Eddie was different.
He wasn’t different because he looked paler than everybody else in the 9th grade.
He was different because of his dry, dark humor.
I met him in Health class. We would learn about sex, and he would roll through jokes.
Swirl his eyebrows around like worms. Stick his tongue against the wall inside his mouth. He made everyone around him crack up. He was the kindest person I met in high school.
He was the first person I candidly met in high school.
Nothing at first glance made you think that he was going through hell. Other than looking pale, he had every stride of a healthy person.
I guess everyone has a first.
It’s weird to learn about that in the 9th grade because I had no idea what cancer was. I didn’t know what it meant for somebody to have an issue with their blood. When you are 14 everything is pretty oblivious.
Reality hasn’t really set in yet. It’s beginning to set in, but you’re definitely still left in the illusion.
I’m not sure if Eddie knew what was going to happen.
I was on the Cross Country team in the Fall, and the Track & Field team in the Spring.
My training partner, Greg, was really good friends with Eddie.
They had been friends since Elementary school. Anytime they’d see each other, they’d high five, slap hands, whatever.
Greg didn’t speak much, but having him talk about Eddie brought out the human in him.
They had an inside joke about a washer. I never actually knew what this joke was about. It feels so far removed from reality when I think back on it.
A flat washer, like this one:
I grew a lot in that class with Eddie. It was the year that I started to truly concentrate on something in my life.
I had no real direction, my life at home was all over the place. I had been through summer school all three years before high school.
I was impressively mediocre to the nth degree.
Eddie rendered life real.
He didn’t mean to.
I don’t think I realized how serious illnesses could be. It never occurred to me.
I knew older people passed on. That always seemed so far away. My grandfathers had both passed, and it felt acceptable because they were older.
It didn’t seem to be one of those stories.
It didn’t seem like it could be a story like that.
Halfway through 9th grade Eddie had to go away to the hospital.
Whatever he battled, the school had us send him cards to get better soon.
And maybe it worked because Eddie came back. I found him towards the end of my 9th grade year, finishing Health class with me.
It was one of the last days of 9th grade, but Eddie told me that he really missed being around me.
He told me that he thought I had been a great friend to him.
All those days of jokes, and that was the only day I remember him being serious with me. I remember feeling that warmth. I made a real friend.
We all left for summer that year.
I returned to 10th grade; stronger, fitter, and smarter.
Kinder, because I knew people like Eddie had seen the worst of it, survived, and chose to remain happy and positive.
I saw Greg again, and he was wearing a necklace with a washer on it.
I’m 27 now.
I saw Greg a few years ago, when I was 25, and he still wears that washer.
He’s been wearing that washer for over a decade now.
Something had happened to Eddie, and he didn’t make it.
It made life this foul thing. You can beat the life out of a human being, out of a kid; it’s impossible to remove his character.
Something as disgusting as cancer, invaded someone so kind.
Over and over.
As Hemingway says: “Gradually, then suddenly.”
Apparently when you are younger cancer is a lot more aggressive.
How ironic that the youngest ones get dealt the worst hand.
Eddie sobered me to a reality I cannot forget.
You can be robbed of something when you don’t expect to.
Although, I doubt Eddie would see any of it as a robbery. He’d almost certainly chuckle and say something to lighten the mood.
He has a Facebook account that is still being managed by someone (family, probably).
Every now and again, I click on it to see all the birthday wishes people leave him.
Every single year.
I scroll down and I cry looking at it.
It wasn’t anything he particularly said, and yet everything he said was honest and pure.
Eddie struggled and yet all he cared to tell me was that I was a great friend to him. Yet, I never did anything but be around him when he wanted to goof around.
That’s the biggest lesson, I think.
The palest thing: To think that somebody can actually give you a lesson in life before they’ve begun to live theirs.
Eddie never had a chance.
All I and everybody else can do is remember him.
And the things he said.