One of the last times I saw Jay was about five years ago.
We were sitting across from each other at a pub. Three other friends filled the rest of the booth. It was the first time, in my memory at least, that we’d all been together, in the same place, since high school.
When you grow up, you tend to leave some friends behind. It happens to everyone, and had happened to us, too.
The reunion had come about as a result of a few fortuitous things. Firstly, social media – where Jay and I had reconnected; secondly, through a chance encounter with a third friend; while the final two were brought aboard after some good detective work and a deep dive through some old contact lists unearthed their phone numbers.
And though there was the requisite awkwardness that comes with sitting across from people you once knew well but now know very little about, it was never that way with Jay and I.
There was no strangeness. I was just happy to see him.
Jay had not been granted an easy life. He had family troubles, and dealt with some issues of his own. Near the end of high school, he came to live with my family, where life became, I like to think, easier for both of us.
He looked out for me that year when I was being bullied by some mutual friends, and he stuck by me when they didn’t. In turn, I did my best to help him through his issues.
Mostly, we played video games and watched the Rocky movies.
He left before the school year was over and I saw him less and less.
Then not at all.
Years passed, until we connected again on Facebook. After that, we hung out as often as we could, but eventually that, too, faded. I got busy, met my wife, and called him less. He went through a divorce, changed his cell number, moved a few times, and we lost touch again.
I knew he’d had some personal troubles since his divorce. I knew, too, that at some point he probably could have used, if nothing else, a friend to talk to. I could’ve tracked him down easily enough, had I been so inclined.
But I never did.
Jay died suddenly last week, at 33 – the result of an unchecked medical condition. I’m told there was nothing anyone could do. I found out about it the following day, after receiving a message from his sister.
I called my parents, my brother, and then a few friends. Word travelled fast, and I spent the rest of the day answering text after text, email after email, call after call.
I don’t remember what I said to anyone.
In the days since, I’ve thought about him constantly. I’ve wondered if a service is planned, or if someone is writing his obituary. I worry greatly that he will one day be forgotten – years from now remembered by former classmates and acquaintances only as that guy who died too young.
I worry he will become like others I’ve known who have passed away too soon, but whose names had been pushed from my memory until recently.
Life goes on. People forget. It happens.
I worry, too, that one day I will forget. Sure, I knew him better than most, but what about a decade from now? Or two? Or five?
Will I remember his goofy, elastic smile? Will I remember the distinctive laugh that you could always hear, no matter how loud the room or how crowded the party? Will I remember that spring break in 1998 when we grew to hate the Collective Soul CD that we played on a loop because it got stuck in my car’s CD player?
I like to think I will, but it’s hard to say for sure.
It’s so easy to forget, so easy to lose people – even your best friends – if you don’t make the effort. It’s part of the reason I wanted to write this column.
I don’t want to lose touch with him again, not for a third time.
I’d rather remember. I’d rather take him with me.
Nick Greenizan is a reporter at the Peace Arch News.