From Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul IV

Life Is a Gift

Difficult times have helped me understand better than before, how infinitely rich and beautiful life is in every way, and that so many things that one goes worrying about are of no importance whatsoever.

Isak Dinisen

My hands trembled as I let the phone fall carelessly on my unmade bed; this had to be a mistake. There was no way Gray could be dead!

At that moment, everything in my life seemed insignificant. How could anything else matter when my best friend—someone I had known, trusted and loved since eighth grade—was gone forever? I looked down at the clothes I was folding and saw Gray’s national soccer team jersey lying on my bed. My whole body froze. How could this be true? I wanted to cry, but I was in complete shock.

It took a month after Gray’s death before I was emotionally ready to visit his grave site. It was a cold Sunday afternoon and the rain bounced off the pavement as I stared at my muddy black boots. The fifty feet from the car to the grave seemed like fifty miles. I looked around at all the different tombstones and flowers, and I thought about just how many people must have done exactly what I was here to do. They had all endured the pain of visiting loved ones who had passed away. Tears streamed down my face as I began to walk toward my best friend’s grave. My legs felt like they weighed one hundred pounds each, and my stomach twisted into a knot so tight that I thought I was going to be sick. I did not want to look up and see his name written on the temporary headstone. I wanted to savor my last moments of hope that he would come back.

The rained turned into a downpour, and it was cold enough that I could see my breath. I did not feel a thing; my entire body was numb. I shut my eyes, hoping, praying this was all some horrible dream. When I opened them, I was still in the cemetery, blurred by the shield of tears that covered my eyes. Taking a deep breath, I glanced up to the sky and made one last desperate wish that I would wake up from this nightmare. Then I slowly turned my eyes downward and looked at his name written on the headstone, the fresh hay laying over his body, the wilting flowers with water dripping off their petals and splashing into the soil covering his casket. The moment I saw his grave, I finally stopped fantasizing that he would come back, and the reality sank in that I would never again see my best friend. I knew this was good-bye, but I could not leave. I did not want to walk away; I yearned to stay by his side forever. I stood there and let my mind drift to all of our experiences together, from the time we fell in love to our first real fight. The memories came in crystal clear torrents.

“Do not tell him that I like him! Pinky swear?” I told my best friend Falon in eight grade. I was in love. He was taller than all the other boys and had shoulder-length blond hair just like Taylor Hanson, from my all-time favorite band, Hanson. Sure enough, by the end of the day Falon had told him how I felt. Word was now out that I had a very serious crush on Gray. Every time we passed in the hallways, my cheeks would turn a soft pink. I had no idea what was happening; this was definitely not like me.

I never liked guys; I was always “one of the guys.” My friends would try to get me to talk to him, but no words would come out. Then our eighth-grade dance made all my dreams about him come true. Gray dedicated “All My Life” by KC and Jo Jo to me and asked me to dance. I was on cloud nine. We dated for about three weeks and then broke up. (In middle school, a week was considered a long-term relationship.)

After we got through the soap opera breakup, Gray and I were inseparable. Even distance did not hurt our friendship. In the tenth grade, Gray was offered the opportunity of his lifetime; he was asked to be the captain of the United States Junior National Soccer Team. He had to move to Florida to attend a special training center. He frequently traveled to tournaments in Italy, China, France and other locations throughout the world. Despite his distance and hectic schedule, he was there for me during all of my most difficult hours, and he always took the time to call with encouraging words.

I’ll never forget the time I spent the night at Falon’s house in tenth grade. We were lying in bed talking about our past relationships, teasing each other about our old boyfriends and laughing for hours. It was around 3:30 A.M. that morning, and right as we were about to drift off to sleep, Falon said something that will stay with me forever. “LP, you know that Gray loves you more than anybody ever will. You are lucky to have such a good friend.” At the time, I didn’t think much of this statement, as I took our friendship for granted. I never recognized just how lucky I was to have a friend that I could call at any time of the night, who would talk with me until I fell back asleep. Only now, in his absence, do I realize what an incredible friend and person Gray truly was.

Just two months ago, I approached Gray for advice, as I had frequently in the past. I was caught in a dilemma, debating whether or not I should transfer to Appalachian State University. Gray’s words were simple and wise; he told me to follow my heart and that, no matter what, he would always be there to support and guide me. I then asked if he knew that I loved him, and he told me that he never doubted it. If I only knew that this was the last time I would talk to him, I would have driven to Furman and spent the entire night with him! However, I know I can’t live regretting the past or wishing I had done more.

I have learned to cherish every moment I have with the people I love. I take time to fully enjoy life, and I try to appreciate each minute I am given on this planet. I did not “lose” Gray. He is still my best friend, only now he is guiding me from above. I can talk to him every night and know he is listening, and I still see him in my dreams. Gray was my angel on earth, and now he is my angel in heaven.

Lindsay Ann Parker

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