I don't really believe in carrying bags of regret and "what ifs" and could-haves, should-haves, would-haves, and I wouldn't undo most of the things that have happened to me, even the painful ones, because they truly did make me stronger, but there is one day I would absolutely change if I could, and that was Columbus Day, 2007. I was fifteen then, and it was an incredibly hot day with the Santa Ana winds making it feel like a hot blow dryer was directed at us, and my friend Cole really wanted to go surfing and begged me to take him out. My dad overheard the conversation and told me not to go because Cole's Lupus made his health more fragile and so he shouldn't be exposed to the toxins in the water, but as soon as he left for work Cole came over and we went to the beach. Cole was almost 18 but was in my grade because he'd had to miss so much school, and we were best friends. His parents were understandably protective, and he was really itching to have some fun and just feel free. That day he was feeling and looking awesome, and I just wanted him to be happy. He hated being treated as if he was delicate, and had this really strong, persevering spirit, and I hadn't wanted to disappoint him. I thought my dad was being overly-cautious.
Three days after we went surfing Cole got sick. He died two weeks after I took him surfing, and just three days before his birthday. I was beyond devastated. Everyone always said that I was a bright girl, and yet I'd taken one of my best friends who was like a sponge for viruses and illnesses to a beach in Malibu that is notorious for its polluted water (but still loved for its waves) just after the first rainstorm of the season had dumped even more filth into it. I mean, I'd totally glossed over the "for every action there's an opposite and equal reaction" sound judgment and reasoning in favor of immediate bliss. I've lost eight loved ones since Cole, but his death still hurts the most because I feel culpable for it. His parents lost all three of their sons to Lupus. Cole was the last one, and his mom had told me once that he was the only reason she still got up in the morning, and I feel like I robbed that from her in a way. I know I'm not fully responsible for his death, but I do know with certainty that I pushed him towards it, and I've had an incredibly hard time forgiving myself. I almost self-imploded from the rage and grief of it all, and would go for weeks on end drinking Red Bull to avoid sleeping and spending the nights working on my art. I'm surprised I didn't self-destruct from all my recklessness.
Because of that day I ended up losing the mentorship of Cole's mom, who I completely admired and adored. My mom and I had joined a mother-daughter volunteer organization when I was 12, and when she moved, Cole's mom stepped in and took her place for me. She continued to go to events with me even after he died, and when I received a fellowship for a gap-year abroad I asked the donors for permission to donate it to a gang prevention center to set up a surfing program in Cole's memory, and she became incredibly involved in it. Last December I confessed to her about taking Cole surfing because I was hoping for absolution, and even though she told me she didn't blame me and that it wasn't my fault, she stood me up for the mother-daughter tea she was supposed to attend with me, and hasn't talked to me since. I still feel dizzy even thinking about it all.
Sorry, this is way too long and raw. None of my friends know about any of this, but for some reason I just felt compelled to write about it now. I'm happy you're back on YA.