer to your brother. I can see so many characteristics of you in Nolan that sometimes it’s startling, but he’s growing into his own person.
I visited your grave for the first time since your graduation. I wonder if you can tell when I’m there.
Death is a weird thing. One day we were talking and making plans, and the next I was on my knees trying to remember how to breathe, how to think, how to live with the thought of never seeing you again. It’s been getting easier, though.
Your mom spends a lot of time at the cemetery. She’s planting grass seed and flowers and leaving little momentos beside your grave. Graduation was hard for her, but she was so strong, Nathan. Now I know where you got it from. Everyone has been there for your family. We’re taking care of them.
I’m seeing Jurassic World on Thursday. Me, you, and our friends were supposed to go together. I remember when the four of us saw Interstellar — you guys would not stop talking and I swore I would never see a movie with the two of you again. Now I feel shame for ever thinking such a thought.
I miss being able to talk to you. I felt like you were one of the few people I could be honest with and I’m scared that I won’t be able to find another friend like that. Remember when we talked about writing a comic together? You’d illustrate and I’d write it. Our interests and artistic abilities complemented each other in an irreplaceable way.
Some days are better than others… but I still feel your absence. I’m starting to think this weight in my chest will never go away. I still call your phone sometimes just so I can hear your voice when it goes to voicemail. I’m scared there will come a day when I can no longer remember that sound at all. I think that’s what terrifies me most.
A year ago today, we were at Six Flags — one of the most defining moments of our friendship. We decided it would be a good idea to go to an amusement park when it was downpouring. I was shocked to find the park was even open.
I wrote about this day in my college essay. Not about dancing in the rain in front of concession stands or the thrill of my first roller coaster. It wasn’t about Six Flags at all, actually. It was about the ride back. I don’t even think you realized you had any impact on the situation.
There is no quicker dampener of joy than an ancient Toyota Corolla refusing to start. I was anxiously bouncing my leg as one of our friends grumbled on the phone with the AAA receptionist telling her about the weird sounds coming from the engine. You and Sarah were suppressing giggles in the back seat — but when Jason glared at you guys through the rearview mirror it only made them louder.
The rain hadn’t stopped, and after a day filled with laughs, we were all exhausted and ready to go home. Despite the damp clothes and weariness, you were still filled with so much enthusiasm. I found it annoying at the time.
But as the minutes passed and we grew restless, you hopped out of the cramped car, opened the trunk, and pulled out a frisbee. Sarah quickly followed, Jason and I were slightly more reluctant. We were all standing in the misty sort of rain, my arms crossed over my chest, trying to keep even an ounce of warmth in my body.
“Hey, today was still fun guys. Remember, it’s all about the experience,” you said, tossing the frisbee as if to further your point.
By the time AAA arrived, the sun had set and my dad had come to the rescue. Jason said farewell to his first car and you saluted it with two fingers to your forehead. I watched from the window of my dad’s truck.
Jason told this story at the memorial service held at Middleboro High. All the students were there to hear it. From that point on, I looked at things differently. You taught me to make the most of the memories given to us.
You taught me that it’s all about the experience.
I was accepted to Umass Dartmouth today. The letter just came in the mail and I’m going to be a computer science major. It’s crazy to think that you would’ve just finished your first semester at MassArt.
Sarah and Nolan are dating now, isn’t that weird? Jason’s sister and your brother. They seem happy. Nolan seems happy. His first year in high school is going well. I think part of him was scared… but he’s adjusting.
Someone else has your number now. I’m not sure when it happened, but when I called your phone a few months ago it wasn’t your voice anymore. It’s still saved in my phone under your name though, I couldn’t bring myself to delete it.
I turned 18 last month, and today I got my first tattoo. It’s been exactly one year and one month since you left, but I was able to tell my tattoo artist about you. I told him how much we all loved Star Wars, how it was more of an obsession, really.
That tattoo took five hours. I couldn’t watch as he did it because the sight made me nauseated… but every hour was worth it after I saw the final product.
Taking up a big portion of my inner bicep is an R2D2. At first glance, I just look like another obsessive fan. But etched into one of his front panels are the initials N.L.C. I hope it means as much to you as it does to me.
Jason and I broke up today. He said the pain of losing me felt too similar to the pain of losing you. And I don’t know if that makes me feel angry or guilty or sympathetic, but part of me hates that he even said it at all.
I graduated from high school. I’m not sure what’s going to happen next, but everyone says college is where people find themselves. I hope that’s true because I’ve been feeling a little lost lately.
It’s times like this when I wish you were here to tell me I was making the right choice. Part of me isn’t sure if I’m going into the right major. Everyone keeps telling me I should stick with computers because I did it for so long, but I don’t love it. People can be so focused on technology.
I want to be an artist. I want to make people feel and imagine. I wish you were here to tell me to do that. You were brave enough to follow your dreams. Why can’t I be brave enough to follow mine?
It’s at the point in the semester where the weather is indecisive and the days are mostly filled with rain. It is not doing good things for my mental health. In a month, I’ll have finished my first year at college.
I haven’t been writing as much.
I’ve been writing lines and lines and lines of code and doing a lot of math. I hate it. No one talks to each other, I haven’t made a single friend in my major — and it’s times like this that I feel the loneliest. But my advisor keeps telling me that there needs to be more girls in STEM programs… so, I stayed.
Recently, my mind keeps straying to those nights I’d force you to stay up late with me so I could read you my writing. I was so proud of my work, and the way you supported everything I created drove me to keep doing it. I want to feel like that again.
I did something exciting today.
I submitted my application to be an English major. I took a creative writing class this semester for fun and to hopefully distract me from the computer classes.
But it was so much more than a distraction. I felt myself again.
I made a friend.
She approached me after class and asked me to be friends. I don’t think that’s ever happened before. After that, more followed. A group of us from that class started talking more. We formed a writing group called the Dead Poet Society.
I think I’m finally on the right path. I only wish you were here to see it.
It’s been a while, hasn’t it?
It’s been 5 years since you left.
I’ve been meaning to write again, but it seems as the months go by and life goes on I lose myself in the passing time. I should write more, I know. But I just…
I’m a writer now.
I spend most of my days staring at a Word document and it’s much more enjoyable than staring at lines of code. As I build these worlds and develop these plots and characters and write their lives, I feel this lightness in my chest. Or I feel like throwing my laptop against the wall. Either or.
Is that how art made you feel?
It took me longer than I hoped to become an English major, but I finally decided I was brave enough to do it.
I can’t say it has been easy learning to live without you. But as time passed, I can say I’ve made progress. I can talk about you without my throat tightening. I can look people in the eye when I tell them how you died.
I take photos of everything now. I’m compelled to capture every moment and memory or else I’m scared it’ll be whisked away from my mind forever. We don’t have many pictures together.
I saw your mom over the summer. She’s moving to South Carolina and asked if I wanted to come over and look at the last of your belongings she was holding onto. We laughed a lot, we reminisced and caught up. She gave me a couple of your shirts and R2D2 figurines.
I reached out to your brother, too. He’s staying behind to live with your dad. It’s probably been two years since we talked. I don’t think he wants to go to college, but he makes skateboards now. Isn’t that cool?
I guess the point of this was to tell you that I still think of you. Despite the time that has passed and the friendships that have drifted apart, I still feel your kindness, still see your face, still hear your laugh.
You need to know I remember you.
I’ll write again soon.
Bye. For now.