My Best Friend Died. This is How I Celebrate His Birthday

Vishal Kataria

(Photo by Keegan Houser on Unsplash)

Every year, a decade-old wound opens for me, one that will never heal. Even if it does, the scar will remain.

And it reinforced a lesson I can never forget.

The year was 2000. My family was going through a difficult event. Relatives and my parents’ friends kept giving me ‘tips’ to handle it. Nobody cared to ask how I felt. To everyone, I was just a tool to do their bidding. I wonder whether anyone thought of me as a real person with flesh, bones, and a heart.

I couldn’t focus on my studies. I had no real friends. Well, it wasn’t my classmates’ fault. I blabbered a lot hoping they would like me. But the only people I succeeded in attracting were the bullies, while the rest of my classmates got repelled. I didn't them anything to respect me for. Everything about me spelled the word ‘L-O-S-E-R’.

He was the only one who stood by my side. My true friend. When everyone ordered me to keep my feelings aside and focus on the greater good, he said, “That sucks. It’s shitty how apathetic elders are.”

I loved music, but Britney Spears and Enrique rocked the charts in those days, and I hated them. I felt lost without music to soothe my soul during those tough days. He introduced me to the heavy metal band Metallica. It changed my life. I heard more bands like Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Linkin Park... And I felt like this music was what I had been searching for all my life.

Rock and metal made me quit engineering and want to become a musician. When I told my parents, they looked like they had seen a ghost. Neighbors and relatives were equally horrified. Everyone wanted me to complete my studies. "Music has no future, you'll end up alone and hungry on the streets," they all said.

But my friend said, “If you want to do it, you must do it.”

I quit my studies and picked up a job. With my first salary, I bought an electric guitar to realize my dream of becoming a musician. He was with me when I bought it. We went to the music store together, bought it together. I still remember the look of pride on his face. He kept saying that I would do something big someday.

Then I got a job at a call center and joined a rock band. I started getting back on my feet... somewhat. Meanwhile, he went back to his studies and we lost touch.

A few years ago, he gave up his life. At the tender age of twenty-six. The butterfly, whose flapping wings created a hurricane in my life, was gone. I didn’t get to know about it until two years after.

What’s more, he was deeply disturbed during the last few months of his life. He was always there when I needed him. But I wasn’t. I should have been. I could’ve listened, made him feel better. I could've made him feel better by giving him hope. I could've held his hand and told him that things were going to be okay.

Then again, maybe I wouldn’t. I hate to admit it, but I didn’t have an open mind in those times. I was obsessed with seeing the world a certain way and demanding that others see it my way as well. All I did was tell people what to do, regardless of their personal feelings, which won me more enemies than friends. And it makes me wonder whether I would have made him feel worse. Only in the last five years have I grown internally.

But that’s not the point. The point is we must keep in touch with people who matter.

Often, life happens. We drift away from people we love. We fondly cherish the friendship’s memories.

But we don’t know what our distanced friend could be going through. Does she need me? Does he wish I was around? Does she wish someone was around? That someone can be you.

It has been twelve years. I miss my friend a lot. It was his birthday a few weeks ago. But I couldn’t wish him a happy birthday. I couldn't sing for him and play my guitar to show him how far the boy who was struggling when he met him has come. So I did what I do each year. I left a birthday wish on his defunct-Facebook profile. "Happy birthday, Hufu. R.I.P. Return If Possible."

Don’t just keep in touch to get something. Keep in touch to give something… something nobody else can offer. Be there for your friends. They’ll thank life for sending an angel like you. Your butterfly wings can create a positive hurricane in their lives.

There's a beautiful short poem by Charles Hanson Towne that goes such:

"Tomorrow," I say, "I will call on Jim,
Just to show that I'm thinking of him."
But tomorrow comes--and tomorrow goes,
And the distances between us grows and grows.
Around the corner!--yet miles away . . .
"Here's a telegram, sir . . ."
"Jim died today."
And that's what we get, and deserve in the end:
Around the corner, a vanished friend.

Common sense is useful here. You can offer unconditional love by accepting people for who they are rather than what you want them to be. Yet, don’t love at the expense of your own self-esteem. It’s okay to let people use you once or twice. But if you notice a pattern, it’s not selfish to move away without malice, without anger or resentment. In fact, knowing when to walk away so that you don't sacrifice yourself is a sign of strength rather than weakness.

Some people deserve you. Others don’t. Identify the ones that do, keep in touch with them, and give them everything you have. Be the best you can for them. And let go of the others. Keep your doors open, not just for people to walk in but also to walk out if they choose.

I’m guilty of not keeping in touch with people who care. It took a memory to make me realize how selfish I was.

It’s not always about me. In fact, it should almost never be about me. It should be about the people I love. Keeping them happy will make me feel like I lived my life well.

I will step out of my comfort zone. I will keep in touch. I will ask people if I can do something for them. Will you?

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