So I Never Forget

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 Some people would say that what I am about to do is called self-reflection. Not me. There is nothing to self-reflect about it. It is me flushing out my thoughts so I won’t dwell on them, because sometimes they hurt too much. I have known loss. I have known more loss as a 27 year old than some has known being in their 50s. Each one has had an affect; each one is a story that changed my life in dramatic ways. My grandma’s passing was the first I ever experienced, but we knew it was coming—cancer. She fought hard, but after 18 months we lost her to the illness. I personally changed, dedicating my life to God, wanting the experience of love and strength my grandma had, but the story of my faith is a whole other story for a different time.

After grandma a slew of friends and classmates followed: Drew, Haylee, Lindsey, and Cody. Each one taken and each one reminding me that life doesn’t always make it to 80 with a large family and grandkids running around. You could make a mistake with drugs or look away for a split second while driving or battle a losing fight to cancer or succumb to the darkness surrounding you. Each time one of them fell to one of these problems I was reminded of how important it is to live. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer [experiences]” (Goodreads). I am trying to do just that, but again another story for another time.

The death that affected me the most was Josh. Josh wasn’t a blood relative, a childhood friend, or a classmate from high school, but a close friend who introduced me to the people I call family.

Looking back at Sept. 2006, I was still trying to find my way around Southeastern University as I started my freshman year. I had some friends—girls I met in my dorm area, but nobody of who would become permanent as I grew up. I don’t exactly remember how we met but I bet it went something like this…

El Prado, the main street/sidewalk in SEU, clamored with students hanging out at the tables along the windows of the café. Guitars could be found every other table with wannabe worship pastors serenading the M.R.S. degree girls littering the chairs around them, swooning over every note even if it was severely out of tune. I walked in, past the masses, to find something to drink and a late night snack for studying. I surveyed the coolers, picking up a Starbucks Vanilla Double Shot and then a blueberry muffin at the cashier’s stand, which became my go to study snack, explaining the freshman fifteen on top of the endless buffet of our “lovely” Chartwells (cafeteria caterer). As I was leaving one of my friends called me over to one of the tables with a guitar—great—but I sat down anyways, prolonging my procrastination of whatever homework I needed to accomplish, probably one of my religion courses. The interesting thing about this table was the boy with the guitar. He was very tall, (which isn’t saying much since I am a whopping 5’3”) with short blonde hair, narrow caring eyes, a long nose, and big ears. Unlike the many boys with guitars around, he wasn’t serenading girls with intense worship songs, but he and some other friends were…rapping? At a Christian college? I mean I grew up being told rap and Christianity didn’t mix, but since I had been to college a lot of things I was told was sacrilegious turned out to be a lie so why not rap too.

I learned his name that night was Josh and whenever he saw me he said hi, sometimes hanging out in a group on El Prado. It wasn’t too long after that he asked me to check out the worship band he was in called Tirzah. I remember walking toward the module classrooms down by Chartwells, nervous as hell, because at the moment I had a slight crush on him, but nothing too major. I mean come on! I was a single girl at college in a new state! I had to keep my options open…Yeah well, any who…

I walked into the module, music flooding my ears as they sang—Arms Wide Open? Oh goodness sake, somebody please save me from the deafening lyrics of Creed. When I finally found my footing, Josh stood next to a dude a little taller than him and wider in the sense of muscle mass. He had jet black hair and more of a baby face compared to Josh. He held an acoustic guitar, while Josh had an electric, and so did another much shorter and stocker boy with long brown hair. To my surprise and relief there were two girls a drummer and a keyboardist. The drummer made me think twice with her pixie short, multi-colored hair and punkish vibe. She reminded me of the girls who I grew up with that got me into a lot of trouble, but we are at a Christian college and nothing goes wrong there, right? Right!?

The other girl looked as if she was a year older than me, with very long, thin blonde hair and a sweet disposition—until she saw me. When she realized that Josh invited me I felt the ice stare of an angry Elsa bare down on me. (Yes, I know she wasn’t around yet back in 2006, but it is the only thing I can think to compare it too for a present reference, so get over it please!) I come to find out that out of the possible six dorms on campus, she lived in mine. Oh, but it gets worse—she lived in the apartment dorm room right ABOVE me! So not only did I feel her hate when I went to watch the band, but also when he was visiting her dorm or mine.

