Through Death Comes Cleansing

John would text me at about 11 pm almost every night during senior year of high school.

“Wanna smoke?”

He’d drive over to my house, I’d sneak out, we’d go down my street, get high in his car, and talk about life. It was our little routine.

John and I were friends since 4th grade. We played at recess together, teamed up on kids like Dom during foursquare, made fun of weirdos, and ate fruit roll up together. Not quite best friend status, but we were good.

High school.

John didn’t like a lot of the friends he made at Oak Park, so he tagged along with me and my friends at Chaminade instead. My friends and I started the ITFL, short for International Touch Football League. It was basically our huge extended friend group, about 10–20 people, playing football every Friday at the park beside school. It’s international because Wesley is Chinese. We even got three teachers to play with us a few times. It was a big deal.

While we’re on the topic, we started a gang too. We called ourselves The Humphreys. We had a gang sign, phone camera group pics, and I even created an official written Humphrey test filled with questions about the inside jokes among our friend group. The test was something like 8 pages long. If you scored 80% or above, you were initiated with an official nickname. John’s was J-Blow. He was one of us.

We got even closer when we discovered weed together. John, my other friends, and I would hang out constantly. I’d sneak out almost every night at around 2 am, we’d all get high in a church parking lot, throw burritos at residential security guard cars, and get in high speed chases (probably because of the burritos). We really fucked shit up back then. John always drove.

We were literally partners in crime. Out of all our friends, John was the only person ballsier than me when it came to doing illegal things. He was the only one who entertained my half joking suggestion to steal beer for his house party that we hyped up but couldn’t buy alcohol for. He and I got chased out of a CVS by the manager with 66 shitty beers in our red, red hands. Our friends were waiting in a get away car though, so it was chill. “I HAVE YOUR LICENSE PLATE,” we heard as we drove away. He didn’t. And John ended the party early by puking all over himself in his garage. Hehe. Good times.

Best friend status.

Then, towards the end, he started to act differently. He had a habit of bringing up the Illuminati, the AntiChrist, and other mythology and conspiracies. We’d all joke about it, so it wasn’t too serious. He also started to joke about killing himself. They were always framed as jokes, so of course we blew the jokes up even more. All good fun. But as time passed, he grew quieter and more sullen. As if he was worried about something.

One day he told us about how, when he was in a crowd at a concert, random people around him would make fun of him for smelling bad. He thought he had chronic anal leakage, which is honestly fucking hilarious. We assured him he didn’t smell like literal shit, and that he was just imagining it. He laughed with us, but we knew he was serious.

Fast forward a month or so.

John drives me and Will to Santa Monica beach on a school night. He sternly tells us to leave our phones in the car. People might be listening. We walk out to the rocks, mist kissing our faces, far from our bugged phones, and he breaks down. In between sobs, “Guys, I think my dad is molesting my sister.”

A few weeks later, after we put some reasonable doubt in his suspicions, he tells us that characters on TV spoke to him. And somewhere in this mix of events, he gets sent to the principal’s office, where two police officers met him and drove him to a mental facility. His teacher overheard him saying something about killing himself in class.

He gets out of the facility a few days later, and we’re all hanging out at a park.

“It was so scary guys. I was in there with all these crazy people. I don’t belong there. They were trying to give me antidepressants, but I think they were actually trying to put me to sleep. I wasn’t actually going to kill myself, I was just joking. I never want to be in there again.”

A month or so later, it’s just me and him in the car, and he’s driving me back home at about 2 am. I told him I wanted to go home a lot earlier because I had homework, but he kept us out later despite my pleading. “John, please just take me home.” But with a stone cold face he seemed to purposefully make wrong turns. “John just take me fucking home!” I was tired and pissed. So we were silent. We’re on the 101, finally on our way back, and then suddenly.

“BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM!”

As fast as a machine gun. He had drifted into the white and orange reflective stick barricades, each spaced about a foot apart, coming out of the asphalt.

“JOHN!!!”

I grab the steering wheel and swerve it back so we’re in the lane. “DUDE WHAT THE FUCK?!!” Silence. “JOHN WHAT THE FUCK WERE YOU THINKING WE COULD HAVE DIED!” Silence. “FUCK YOU!” Silence. We get to my house, I say nothing, and slam the car door shut.

That was the last time I saw him.

Two days later he drives to Palos Verdes, and jumps off a 300 foot cliff onto rocks bordering the shore.

No one saw it coming. But hindsight is 20/20.

I found out through a Facebook chat with Carl, and immediately Google searched “John Albrigo Suicide.” Two articles matched. I read them to confirm. I read them over and over and over and over again. I grabbed my laptop and ran to my room. It was around 8pm. I was lying in bed with the lights off. The left side of my face sideways on my pillow, my eyes wide open staring into the black. I stayed like that for what must have been hours before I fell asleep. And not a single tear. Why would I be sad? I’m in a dream. This isn’t real.

I wake up, and the first thing I do is type the same Google search. The suggestion for “John Albrigo Suicide” pops up as soon as I type “John.” I reread the articles. Still, I didn’t cry. It was January 27, 2012, my little brother’s 7th birthday. We went out for a family dinner, and I acted normal. Talking to my parents about normal stuff. Smiling and joking around with my siblings. I wasn’t going to ruin it.

A few days later, me and my friends are carrying John in a fancy box up to the altar. The church was about half full. His family. Our middle school friends. Their parents. Our old teachers. I remember walking up to the open casket and seeing his face skinnier than I’ve ever seen it. I remember wondering how his face was even intact. Thinking about how they might have needed to reconstruct it because it was so shattered from the fall. It was super white from the embalming and make up. I reached out to touch his forehead, which felt like stone. To this day it was the most surreal moment I’ve ever experienced. And still, I didn’t cry.

