February is a hard month for me. It’s never been a good month, I can list a number of reasons, chief among them, one my best friends passing away in high school during this month. You’d think more than a decade later we would move on from these things, but I don’t think we really ever move past the things that shape us, especially when they happen when we’re young. Thank the powers that be that this month is only 28 days, or I guess 29 days this year. The month’s brevity is the only thing that it has going for it.
February is meant to be endured for me. I don’t know if it’s healthy or not, but the way that I was raised, we were taught to endure hardship. To push on, to persevere, to accept that sometimes things will be hard, and we have to press on, whether we had help or not. I guess that’s some of that immigrant mentality that my parents impressed upon me, which I thank them for.
I remember hearing the news. I think we had off from school for a snow day for some reason, and then finding out from a friend online. Jason had been suffering from leukemia, and while we knew that it was serious, I don’t think we ever even entertained the possibility that he could pass away. I know that our memory has a way of only leaving the best things for us to remember, but I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jason was the best of us. He was giant not only in stature, but in the way he brought out the inherent good in people, and inspired his friends to be kind.
My eyes are actually tearing up as I’m typing this, because it’s been so long, or maybe because it’s the first time ever that I’ve put these thoughts down. Back then, I didn’t understand grief, I don’t think any of us did. Jason’s passing brought all of us together, partly because we didn’t know what else to do, other than to be close to each other so we didn’t feel so alone. It was this dull ache that I tried to push away by keeping busy. I remember going over to his house and making collages in tribute to him. In retrospect, I can’t even imagine what his parents went through, having their child pass, and then seeing his friends in your home trying to make sense of it all. If I for one second brought any more pain to them, I can’t even bear to think of it.
We endure, that’s what we have to do, and that’s what we did. But no matter what, I can never escape February. I’ve tried keeping myself busy, with work, with partying, with women, but there’s always a dull ache and melancholy which casts a pall on everything. To endure, at the end of things, we need hope, and that’s why I think Jason’s death had such a profound effect on me, because in a lot of ways, he embodied hope. Middle school and high school are divisive places, exclusion was the norm and I definitely struggled with finding a place. As a bookish dork who wasn’t super coordinated, you can tell I was a huge hit with the student population. But that didn’t matter with Jason, he was always the person who would make you feel included, to make sure that if you wanted to be a part of what he was doing, you were in. He never judged, and he was, and still is, one of the most naturally witty and funny people I’ve ever known. He has this amazing talent to come up with the most absurd ideas, and then get you to buy into it, so you were the ones in on the joke. When he passed, I think for a lot of us, we lost a bit of hope.
For some reason, I never heard ‘Blackbird’ until I was in college. I know that the Beatles are some people’s introduction to music, but it wasn’t for me. The first time I heard it, I knew I loved it. For the longest time, it felt like a love song to me, because I didn’t know another way to describe it. It wasn’t until I heard this version of ‘Blackbird’ that I really understood what the song meant to me…
I realized that the melancholy that ‘Blackbird’ evoked in me was the counterpoint to that which I felt when I remember Jason’s passing. ‘Blackbird’ is about hope. Hope is inherent to love, I don’t think love can exist without it. And so the reason that I held this song so dear to me, was ultimately because it was a song about hope. Unassuming hope, a hope beyond faith, a hope that transcends reason.
And I think we all need hope, not a hope to win the lottery, or a hope to meet my soulmate, but a deep and unyielding hope that tomorrow will be better than today, and that we will be better than who we were yesterday. I forget that more often than not. It’s easy to be treated poorly and use that as an excuse to treat others as such, but someone being an asshole doesn’t excuse your boorish behavior. I fall into that trap at times, and it’s seductive to subscribe to that mindset, but I’ve come to realize that the man that I want to be is not determined by the actions of those around me. That is what Jason reminded me of, because in all things, he made us believe that what was coming next was going to be even better, and he wanted all of us there with him.
There are a thousand memories that I could share with you, but I can’t right now. Partially because they’re so bittersweet, and partially because I’m selfish, because those memories are so near and dear to me that it feels like something that you have to have earned. And maybe in time I’ll tell you about Super Oh, the horrible fake ad we shot for “Yespi”, or the time we wore sombreros and convinced the school to let us play conga drums as “The Three Muchachos” in a school sanctioned music diversity event (Note: Not a single one of us ‘muchachos’ had the least bit of Hispanic heritage, or spoke Spanish beyond a third grade level).
All I can tell you, is that while I don’t think of Jason every day, there never goes an extended amount of time without my mind drifting to his memory. February gets it the worst and like I said, I endure. The grief never really completely goes away, it’s like a dull ache that reminds us of what was, and truth be told, I don’t ever want it to completely go away, because it means that I will have forgotten. But as I’ve grown older, I’ve realized that the best way to honor his memory is to hold on to hope. To hold on to hope as a shield against the torrents of fear, to champion hope with unflappable courage. And that when we fall short of that, we can still be kind to each other, and to ourselves.
Because that is what Jason would’ve done.
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise…
You were only waiting for this moment to arise…
I miss you big guy, rest easy.