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I know all you ladies who have experienced something similar to this are probably cringing, because you know the feeling, but honestly I look back and laugh. Fast-forwarding a couple weeks, I had moved on from Josh, because there was just no lasting spark between us and I had found a boy who was giving me A LOT of attention…which will probably be my next life lesson story. But, before I go down that rabbit hole, Tirzah was scheduled to lead worship at Holly, my hated rival’s church. Well, worse came to worse and we got stuck in a car together—alone. CAT FIGHT! You wish. Actually, as we were driving I revealed I didn’t like Josh that way and I told her I knew she did. It was like all the frosty weight between us disappeared. This is where the story gets better in my opinion, because within that one weekend we went from rivals to sisters, becoming inseparable.

I know getting to this point in the story was a gruesome process, but I wish arriving at this point lead to only better things. After our amazing weekend of finally becoming friends and then family, our time together as a unit was short lived…

April 29, 2007. Supposed to be one of the happiest days of the year, because I was in Disney World with another one of my friend groups I had met over the course of the year. We had an amazing time, but not every day is a fairytale…

The six of us were packed into Christian’s truck after a long day of making dreams come true at my favorite place in the world. Since we finally were sitting in one spot, I thought I would get out my cellphone, which 1) was an old school flip phone: Razor and 2) was not attached to my hand the whole time, but buried in the bottom of my drawstring bag, because we knew what was more important than texting and social media. Not that we had the option on our phones, but still. Once I got it out I had a bunch of missed calls and a few voicemails from Holly. She normally didn’t call me this much, so I knew something was wrong, but I had no idea how bad.

I ignored the voicemail and called her. When she picked up I couldn’t understand a word she said. I quieted down the others in the truck and all I heard was “Josh was in an accident. Josh is gone…” She repeated it a few times in between sobs and the smile I had on my face all day long fell away as I fought the tears. I got off the phone after telling her I would come up to her room right when I got home. Everything after that became very foggy.

I don’t remember sitting in silent tears the whole 45 minute drive back to campus. I don’t remember telling Christian to slow down and be careful. I don’t remember the guard waving us in right before curfew. I don’t remember the walk back to my room. I don’t remember trudging up the stairs to Holly’s, hoping it was all a dream. I don’t remember finishing the last week of school and finals. I just can’t recall any of it.

What I do remember is our group coming together as a family. We had a memorial service before school ended and what we thought would be maybe fifty students filled up the whole chapel. The loss of Josh could have done one of two things to our band: break us up or pull us together. I thank God every day it pulled us together. A common question is why God? Why does this happen to good people? These are questions we can never fully understand, but what we can understand is He has a plan. I like to think God knew what kind of family we would become in the midst of the loss.

This coming April will be nine years; nine long years since we lost the guy who brought our family together. I like to think he was the permanent glue which bound us together for the rest of our lives, because if anything our family is growing, becoming stronger as the years continue. Holly and Ralph married within our non-blood related family and they are about to give us our first niece or nephew. (I am rooting for a girl! Girl means we outnumber the boys finally!) It is hard though not to think about how Josh could have fit into all of this. How would have Tirzah evolved with Josh and Rob both at the helm? Would he have sung or rapped at Ralph and Holly’s wedding? Who would have captured his heart? So many unanswered questions, but we need not focus on the negative, but focus on the good. I know—cliché, but it is the truth.

I will always remember how he would steal our fries, when he could clearly go up to the buffet and get his own. I remember him always carrying around an apple for who knows what—oh yeah, the cattle that were over an hour away at home. I remember his policeman walk, like he was packing on his hips, but really there was nothing there. I remember his goofy grin and the things that happened in Holly’s car, which should stay there. (Inside joke—don’t push it.) What I remember the most is the sense of belonging to a group who is to this day my closest family from my college years. I thank God I knew Josh, even though it was for only a short period of time. You never know when someone walks into your life, making an impact so profound it will change you forever. He was that for me—for us. So I pray if you know someone who impacted your life the way Josh influenced mine—hold onto to them for as long as you can, because we are not guaranteed a long life, so fill it up with the people who will make it a great one!

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