I had this best friend for the past 20 years… He was a loser like me in high school and we hit it off right from the start. When we finished high school, we went through phases of being distant and being close. Our close friend phases involved hour- long phone calls nearly every day. For a period of time, we both attended the same university (although we were both mature students coming from very different places).
We were best friends because we could be 110% ourselves around each other, and because we always came back together like nothing had changed, even after stints of a couple of years without talking. But, our relationship was also pitted with a lot of negative emotions.
One of the memories I feel the most shame from is that he paid me to get naked in front of him when we were teens. He was never able to find female companionship and I felt pitty for him. I allowed him to buy a glimpse of female nudity. He and I both made mistakes in that decision. I think we both felt gross about it for years to come.
The real issue in our friendship is that he was in love with me. He had been for our entire friendship. Although he admitted to it a few times, he also claimed to have gotten over it in more recent years. He came to my wedding (although he did get drunk and a bit emotional – in a negative way). He claimed to be over me and happy that I’d found love and started a family. He was one of the first people I told I was pregnant. But despite his vows that he was happy for me, I always saw a sadness, or disappointment, in his face when I shared happy news about my love life or my family growing.
My wife was uncomfortable with me spending time with him, for obvious reasons. Over the last 3 or 4 years I worked hard to casually cut him out of my life, so as to not hurt him with a sudden rejection but to nonetheless send a message that we were growing apart and I was easing my way out of the friendship.
But then one day last year he called me out of the blue. He said he had no one else to talk to, and that he had just been diagnosed with cancer. We were both 32 at the time. He didn’t know how to tell his mom, and he didn’t have any other friends he was close enough with to tell. We talked for over an hour that day, on our first phone call in over a year.
Over the past year we started casually texting again. My wife agreed that I shouldn’t shut him out when I was all he had for support. I didn’t go out of my way to support him though, which I feel bad about. I only visited him in person once this past year. He called me a few times and cried through the phone about how terrifying his situation was. He told me that he couldn’t bring himself to be honest with his mom about the full extent of his cancer; that it had spread all throughout his body and that he knew he didn’t have much time left. He hadn’t told a single other friend besides me. And I wasn’t ready to be there for him again as a best friend.
On boxing day, I text him to see how he was doing. His response was incoherent. I tried to arrange a call but he incoherently communicated that he was in the hospital and couldn’t talk on the phone. On New Year’s Eve his mother texted me using his phone. She said he was in a hospice and only had a few days left. She knew we had been close, and even though he was no longer responsive, she offered for me to see him one last time.
I took the 4 hour round trip on new year’s eve and saw him in a way he wouldn’t want me to have seen him. He wouldn’t want that image of him – emaciated and slack jawed – to be burned in my memory of him. But I’m glad I went to say goodbye. It was horrible and heart wrenching, but when I spoke to him his eyes moved. I think he was in there somewhere and I think he heard me. He died early the next morning, just yesterday. New Year’s Day.
He was the first peer I’ve lost to death. 33 years old. Our relationship was so complicated, but we were best friends, for better or for worse.