An Open Letter to My Friend…Gone Too Soon

Dear Darin,

My dude…my homie…

How is that you are gone? How is it that we had a moment of silence for you today over the morning announcements? Why is it that…each time I walk up those third-floor steps (while they may have winded us more than once) they feel heavier with each and every movement? How is it that I hung your picture from your funeral in my classroom and in my home? Man, you’d be proud of my “domestication”—putting pictures in frames and such. You look good in that picture, friend—like you were happy in that moment. I can’t look at the other pictures of you from that photoshoot because when I see your wife and your kids…dude, I lose it. I know you probably spent years agonizing about what would happen to them if cancer took you…you must have been in mental torment. I can’t imagine the dark corners of the mind that must have taken over. But you stayed near to your “well” and that bad boy didn’t run dry because…you stayed positive…somehow, someway…inspiring, my Friend.

Something I’ve been hearing a lot around here is … “I don’t know how he stayed that strong for that long…” I only half-heartedly can relate to that sentiment. Here’s why…you were always a “Soldier” to me…long before cancer entered your body—before that. I believe somethings you just “know” when you meet someone…like, if you jive or not. The first time I sat down with you in the lounge and was my whole-true, unfiltered self…you didn’t get irritated or walk away saying “she’s out there” (well, maybe you did) but one thing you did do was listen…you listened to my dumb issue which I believe at that time was breaking up with someone? You listened and I knew right then you were a warm soul with compassion and understanding and patience. Now see, for some…that might not mean a whole lot but to me, it was everything. You came to know so much of me because you were someone I could trust. You were someone who looked out for me, you were a brother. You believed in me. I can whole-heartedly and vividly remember the day you came into my study hall in the cold north cafeteria and told me that, “it was ok if I was mad at you” …you said we would still be friends and you were right. And back then, in my immaturity and in all of my pain…I was mad at you…I remember I called you a “snitch”. You told me that was a “street rule” and it didn’t apply to this situation. You knew how hard-headed and unruly I was…but you still put your foot down when you started to see that dark path I was on…I was flirting with the path of destruction but you stood in the gap for me…you protected me…like a Brother. You “bossed up” to me and did what was right for me. I remember you and Paul even came to my house to make sure that I would come through on my promises and to make sure that I was ok. That was after an extended after school “intervention”. Who does that? Not just an ordinary friend, that’s a special friend. That’s a forever friend.

Darin, how is it that Ashley, Adam and I cleaned out your room yesterday to give everything to Emily from your classroom? How is that even possible? We made jokes, we reminisced…in fact, you would’ve found some dark humor in it. We read your school journal which is informal writing to you but a treasure to us. We are grasping for anything that feels like you…me, Adam, Ashley, Loree and Paul…feels like our hearts have been ripped apart. There’s a lot of tears around here for you because you were loved by so many. So, so many. I bet all of the teachers will be offering extra credit for tissues…everyone is sad man. I know that’s probably the absolute last thing you would want to happen but they are tears of sorrow. All those times after school on the track…never again? You, listening, me…talking—too much, like normal. That was smart of you to take me on a run because…well, you can only talk through gasps of air for so long…then the talking runs out. All those extra summer days…not with you? That dumb thing nobody else would find funny…never again? Me, coming to you…confiding in you…never again? I can’t swallow that. I just really can’t.

I try to ignore it…knowing good and well that you may not be “here” but you always, always (as cheesy and dumb as it sounds…) be right in my heart…right in there, my Brother.

Being in your old classroom…. being in the classroom where we taught together…that’s um, that’s a tough one. We had so many chats in here, so many jokes. So many hall duties. You never popping by ever again just to say “hey”. How? That look across the room or that chuckle during a faculty meeting? Why did you have to go? I’m so pissed at cancer; how can it just intrude your whole being like that? That beast you fought with for so many years, Darin…I have to believe it didn’t take you into a worse place…I know ultimately…you still beat it because you’re in the light—you’re consumed by lightness and by joy and by happiness…you once again, have Bossed up, Soldiered up. I’m not surprised. Not a bit.

I think you’d probably be pretty proud of me…from the time I was in 323 then booted to the House up until this day—things have changed and for the better. I can say with 100% certainty, I wouldn’t be where I am today…without your touch, without your sensitivity, without your influence…no way.

You know, your death opens up some wounds…those raw feelings of fear that I’m sure you felt for years, I can’t even complain about them within myself because I know you must’ve chased down even darker, rawer and more vulnerable emotions during the fight of your life. But, truth is, Darin…I’m scared, man. I am scared. I am filled with fear…

I’ll end with a quote in honor of us teaching English together…

“We grieve because we love”…and how honored I am to have loved you. If grief is the price we have to pay for love then it’s worth paying for.

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