[If you like this IHTM contest entry, comment to that effect below and that will help the writer win the big money. Feel free to critique below too, so we can weigh that in our decision. --Jane]
We met at a house party. Our friend Terry's house was packed to the gills, people in all rooms, the front yard had stragglers as it was in the odd time of spring in Virginia, the weather was trying to be beautiful, but still a bit too cold.
I had sat at the kitchen table, playing “Quarters” for a couple hours. There was enough vodka in my bloodstream that I was starting to boil over.
Eventually, I went outside, sat on the cement bench, and just leaned back to look at the stars. That's when he plopped down, asked my name and smiled at me.
His eyes were the first thing I noticed about him, they were ice blue and perfect. Dark, long eyelashes framed them and all I could do was stare into them. Then, before I knew it, he kissed me. I melted into him as his arms wrapped around me and...
“What the hell are you doing with my brother?” came bellowing from the front door. “He's 17.” Now, at this point, I was just 19, but everyone thought I was at least 25. I apologized, looked at him one more time, then walked away.
A few months later, I was sitting on the deck of my parents home and he showed up. “I'm 18 now.” The rest, well, is a long story. We were best friends and I fell for him. Hard. In fact, Mark was my first love.
We told everyone that we were friends with benefits.” Yet, I was in love with him. We dated, then dated others, then slept together again, then on and off. It was just too much.
Then, I got pregnant. Life stopped. We were 18 and 19 at this point. We hid it from my family, but told his Mom and his sisters.
We made plans. We would get an apartment together so we could raise our son as a family. He got work, I was working and would go to school part-time. Life started to fall into a reasonable, normal line.
Until, at the ultrasound to find out if the baby was definitely a girl or a boy, we found out that our son had no chance at life. He probably wouldn't live to make a full term pregnancy. If he did, he would die within a hour or two of birth. We already had a name picked for him, Mark JR would not have a brain, it had never developed.
I know the answer, immediately, I would deliver early, as his condition could not change and I couldn't imagine continuing the pregnancy knowing I carried a dying child.
I delivered Mark Jr alone and left the hospital AMA as soon as I could.
We were so young that the aftermath of Mark's short life, and death, destroyed us. We had a final huge blow-up at the dive bar where we all hung out.
Then I walked out of his life for the next 15 years. We avoided one another at every turn.
Life moved on, I married, and was unable to have anymore children. My husband and I tried for years. Tom was tested, I had been pregnant before, there was nothing wrong, I just couldn't get pregnant.
Mark had several bad relationships, got married and divorced, then met a woman with two small children. They were together for years, he helped raise her kids, but never had any of his own.
Then, I finally decided enough time had passed, we could be at the same things without a problem. So, a birthday party. We both went to the eighth birthday party of a mutual friend's child. His girlfriend, Genna, and I hit it off immediately. Mark didn't speak at first. In fact, when he realized Genna and I were speaking he panicked, and ran over to listen.
I went back to my normal mode, taking pictures of everyone while the party went on. That night, I went home, posted pictures from the party to my Facebook page and then a friend request popped up from him. My heart began to race. I accepted it.
Within a couple minutes, we began to chat. How had life been, what had we been up to for the past 15 years, what did we do, on and on. You know the normal chat of an old friend that you hadn't seen in years.
It was fine until a message popped up. “I'm so sorry.” I didn't know what to reply. Again, “I'm sorry, I hurt you.”
I didn't know how to react, so I told Mark it was OK, then thank you.
Another message, “I never meant to hurt you. I didn't realize that I loved you until you were gone. I love you.”
Now, at this point I had been married a dozen years and I love my husband, but deep down, when those words came across the screen, my heart flew.
Then, I cried. All I had ever wanted from him is to hear that from him, but all he did was hurt me, even after we lost our child.
I didn't know what to do. Here I was working on things for a family party the next day. Cooking, baking, cleaning house.
“Can I have your phone number?”
I gave it to him. Within minutes he called. By this time it was 1 AM, my husband was long asleep, so I talked to Mark.
He apologized again, told me that he had been kicking himself for all these years, he should have married me, not the woman he did. He loved me and he was sorry.
I loved him, too. I am a firm believer that when you break up the love doesn't go away, you just move on to love someone else.
I told him we could be friends. Within a couple days we were talking every day, texting all day and into the evening. We were back to being best friends. We told one another about our days, our lives, our future plans.
Nothing happened, we were just friends, even with the love being there. He was my past, Tom was my future. Life was good, we had just bought a house, my best friend was in my life again. I had a new job I loved.
Then, he messaged me one day, and didn't sound like himself. He was at home from work, had a bottle of vodka, and was trying to dive to the bottom of it.
He complained of how broke he was, how he was afraid he was going to lose his house. He was depressed because he was single, again, the latest girlfriend was playing with his mind, together and apart, back and forth, until he finally told her he was done.
His job paid very little, they were cutting back his hours. He missed the kids he had helped raise, as Genna had moved on.
Then, the message, “Please come see me.”
I told him I couldn't.
“Please, I need a friend.” I knew that going to his home was a bad idea for my life, my marriage.
“I need you here.” I explained again,that there was no way I could. It would hurt Tom, the weather was horrible, there was two feet of snow on the ground, and it was still falling.
I just couldn't.
Then the message that will haunt me forever.
“I love you. Goodbye.”
I knew. As soon as I saw the words I knew he was going to kill himself. He had access to two handguns, he was drunk, and depressed.
I frantically called his ex, as I didn't know the address to his home. She called the police.
It was too late by the time they got there. Mark took his gun, put it to his head, and one shot, he was gone.
When Genna called me back, all I can remember is her words, “He shot himself, he's dead.” I wailed the sound of a person who had just had their heart ripped apart. I fell to the ground lost in my pain, before having to explain what was wrong to Tom.
My wonderful amazing husband held me while all the pain and hurt wrenched itself from my body. He dealt with his wife mourning not only her friend, but her first love, and a man she still loved. Tom was a saint through it all.
I was the only person Mark said goodbye to. I was the last person he talked to, the last one he texted, the last everything.
The detective who called me treated me like I was a horrible person. He treated me like Mark and I had some sort of affair going on. He asked me multiple times if we were seeing one another. I was devastated. All I wanted to know was that it was definitely suicide. It was, there was no doubt, so I ended the call.
Mark's funeral was horrendous. Friends of mine propped me up, and held onto me throughout it. All I did was cry. From the time I got to the funeral home, until we drove away I couldn't stop.
It has been several years now since Mark's death. I think about him every day. I wonder what would have happened if I had gone to his house that day.
Everyone has their own theory.
“He was going to do it anyway, he wanted you to find him.”
“He was going to kill you first.”
“He wanted you to see him do it.”
On and on.
No one has the answer to it. Not one of us knows for sure.
All I know is I miss my friend. I will always miss him and the world is worse for his absence.