After graduating college, I got involved in a mentorship program through a local church in my hometown. I took on the task of meeting weekly with 8 high school boys, working with them on personal growth and college preparation.
Jon wasn't the coolest kid in the bunch by high school groupthink standards, but he was the most unique and very nice, so I was immediately interested in getting to know him better. He was a baseball star and an avid snowboarder. He had long straight hair and his own style. He was passionate about everything.
Jon and I spent many nights together with coffee and guitars. We would write songs, record them, practice them and even perform them at local coffee shops. Jon could sing, he had a wonderful voice.
Jon was always around, amidst his personal ups and downs. There were many downs.
Jon got his high school girlfriend, who my wife was mentoring at the time, pregnant after they graduated high school. Neither he nor his girlfriend were ready to be parents. They both wanted to experience college life, but their choices disabled them in this regard. They were unable to go off to college and both settled on community college as they prepared for the birth of their child.
She could have gone to any college she wanted. She was smart and pretty. The world was hers.
He was talented and personable. College baseball scouts knew him by name. His future was exciting.
Neither believed that aborting the pregnancy was an option, so the futures they imagined for themselves were not a reality at that time.
A quick marriage was assembled. A ceremony occurred. Their son was born. Hudson. A cute and healthy baby boy. The future was different, but who could deny that this beautiful little boy didn't promise a new and better future? A new purpose? A renewed vigor for living life?
Nope, that's not how this story unfolds.
She never stopped relying on her parents. He started taking pills to deal with the stress. She never tried to trust him. He found acceptance outside his new family. She had a short fuse. He started stealing from friends, and from her.
I was there through it all. I was privy to information on both sides and unprepared to deal with such a grave situation. I met with him, met with her and spoke to both sets of parents regularly. I tried to course correct, I tried to intervene, I tried to discipline, I tried to hold everything together, but this was not my thing to hold, or I was just not that strong.
There was a divorce. There were more pills. There were therapy sessions and tears, heartbreak and anger. Blame was a currency, and everyone was vying to make the top trade.
Amidst all the drama, my heart hurt for Jon. I could never defend his actions, but I could never deny the character that he once had. How can you lose that? How can you change the essence of who you are?
Was the Jon I knew still in there somewhere?
COME OUT BROTHER, WE MISS YOU, WE NEED YOU!
My cries were unanswered. Jon was always honest with me, but not anymore. Lies, so many lies. I would reach out to him and he would slip a little further away. He always seemed to be within my sight, but just a little bit out of reach. So I reached more, and he ran more.
He ended up running to Florida and entered a drug rehabilitation center. He cut ties with me, his wife, his family and even his son. I watched Hudson grow up. He and my son Cadence were best buds. Hudson sometimes called me "Dad". He was incapable of understanding the chaos that he was born into. My heart broke for Hudson.
I only spoke with Jon a few times over the next several years. Things were looking up, he said, but he couldn't face the reality of what he left behind, and why. Jon's ex-wife, and Hudson's mom, remarried a few years later. She's doing great and Hudson adjusted with his new dad. Even though she didn't get the life she thought she was going to, she was able to pull it together and now has a wonderful, happy and healthy family.
Jon did not pull it together. Jon died in November of 2010. He overdosed on drugs after finishing a halfway house program. A couple weeks before he died, I received this message from him on Facebook.
“i really miss our friendship, youve been as good of a friend as possible. im sorry i didnt return the friendship like i should have. im in a much better place now, not physically but emotionally and spiritually. hope you and cass are great!”
Then he was gone.
I went through all the stages of grief. Sadness, anger, guilt. The guilt hurt the worst, it still does. What could I have done differently to help him? Was I too hard on him? Too easy? Should I have spent more time with him? Less? Did he know that he was always on my heart even when he was avoiding me? Should I have found a way to tell him? Did he know that I thought of him like a brother?
Did I ever tell him that I loved him?
I still listen to the songs we recorded. It brings me back to a time when Jon was singing, and smiling. It brings me back to a time when addiction was only something for television dramas to deal with, not me. It brings me back to a time before the pain, before the guilt, before the sadness.
I miss Jon. I think about him all the time. Through my experience with Jon, I've come to appreciate my time with friends and family in a whole different light. I don't take relationships for granted like I used to. The people I know and love mean more to me than the things that I have. That hasn't always been the case.
I wish it didn't take the death of a good friend to teach me these things. I try to remember that when I think I have it all figured out, I’m only seeing things from one perspective.
In some weird way, Jon was my angel, when I was trying so hard to be his.
Missing Jon means remembering life. Missing Jon means loving friends and family. Missing Jon means appreciating the complexity and delicacy of life. Missing Jon.