Tell the people you love that you love them. Doesn't take long and you don't need their response, you just need to make the statement.
Today I saw a man in the grocery store that looked just like Justin's daddy. He had three gallons of milk, two steaks and a fifth of Jack Daniels in his buggy. I imagined that the JD went in first, because that would be what Justin's daddy would do.
I met Justin the first day of school my sophomore year in 1992. He sat across the aisle from me in Civics class. He made me laugh and I could tell that he hid behind his jokes and his rowdy reputation. His nickname was "Tank" because he was as big as one. He called me "Harley" (guess my last name) and became my bodyguard my first year at my new school.
He dated a lot of girls, I dated a lot of boys but we still remained close friends. When I left for college, we swore we'd keep in touch. He had one last year left in high school. He came up some weekends while I was in college and we'd see movies, go to the bars, talk about home. He was doing what all the boys in my hometown did, milked cows every morning and afternoon for spending money, went to school with cow shit caked on their boots, screwed whichever girl would at night, smoked some weed, drank a lot of Strawberry Hill, rode the loop, fixed up their cars, parked down by the river, wished and dreamed about making it out, but most never did.
He asked me to his Senior Prom and, of course, I went. It was right around the time I was getting sick, I think I stayed up the entire weekend without any sleep. It was worth it. Justin was the perfect gentleman and we ended the evening at his daddy's bar.
I convinced Justin to pursue his dream to work on the big rigs, to get out of that backwater cowtown, to become something other than some girl's ticket to a better life. He went to Nashville and spent three years there. By that time I was through with college and through with my marriage and ready to live a little bit. Justin was there. I spent a lot of weekends back home and with Justin. We never were more than friends, regardless of what he thought he wanted.
We spent a lot of time riding the backroads, listening to Creedence and Bad Company, philosophising, smoking cigarettes and drinking way too much. We'd wind up at the bar, dancing and drinking and hanging out with his daddy. By this time, Justin was going all over the country, making pretty good money for someone from Kentwood and able to buy and do whatever he wanted. He asked me to marry him one night, telling me he'd take care of me, telling me he'd always loved me, telling me he'd buy me anything in the world I wanted. I loved him, I'd always loved him, but never in the way that he needed and wanted me to. I told him no and we tried to move on from there, but never really could. I hated to see him drink his life away after that. Hated seeing him chase after things that never would be what he wanted. The Christmas after my grandfather died, he asked me again, and again I had to tell him no. We continued to grow apart, with my life taking me in other directions and Justin's keeping him in the past.
That Spring he told me that he had found someone and she made him happy. I was glad for him. He told me that he'd asked her to marry him and she'd said yes. He just wanted me to know, but wouldn't tell me who it was, although he told me that it was someone that I knew.
Justin married my sister in July of 2004. I stood as maid of honor for her because she's my family and Justin was my Tank first. I was so hurt that they both couldn't just tell me, but I wanted to try to be better, to be happy for them, for Justin to be my family. At family gatherings, Justin would never meet my eye, would never stay in the room if it were just me there. My brother would rib him constantly, there were jokes about Justin saying my name instead of my sister's when they were intimate, my classmates at my high school reunion got a big kick out of Justin marrying my sister. To say it was awkward would be redundant. I was always so hurt that we couldn't overcome all this and be friends, honor the friendship we had for all those years.
Justin's health took a turn for the worse. I was back home for a visit and he had been ill. He was rushed to the hospital that Friday night with trouble breathing. He was stabilized and seemed to be doing ok. I was supposed to go visit him that Saturday, but got there after visiting hours were over. I wanted to talk to him, to tell him that ... even now, I don't know what I was going to tell him. All I know is that I didn't get to see him, to talk to him when I had the chance. The phone rang at 2:00 that morning saying that he had crashed and they were intubating him. By the time my brother and I got down to the hospital to be with my sister, he had died. I was too late.
I helped my sister get through all of the preparations and the funeral. I helped her be strong. I told my four year old nephew that his Daddy Justin was gone. And then I came back home and put it away in a little box inside my heart. Because in my mind, Justin was still back home, still making people laugh, still dancing and drinking and listening to Creedence.
Until I saw that man in the grocery store today.