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Brown and Sticky
It all started on July 10, 2009. It was a warm summer night, and my brother and I had just arrived at the my friend's family's house, as we were taking a trip with them to Mt. Olympus Theme Park the following day. The house had been my second home since the fourth grade, where I had met one of my best friends, Becki. I sat down on the familiar, deep green carpet in the living room, and was immediately greeted by their fluffy black cat, Rammy. Becki sat near me, absorbed in her red Nintendo SP, and my brother had immediately found refuge on the black leather couch stationed in front of the television with Becki’s younger brother, Garrett, at his side. I found great comfort in this house. It was always warm, and had a distinct yet pleasant smell that I could never seem to identify. I had not been in the safe haven of her living room for long when my phone started to buzz.
“Mack is dead!” It was Skeeter, the motherly figure amongst our circle of friends. She was struggling with the words, her normally steady voice consumed by sobs.
I laughed, “You’re joking, right?” Anyone and everyone who knew Mack would react in this same way. The thought of Mack being the first of us to go was outrageous.
“Why would I joke about something like that?” she snapped back. “Mack is dead! He hung himself in his room.” She paused, as if expecting a response.
My stomach twisted sickly. A response was exactly what I could not give her; my words had ceased to exist.
“They’ve opened the high school up. There is some kind of service going on in the library. We’re all meeting there,” she said, hanging up.
Panic was building within me like a shaken soda threatening to explode. The room felt hot, yet my skin felt cold and sticky. I felt the stares in the room, yet was oblivious to them. My eyes focused on Becki, who had a worried expression plastered to her face. “Mack is dead,” were the only words I could muster.
His real name was Macklin, but I never knew him as “Macklin.” To me he was ’Mack’aroni, and I was ‘Liz’agna, and together we had many unsuccessful expeditions in the search for someone to call ‘Brock’oli. Sometimes, I would laugh at the idea of him standing next to me. My ‘grunge’ clothing must have looked misplaced next to his athletic-wear. He was a wrestler and a football player among many things, where as band was my only extra-curricular. His body looked chiseled of marble, and my arms looked like hot rice noodles, though neither of us were exceptionally tall. He had messy dish-water blonde hair that would become thick and wavy as it grew out. I also had dirty blonde hair, but would continue to flat-iron it until Mack would convince me that it looked prettier when its natural curls were left untouched. Mack spoke his mind, and loved to be himself. He was never troubled by what other people had to say about him either; his fetish for tacky Hawaiian shirts reflected this perfectly.
Not liking Mack was impossible, and loving him was very easy. He had a disposition I could only describe as being “sunny and 75.” I remember my friends and I seeking refuge from the 2008 homecoming festivities by hiding in a music practice room. The room was claustrophobically small, and the solid white walls and echoing silence it offered could drive a normal person to insanity. To us however, the practice room provided safety and comfort in a harsh high school setting. There the six of us waited. I was sitting in a chair playing Pokémon on my Nintendo DS, and was surprisingly unalarmed by the fact that Mack was out of my range of sight. I looked up from my heated battle to find all eyes in the room on me. I looked around in confusion only to find Mack sprawled under my chair, that wildly contagious smile I loved stretched across his face. With one swift motion, he lifted my chair into the air. I screamed with fear, as my friends fell to the floor laughing. We were having more fun than was allowed in the strictly monitored halls of Columbus High School. But this was who Mack was; the type of person who could put a smile on your face no matter the circumstances.
I was never a fan of the high school classes that required me to be in my chair, awake, and ready to go at seven in the morning. Jazz ensemble demanded this of me twice a week. Mack was also a part of the jazz ensemble, but seven in the morning never stopped him from smiling. When I think of jazz ensemble, there is always one day which stands out in my mind. It was one of those commonplace mornings in Wisconsin: cold, crummy, dark, and miserable. Like most days, I arrived at class, feeble from sleep deprivation, and not-so-gracefully fell into my chair, saxophone at hand. I groggily looked over to Mack, who was staring at me, his eyes wide with excitement, and a huge grin across his face. “What’s brown and sticky?” he asked me, still smiling. I approached the question warily, trying to ignore the immediate image that had come to mind. After an extensive amount of silence, he happily replied, “a stick!” With a few words, he had made my day significantly better.
Mack and I grew very close in a very short period of time. We were each other’s speed dial number two, bested only by voicemail. I loved Mack, but sometimes, I hated loving him. He was one of the most annoying people I had ever met. But one day, he had decided that he knew what the most annoying thing in the world was. Mack approached me, and without saying a word, he started touching my face with the entirety of his hand, lightly gripping one side, and then the other. He would continue this unpleasant act until I finally questioned him.
“What are you doing?” I asked with an annoyed edge in my voice, wincing each time his hand came near my eyes.
Excitedly, he responded, “Isn’t it annoying?” He hurried to offer an explanation, struggling to contain all the enthusiasm. “It’s annoying because it isn’t socially acceptable to touch another person’s face, but at the same time, you can’t do anything about it ‘cause it doesn’t hurt!”
Mack and I were best friends despite our differences. Mack was warm and welcoming, and seemed to be friends with everyone. He did not believe in hate, and told me on numerous accounts he did not see the point in it. I, on the other hand, was the ultimate pessimist, destined to die old, miserable, and alone save the company of my feline friends. We approached life so differently. Why were we so compatible? Like a bird hitting a window, the answer came to me while I was messing around with an application on Facebook.
The application was entitled, “Which Dr. Suess Character Are You?” After taking the time to fill it out, my result came up “the Grinch.” I knew I was pessimistic, but I never thought of myself as a furry green beast with a heart “two sizes too small.” But anyone who knows the story of How the Grinch Stole Christmas! knows that the Grinch has an epiphany after seeing the extremity of the good in the Whos’ hearts. I needed Mack like the Grinch needed the Whos. It did not matter that we were day and night; in the end, there is no day without the night.
I learned a great deal about life from Mack; it is too bad it took his death for me to realize this. The cliché that we do not realize what we have until it is gone had become a harsh reality for me. I took Mack for granted, and death took him away. I remember our last conversation very well. We were talking about going to see a movie, but I turned him down simply because I did not want to spend the money. “Maybe next time”, were my exact words. I thought that Mack and I would always be together. In old age, we were going to race our power chairs around the retirement home parking lot, throwing bananas at each other like they do in Mario Kart. I guess our time together was like an hourglass, and I had no way of knowing the measure of sand remaining.
I sat in the high school library quietly, dissecting the orangish carpet with my eyes, the awkwark scent of old books and cleaning solution filling my nasal cavity. Never had I seen so many people in the library: students, coaches, counselors, teachers, and even parents. Mack had touched the lives of many people. After a short silence, the principal began to speak.
“If you could say anything to Mack right now, what would you say to him?” At the time, I was too wrecked by emotions to answer, but if I were asked the same question today, I would know what to say.
“Thank you for everything, Mack. There will always be a place for you in my heart; a place where you will never be forgotten. You were the best friend a person could ask for, and I wish we could have had more time together. I love you Mack.”