What do you do, when you wake up day and find out that someone who was far too young passed on? When it was someone that you had known and even been talking to a week or two before they had passed? When it’s so sudden that it doesn’t feel real? That’s what I’ve been wrestling with for the last couple weeks. It’s a hard thing to think about. I’ve had a dear companion die very recently, and on the 19th, I found out that a friend of mine who I am horrifically ashamed to admit I hadn’t kept as close to as I should have also died. It’s an ugly world. Where lights can get snuffed out in an instant. It’s a reality I have been aware of for far too long.
Normally with these I have done things going through the lives of the people I am remembering. Thing is, I didn’t know Justin in his early years. The two of us met in high school, through another friend who I haven’t been keeping up with the way I should. So, I figured I would just reminisce on the memories I did share with Justin, and the thoughts about the impact that he left on me, along with what I believe has and will stick with me.
Been trying for days to think of how I first met Justin. Wanna know the crazy thing? It was my sophomore year in high school. You know how long ago that was? That was in 2004. That was 14 years ago. Holy fuck! That feels like two lifetimes ago. I feel like I’ve been in my 20’s for forever. No joke, it feel like I have been doing this for fucking eternity. High school is this vague conception from some other eternity long passed. It was such a blink in the vast ocean of time after my head injury. Before then is all pretty vague. I don’t remember things the way normal people do. I don’t remember the past like some movie that I can put on. To me it’s like conceptual thoughts. There are sensory experiences, bits and pieces that play like a movie, and other things that are a shadowy extrapolation. It’s hard to understand, I know, but that’s the best I can describe it.
One thing about Justin is that just like our mutual friend, but nowhere close to myself, he was a pretty big guy. A pretty tall guy. You know, for all you normal sized midget people. To me he was average. Right where I’m at. Because I’m not really tall. I’m normal. The rest of you all are short. It’s a conspiracy and everyone is in on it to have me thinking I’m tall. But he was a pretty tall guy for all you normal people. So is our mutual friend, Bryce. Him and I go back much further, but that’s a story for another day.
I do remember that I met Justin through Bryce because of his father. His father was the teacher who led the ELP group at my school. He also became one of my favorite teachers years later, when I had him for Drama. Guy was the best example of a fun teacher. He had fun lectures, did fun projects, and had everyone get involved. Including something that I hear had disappeared from the school and for which I gained a TON of notoriety for – lip synchs. Those productions were some of the most fun I ever had during my boredom at high school.
Because Justin’s father was the head of ELP, and Bryce was in that program, I spent many a lunch period chilling with him in the room that his father was cornered up in. That was where I met Justin. Tall, braggadocious, and he had a lazy eye. To my credit, as much of asshole as I was in high school, I never made light of that. I’m proud of myself for that fact.
So let me run through some memories that stick out in my mind from our time together. There was this tiny little kid named Jake. I know his last name, but I’ll keep that to myself, but it sticks out for how odd it was. Thing about Jake, he was a tiny kid with some physical disorders that contributed to his absolutely tiny size. It also led to some health problems for him down the road which are also quite tragic. But Justin had a rather fun idea – why not put Jake in a backpack and carry him around? So he did. That’s exactly what he did. Put that tiny young man into a large backpack and carried him around. If we had had camera phones, I’d be attaching that video here, mark my words. Yeah, this was before the days where everyone had a phone to record video. The horror! All of these memories get to be in my heart.
Then there was the time that Justin had a video camera and decided to record me. Now, in high school I was something of an edgy asshole. As such, I tended to let my mouth wander away with me. On this day, he recorded me saying that if I was going to cripple America in a substantial way, it would be by blowing up Congress during the State of the Union address. Strategically it is a valuable time to strike. It would cripple this country in a very profound way. It was made known to me by his father at the time Justin was recording and egging on my response that one could consider that video a terrorist recording. That did admittedly give me pause. I wasn’t the insane idiot that I am today who fears no consequences. At least I wasn’t as aware of it then. I found out something about that later.
