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End of Innocence
August 22nd, 2007. The last day of my innocence. I left this stage of my life unwillingly and without knowledge of losing it, the transition occurring as I slept after the first day of school. As my eyes fluttered in deep sleep, an irreversible, invisible, intangible shockwave reverberated through the world and left the happiest days of my life mere memories struggling to hold on in its merciless and destructive trail.
My dad attempts to shake me awake. I look up through eyes adjusting, through the last layers of filmy sleep, to my cave-like room and see his typical early-morning expressionless face. I turn over with an incomprehensible grumble. Relentless, he shakes me again and I begrudgingly slide around until I’m sitting at the edge of my bed facing him. A quick glance at the clock alerts me that it’s 5:51 A.M. Unusual. I shake it off as an early-morning trick and take a step towards the showers, ready to prepare for my second day of school.
“No. First come to our room,” my dad instructs. I grow tense. Earlier than normal wake-up? Meeting in my parents’ room? Something isn’t right. I walk down the hall, Luke in front of me and Sean lagging a few steps behind, semi-conscious. My mom is lying down on her bed, Blackberry nearby and the clothes she wore yesterday still on.
“Boys,” she says, “my sweet boys.” She seems distracted by some overwhelming mysteries entrapped in the deep recesses of her brain. Her eyes are orbited by bruised and puffy skin, reminders of her sleeplessness. We all curl up on the bed, fending off sleep.
“Daddy and I have been up all night,” she takes in a deep breath, “the Smiths called at 1:30 this morning.”
My heart begins to beat rapidly, scared immediately for my best friend, Sam Smith. His dad also happens to be our school’s principal.
“There’s been a horrible, horrible tragedy.” At this, she breaks down in tears, pulling my dad closer to her for what was I was beginning to guess might not have been the first time that night. My heart shifts into the next gear, hurrying in anticipation.
“There’s been a horrible, horrible tragedy,” she repeats herself.
“John,” she tries to recompose herself, failing, “our sweet, precious John, has taken his life. He committed suicide tonight, boys.”
The words echo through my mind, not sinking in until seconds later. When they do, my entire body loses feeling. I feel disconnected from the world. My heart rate has dropped precipitously, knocked out by the words I still can’t believe. I lean up against my dad, my eyes slowly unlocking and releasing a rivulet of salty, confused tears. I want to throw up. My stomach, my heart, my life, has been turned upside down and shaken like Yahtzee dice. My mind races, frantically searching for some logical explanation for the words my mom has just given birth to, painfully pushing and squeezing them out, the pain evident. It finds none. I excuse myself after a few heart wrenching, nauseous, unbelieving minutes, the unanswerable questions to the unthinkable deed lingering in midair, and walk to the shower, lobotomized and zombie-like.
I turn the handle, releasing thousands of cold droplets that my skin seems to deflect, as though some force field protects my body from physical substances. But not emotional ones. I sit down in the bath, my head leaning back against the tiled wall, oblivious to the icy water I desperately urge to wake me up from what I badly desire to be an awful dream.
I think back to the summer, when John and I, on a group trip to China, had roomed together multiple times. The all-nighter we pulled just to watch a friendly soccer game between Brazil and England. The boyish pranks we pulled on our classmates after, much to our chagrin, the game ended in a tie. The “campout” we had the last night in Beijing, when we both made tents out of our blankets and slept on pillows on the floor. Adolescent acts that we could never do again. I thought back to more recently, just two days before, to the last time I had spoken to him. It was at a back-to-school bowling party, and I had playfully ribbed him about his football skills, him about my football managing skills. How, innocent and naïve as I was, could I have been able to know that that would be the last “see ya later” I would ever hear from him?
I realized that that innocent Matt, the Matt who took his friends and his livelihood for granted, the one who could blame mistakes and shed responsibility with youth as an excuse, had disappeared just minutes before when the nausea-inducing words departed my mom’s mouth. How could he do this to me? To all of us? How could he so selfishly desert this messed up and unforgiving planet? Anger replaces shock and grief momentarily, and I punch the shower wall, trying to beat the reality out of my mom’s words.
With his life, John also stole my innocence. Why now? Why this way? I knew that this innocence begat regrets. I regretted not going over to John the first day of school and asking him how he was. I regretted thinking nothing of his absence from football practice that day. I regretted not doing something, anything, that could’ve impelled him to live just one more day. I selfishly regretted that I couldn’t have reached my maturity, lost my innocence and youth in a less painful, a less heartbreaking, a less life-shattering way. No more regrets.