It wasn’t until this year that I ever thought of life in terms of a decade. By next year, I will have lived three of them. But I never think “Oh, I’ll be three decades” and when it was my ten year reunion, I never thought “Oh, I have been graduated a decade” and etc…
But recently, I have begun to think about the depth of a decade.
Today, it has been one decade since my friend Jimmy passed away.
10 years, a decade…however I look at it, it is far too long to be without him. And I miss him.
I miss him today like it was ten years ago. Sometimes I miss him and it feels like ten years. But the one constant, is always how much I miss him. I have stayed close with his family, developing my own close relationship with his mom, Karen. This does help with the grieving process and I am so thankful for them in my life. But the truth is, outside of my writing, I don’t really show much emotion when it comes to Jimmy. I think about him every day- some days I am angry, some days I am sad, some days I laugh and some days he just crosses my mind. I grieve over a loss that is constant- I never got to know him as an adult and I am acutely aware of all the life experiences he was cut short. Losing a friend at nineteen is still difficult to process even ten years later.
My words, although therapeutic for me, never seem to do justice for Jimmy; I could never adequately put into words who he was a person. Jimmy was just someone you had to know- and I feel blessed, that even though we only knew each other a few years before our time was cut short, that I got to know him.
Jimmy was one of a kind. I met him on my first day of work at the local Shoprite. It was April of my junior year in high school and we were both sixteen. He came over to me to bag and I said “Hi James, I’m Jill” and he said “It’s Jimmy” and I said “Well, your name-tag says James so that’s what I’ll call you” and it was from there that the friendship began. (I called Jimmy, James. The entire time I knew him and long after he passed. But being around his family so much, I now call him Jimmy. I am sure this is a win for him ) Of course this was only after he was done being mad at me (as if it it was my fault) that I got to work register before ever having to bag. Oh, the terror! Many of our friends worked at Shoprite and one of the things we did weekly was write down all the schedules of our friends. This way, if we wanted to call out, we would typically choose a day when none of our friends were working. Mature and responsible! When we did work together, which was a few times weekly and every Saturday night, it was nothing short of a good time. We tried to time our breaks the same so that we could eat together and just hang out. Jimmy was crazy- he would do anything for a laugh. He liked to put me in a shopping cart and push me around…once we even knocked over the entire razor display. He also liked to “do returns” which basically meant pick up the returns from the registers and put them away. Except he would put them away in the wrong spot! We would have water fights in the back room, sticker fights at register and when we were once put in bakery for punishment (I can hardly remember what got us there!) we got into a fight with flour. Yeah, it went over huge with management. But that was Jimmy, and that was our friendship.
Jimmy had such a listening ear. When I started dating my then boyfriend, who also worked with us, he was always there to listen if I needed him. Even when he got upset with me for “ditching” him to take breaks with my boyfriend, it didn’t last long. When I started driving, we would hang out after work, just driving around talking. We talked about his first kiss, both our new relationships, school, friends, music…you name it, we talked about it.
Jimmy was fired from Shoprite in the spring of our senior year and I quit right before graduation. But that did not stop us from hanging out- we went to different high schools and hung out with very different people but for us, it always came back to me and Jimmy. Our antics did not stop just because we were no longer working at Shoprite. Jimmy gave me the confidence to be who I was when I was with him- something I struggled so deeply at the time. But because of this confidence and his craziness, I often broke the rules with him- once, while his parents were at a concert he had me in his house (huge no-no with his parents) and they came home early. I had to hide until he could safely get me out the front door. Another time, we went swimming at like 2am. I have a loud voice and a loud laugh and his mom ended up yelling out the window that it was time for me to go home. Karen and I still laugh about that. He also had a way of making me laugh even when I wanted to rip his face off! When I enlisted his help to buy me tampons (yeah, I was that girl who got embarrassed by that stuff) at a CVS he said no problem but then walked up to the register with them, pointed at me, and asked the lady “she looks like a regular right, too small to be a super?” and I turned about 2098 shades of red and ran out of the store. And then there was his always kind heart- once at the mall, when there was nowhere to sit and eat our lunch, Jimmy decided we would sit with an older couple. He politely asked them if we could share the table and we spent the next hour just listening to stories from them. They were so nice and it was just Jimmy’s way to sit down and talk with anyone. There are only a handful of the stories…just a piece of our friendship.
The day I found out Jimmy died is at the top of my worst days list. I remember I was meeting a friend after class to go shopping and when I got there I could tell something was up. She wasn’t close to Jimmy but knew him and had a friend who knew him pretty well. And the news had gotten to her first. She told me as easily as she could but really, how do you tell your friend something you know is going to change their life forever. I remember running out of her house just in a daze, not even really crying yet. I drove to the diner where I knew my parents were having dinner- everything is still such a blur, but I know by the time I reached them, I was inconsolable. The days that followed all mix together- tears, no sleep, tears…
I found the first year was full of numbness. I spent a lot of time at his grave, just sitting and writing. The loss was so deep and my pain was so raw. But nothing could have prepared me for the second year. The year when you can no longer say “this time last year…” Up until now, the second year was the hardest for me. In the ten years that have passed, I have come to find that while it never gets easier, it does become manageable. I still visit the grave- every birthday, holiday and anniversary (this being the first I have missed due to vacation) and on the occasions when it strikes me to say hello. Sometimes I bring flowers, sometimes I write and sometimes I just go say hello. I think about him every day- for ten years, I have thought about him every single day- but I smile more now when he crosses my mind. I find that when I am with Karen, we laugh now more than we cry. And that isn’t to say, there aren’t still tears, because there are…sometimes because a song or memory and sometimes because it is just a random Tuesday. But for me, ten years later, there is some peace that comes with these tears. Finally.
In the last few weeks, I have really been struggling…I was at odds with myself over being here in Wildwood instead of home where I could visit with him. But the truth I know in my heart is that I can visit with him wherever I want, whenever I want. He is always with me. I carry him in my heart. And being here in Wildwood, with the ocean waves and bright sun, is about as peaceful as it gets.
It is 7am, the sun is shining bright…I think I’ll go take a walk on the beach and say hello to my friend.