Over the last couple years, I’ve been fighting depression in a very big way. It’s been getting harder and harder. The winter is always the worst. I live in an icebox where it’s dark all the fucking time during the winter. I feel so trapped when that happens. I’m stuck and I have nowhere to go. My social network has fallen apart in recent years, and my attempts to salvage whatever I can have resulted in abject failure. This hits me especially hard considering that one night, I was very dour on my social media, and Justin reached out to me. He was genuinely shocked at how unhappy I had become. He told me that he had always looked up to me in high school. That my anti-authority and debonair attitude had struck him as something worth looking up to me. I didn’t have anything nice to say back. I said that I’m an asshole with a bad attitude and that nobody should look up to me. Given where we are now, I genuinely wish I hadn’t said that to him. Thank Groj that that wasn’t the last conversation we had.
Another memory popped into my mind. I was part of a play that was being put on. I forgot what it was, but my role was to be the backup lighting and sound guy for Justin if he couldn’t be there for whatever reason. So I ended up attending the performances for this show. There were a couple. The one that sticks out is where Justin and I was being dutiful, but there was an older acquaintance of the two of us named Donnie who came and sat with us in the back. Now, Donnie must have been high, because he was absolutely out of control and would not shut the fuck up. It came down to my compatriot and I thinking up a very depressing solution to the problem. The fact that it took this to make who was now a grown man keep quiet is just depressing. We gave him some paper and a pencil to draw on. What he came up with was equal parts amusing and utterly immature. The two of us recalled later with some amusement how we got a grown man to be quiet by treating him like he was five. The irony isn’t lost on me.
There are lots of little pieces of abstract memories that pop in and out of my head. Sitting in that tiny corner room chatting about whatever nerdom or geekery that we were into at that time. I can’t think of specifics. Hanging out with the girl who would eventually come to be my ex. There are so many memories from back then that pop into my mind, but they don’t have shape or form. I can’t hear the words I said and the picture is like the broken up worlds of the pictures in Life is Strange. I wish I could think of more. Been wracking my brain for days. Over a week now. So surreal.
As I said early on, I had talked with Justin not long before he died. A few weeks ago, I posted this article about how a woman chopped a guy’s dick off for not looking her in the eye during sex. But she had such a lazy eye that I joked “which eye was he supposed to make eye contact with?” Was dying of laughter. Still funny thinking about it now. Fate being what it is, Justin saw my post, and decided to comment on it. At first he played all butthurt because of how he also had a lazy eye. But I could see right through it. He found it as funny as I did. Led to some pretty good conversation.
A couple weeks later, I open my Facebook to see that my friend had died. On the 16th. Apparently it had been in his sleep. The cause of death has not been determined as of yet. I found out about it on the 19th. I don’t think it feels real yet. Like it’s one of his absolutely terrible jokes. Justin was not good at humor. So many dead baby jokes. I laugh now, but that’s just because of hindsight and the some warm nostalgia. Edgy teenagers trying to be edgy. Still feels like I could get a message from Bryce like “gotcha! Dumbass! You should have seen the look on your face.”
Been postponing this post for a couple reasons. First it was to get my information straight in my head. Try and remember what I could. But also because I didn’t want to rush this out the door and put even more hurt on his family. His father was one of my favorite teachers, and I feel for him so much. There was some other family that I never really got to know on a very personal level. A sister and mother, both of whom I was told are pretty cool people. My heart goes out to his father so much. I cannot begin to imagine how awful it is to lose a child. Was told that in June, on when would be his birthday there is going to be a memorial service, of a sort. I told them I will be there, and I meant it. Going there will be the hardest thing I have ever done. Not a family member passing, but a friend. Someone whose connection is something that is unique to him, myself, and the friends we had in common. But I wouldn’t miss that for anything.
I guess that’s all I have to say. Will be sending this to his family, and I encourage anyone who remembered his and feels comfortable sharing their own memories to post in the Comments. If you haven’t commented before, I have to approve all newcomers, so if it doesn’t appear right away don’t sweat it. But I always do, so don’t worry.
Now comes to hardest part. How do I close it. What is the quote that I want to say to close this out. Don’t have many of them. We didn’t keep up much in person, and the memories from back then are muddled. Was looking through what I have in text that has stuck with me all this time. Will post the one I like best.
Until next time, a quote,
“A human life is something hard to play “god” with
Not that there is one.” – Justin Joehnk