Last Friday, my friend Jason passed away after a two-year battle with cancer.
We met in high school. He was the friend of a friend, and we were set up for a dance, my first one. On the big night, we meet up at my girlfriend Colleen’s house for photos. When I take off my coat, someone’s dad asks me if my mom knows I’m wearing that dress, a form-fitting number with a sweetheart neckline. “My mom bought me this dress,” I tell him which is true; my mom’s from Peru and frankly, she thinks showing a little skin never hurt anybody.
In the photo below, I’m trying to pin a boutonniere on Jason as Colleen’s mother looks on. I look young, but Jason looks younger. When I show this picture to my husband he laughs and says, “You look like his babysitter.”
From Colleen’s house, someone’s mom drives us to Le Titi de Paris, an expensive French restaurant. It’s the first and (sadly) last time I’ll eat there. Our waiter raises his eyebrows in dismay when we order our filet mignons “well done”. The teenage sous chefs in the kitchen make goo-goo eyes at Colleen and me and write I Love You in raspberry sauce across our dessert plates. She and I leave the restaurant in a flurry of giggles and whispers, our poor dates all but forgotten.
It’s not a love connection (few are when you’re fifteen), but Jason and I become good friends. He’s quiet and kind and I like to tease him. I have so many good memories:
-Taking Jason’s 16th birthday present, a brand-new Camaro, for a test drive around my neighborhood. At 70mph. Before I have a driver’s license.
-Driving downtown with Jason, and his brother, Kyle, in said Camaro to see a Blackhawks game. Somehow ending up in Cabrini Green instead.
-Listening to Jason’s band “jam” after school with a girlfriend, inspiring us to have fake concert t-shirts printed up for their upcoming world tour.
It’s Saturday night. I’m sitting in the parking lot of a restaurant when I receive a CaringBridge update via email. Jason’s wife, Kirsten, has posted a journal entry. The first line reads, “He is Home.” I stare at the screen of my phone. In a few minutes, I’ll be meeting up with some girlfriends for a mom’s night out. I put on some lipstick, get out of my car, and try to pull it together.
Inside the restaurant, Louis Armstrong is singing “Dream a Little Dream”:
Sweet dreams till sunbeams find you
Sweet dreams that leave all worries behind you
But in your dreams, whatever they be
Dream a little dream of me
Jason was a big fan of New Orleans and its jazz. I take the music as a sign that my friend is enjoying his new life on a higher plane, finally worry- and pain-free.
He and another friend were the inspiration for Quentin Knight, a policeman and sidekick to my novel’s protagonist, Camila Castillo. Quentin gets his looks and big heart from Jason, so a little piece of my friend’s spirit lives on for me as I write my first book.
Jason, you were a fighter and a man of faith. You were a good friend, husband, and father. You were a good man. You will be missed but not forgotten. Rest in peace, my old friend.