At his funeral, so many people were sobbing. Being surrounded by it made it much easier, so I was able to squeeze out a few tears. I wasn’t trying to hold back. I wanted it at this point. But those few tears were so empty. They were tears from the contagious sorrow of people around me, not from my own gut reaction over my dead best friend. I was still pretty numb, I guess.

The years following, I never once cried about it. To be honest, I barely even thought about it. Because when I did, when I tried crying, I couldn’t. I couldn’t feel sad about it no matter how hard I desperately tried. So he grew stale in my memory.

Shortly after he died, I saved the last conversation I ever had with him. We had it a day or so after the freeway incident, the day before he died, over fb chat. I’ve reread it so many times since then I almost have it memorized.

Writing this post thus far hasn’t been very hard for me at all. But pasting this conversation here without editing anything is honestly really fucking painful.

John

Do you believe in heaven

Me

no

do you

John

No but I believe in death

And through death comes cleansing

Me

i don’t think of it that way

i think of life as a video game

that you keep playing

and you only have one life

and when you die, it’s game over

John

But what if you don’t want to play the game anymore because the rules aren’t fair

Me

better to beat as many levels as you can before game over
than stop playing at level 2 or 3

John

honestly i think im going to kill myself

I don’t get how you go on living everyday

Me

because it’s better than being dead

trust me, if you were conscious enough to regret killing yourself

you would

i mean you can if you want

i’m just saying you’d regret it if there was anyway that you could

John

I know who I am

The last video posted on my Wall

Me

what about it

and i want to tell you

the only way, at least in my philosophy, that suicide is justifiable

is if the world has been incredibly unfair to you

Me

and let me tell you, the world wasn’t unfair to you

you were unfair to yourself

if your life is an abysmal shit hole right now,

it’s mostly because of your own fuck ups

and it’s your responsibility to fix yourself

because if you kill yourself

if you, the overpriveleged white kid living in west hills

if you kill yourself

you quite literally, fail at life

which is honestly so pathetic because you had a decent upbringing

don’t try to justify your suicide by saying you didn’t have a good upbringing

you did, you just didn’t take advantage of it

John

Yeah

fuck man thanks for putting it into perspective im just in a real rut

can u hang tonight

****

I couldn’t hang out with him that night.

Early this past August, I got my first car. I picked it up near Palo Alto, where my brother was borrowing it, and drove it for the first time all the way down to LA. During the 6 hour drive, I was in a very pensive mood. It was a big deal to me, finally having a car now. I thought about how this drive would be something I’d remember forever. How it marked the beginning of my adult life outside of school. I thought about a lot of things.

John. My eyes grew heavy. My vision quickly blurred, so I blinked forcefully. So many tears fell down my face at once. Within a few minutes I was audibly sobbing in my car alone, going 90 in the middle of the desert. I cried in silence for literally an hour and a half straight, and could feel the evaporated trails on my face and how it kinda makes your skin feel tight. Four and a half years later. It’s one of the best drives I’ve ever had.

He would have thought this was hilarious

Today, John’s place in my mind isn’t a place of pain or sadness. I can’t look back so sadly at fond memories. I had the time of my life with him, and for that I’m so thankful and happy. My friends and I don’t hesitate to joke about his death either, because that shit can be funny. We know he’d be dying too if he was listening.

John influenced how I fundamentally look at the world, and how I live my life, but his own existence feels blank. It’s like a hole. I can’t fully feel his absence because it’s as if he was never there. As if I only knew him from a dream. It’s taken me years, but I’m ok with that now.

After everything, this is what I learned.

  1. Keep your cool and listen

Actually understand and internalize what people say to you. My mistake with John was not listening. He confessed to me his seriousness about suicide, and I was so angry I could barely see it in front of me. Be hyper aware of everything. Voice tone, word choice, body language, other subtle behaviors. Everything is important. Look for signs of when someone isn’t ok.

2. Embrace sentimentality

A lot of people, mostly men, try to resist sentimentality because it’s seen as weak. Because it makes you a softie. Because it’s not manly. They hold themselves back from experiencing emotions that can be used so powerfully to change them and give them the true resilience they’re trying so hard to fake. I try to cry almost every chance I get, and I think I’m made of steel.

3. Love people

You really don’t have a clue what people go through. You can know the biggest events in someone’s life, every detail of their personality, but you have no idea what goes on in their head. So many people are dying inside. You can’t always tell who these people are, so love everyone. Especially the people who treat you like shit. They treat you badly because something eats at them on the inside. Forgive that.

4. Understand that you already have it all

It’s so easy to find reasons to be unhappy. Remember where your life probably falls on the spectrum of how fucked up life can really be. Stop thinking you’ll be happy when you attain X ,Y, or Z. So far scientifically, your existence is a miracle. You’re sad you have so many student loans? Sad you crashed your car? You can look at things with eyeballs! You can eat things that taste good and smell things that smell good. You can laugh. You’re alive. Everything’s magic. You’re already in paradise.

****

These are some of the strongest cornerstones of my philosophy, and I’d like for every human to think this way too. I’m one of the happiest people I know, and am convinced that these four takeaways strongly contribute to that.

But of course, we all have such different lives. So when I try to tell you to live your life differently from how you’re doing it now, I know there’s an element of shortsightedness. I don’t know what you’ve been through.

This is me, and you are you. There’s only so much I can convince you of. So when I lay this on the table, of course I want you to take it. Of course I want it to change you. But I don’t expect it. That’s your decision to make.

“I mean, you can if you want.”

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