Chris was my best friend. I have had other friends and even other “best friends”, but he was the best of the best. He knew me at a time when few did and a lot of the tumultuous tales of my insane childhood that most only know from after-the-fact stories, he was there to witness in real time.
I had three best friends in my life and he wasn’t the only one who passed away. All three of them did. Yet, something stuck harder with his death that remains with me to this day. Even now, 17 years later, I still think about him pretty much daily.
I can always remember the days that he, I, and about thirty of our friends would fill the backyard up to videotape “Supreme Championship Wrestling.” His massive frame made him a favorite opponent for all of us and, despite the size that eventually led to his days as a bouncer, he never hurt anyone when we did our “TV tapings”. The same can’t be said for everyone else. I’m looking at you, Jack Mercenary.
He used “Come As You Are” by Nirvana as his theme song and, to this day, the haunting notes that open it up always make me think of him. He was my tag team partner during some of my hardest years. We tormented people together. We’d spend all night driving aimlessly across Long Island together. We cut school to stalk and meet Joey Buttafuoco together. I’ve never known anyone like him.
When times are tough for me, as an adult, I wish he was still here. I want to ask his advice or hear his bellowing laugh during inappropriate times. He always made me feel better and, with him in my corner, I always felt safe. His friendship was unconditional during a time when I felt that I didn’t deserve much of anything, let alone someone as good as he was.
I could really use his friendship now. Today, as I navigate my way through this divorce, I feel like it would be the perfect time for that laugh. Don’t get me wrong, this experience has been positive and, for the most part, it’s been like getting a new lease on life. Leased life, however, isn’t about experiencing just one emotion at a time. As happy as I am that my kids are alright and my life is on an upward trajectory, I still get down here and there. Change is good, but change is weird. It can make you feel a little broken at times.
I’ve been referring to the two weeks before the start of February as my “soft opening” for the new house. Technically, I was a resident, but my bed wasn’t there yet and the final arrangements haven’t yet been put into play. I’d spend my days there, often with my one or both kids, and slink back to my old home at night to sleep, before leaving in the morning to continue the process. It’s enough to mess with one’s brain a bit.
My mind was fogged up with those thoughts when I walked into Target shortly after signing the paperwork. I kept running through a mental list of all I needed in order to fully stock up a house. Items that normally just lived in a home had to be purchased. Kid stuff. Dad stuff. Band-aids. Light bulbs. You name it, I needed it. I’ve never done this before.
The home décor section is right near the entrance of the store, so I was set to pass it straight away. From the entrance, I could see piles of door mats in the end cap of the aisle. As I often do when I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed, I start having conversations with myself that go around in circles.
Door mat. I need a door mat. I should get it on Amazon. Right? Amazon. They have more of a selection. Do I even need one? Is there one at the house? Do they give you door mats when you move in? Why didn’t I buy one by now? Maybe I have one. If I buy it, I’ll have two door mats. That’s stupid. Then you have to return it. Just keep going. Don’t stop at the door mats. You need so many other things.
So I kept pushing my cart and walking forward. Yet, I couldn’t help myself. As I passed the aisle, never breaking my stride, I turned my head to look down at them. I only saw one.
It said “Come As You Are” and froze me in my tracks. The words of the theme song that always rocked me to my core did so again, right there in the middle of the home section of Target. Without even checking the price, I threw it in the cart, made the tough guy face to preemptively counter any blubbering show of emotion, and bought it. Even now, I still don’t know how much it cost. It could have been $10,000. I didn’t care. Take a kidney. I need it.
Keep in mind, I’m not one for “messages from above.” I never look for cardinals or songs or things like that and, while I am supportive of those who do, I just never got on board with it all. Chris wasn’t either. One time, his sister said she saw the ghost of her dead uncle and we relentlessly mocked her for it for years. Subscribing to “signs” was never really our thing.
This, however, felt like a sign. Still, as freaked out as I was, I wrote it off and kept going forward. Sure, the thought of my friend during a rough time helped me through, but this was just a coincidence. Most things are. I allowed that passing communication from the beyond to stay where it was and bring me comfort in the moment. When that moment was over, so was I.
Then came the day that I had to schedule the movers. It would be the day that my bed moved into my new house, making it the first day I actually slept there, and making it the first day that it all became real. Even though I approached it with an incredible sense of excitement, it still had a number of other emotions attached. If ever there was a time for another one of those “signs” that I roll my eyes at, this would have been it, right?
The moving company only had a limited number of dates available for my move. The earliest available day would have to be over a week out from when I called. I was put on hold for a minute and awaited the appointment. The date I would be moving and spending my first full night in my new home was January 26th.
January 26th is the day, 17 years ago, that Chris died. It’s a day that I remember every year. I know when it’s coming and I know when it’s here. It now has two memorable reasons from this year forward. It’s a major moment in my life that is now intertwined with memories of the best friend I ever had.
And that was the moment that made me go from skeptic with a coincidence to a grateful believer. It was the moment that I truly felt he was still connected to me and, whether him or the universe, something was telling me that he was there. His presence was making itself known during my hard times and his presence will be there to welcome me every time I step through my front door.
I may have lost him nearly twenty years ago, but in actuality, I never lost him at all. Chris is still with me and always will be.