Two years have passed since a close friend of mine was cruelly murdered. I loved my friend; Antoine was one of the kindest, warmest and most loyal people you could ever hope to meet. But most days I don't think of him anymore. That sounds terribly cruel to me. In the first days following his death, I didn't think that I could ever stop thinking about him. While I was no stranger to death, the rage and sorrow I experienced seemed bottomless. No one I had ever known before that point had been murdered. The awful injustice of it left a bitter, bilious taste on my tongue. Despite being kicked out of his own home, serving 20 days in Juvenile Hall and having a rough life on the street, Antoine was a true innocent. I don't believe he had ever willingly harmed anyone in his life. No matter who you were, what your past was, what you looked like, Antoine was ready to befriend you. In the days and months following his death I was angry at the world. I was angry with Antoine's murderer for robbing us of someone so dear. I was angry with God for letting it happen. I was angry with myself, for not being able to do something. I was even angry with Antoine, for not living longer. I got so caught up in rage and a feeling of helplessness that I almost forgot the lessons that Antoine taught me. I am now taking the time to remember them, and give thanks.
The first lesson that Antoine taught me was forgiveness. Antoine's mother was a drug-addict who abandoned him at the age of six. Antoine grew up under the roof of his grandmother, a hard-minded strict Jehovah's Witness who ruled her house like a tyrant. Antoine was often the victim of severe beatings at the hands of this woman, who favored a length of rubber hose as the optimal enforcer of discipline. This hard, cold woman made Antoine's life Hell over the next eleven years, sparking several runaway attempts. The split from his grandmother finally came when Antoine was 17. She learned that he was gay, and threw him out on the street with only the clothes on his back. He missed the rest of that semester in school, and subsequently did not graduate that year. Despite all the wrong done to him by his mother and his grandmother, Antoine was never bitter. He expressed sincere forgiveness and love for both of them. It was after seeing how Antoine could forgive people who had done him terrible injustices that I myself learned to forgive those who have done me wrong. I learned how freeing an experience forgiveness can be. After forgiving people who'd done terrible things to me, I began to understand Antoine. Forgiveness benefits the forgiver more than the forgiven. Letting go of anger, no matter how righteous, can also mean letting go of the pain.
Another lesson Antoine taught me was the value of laughter. Adversity never stopped him from laughing. He usually laughed the hardest, longest, loudest and the most honestly. Antoine was always the first of my group of friends to crack a joke, and the last to sit around and brood. Of any of us, Antoine probably had the most reason to be drawn to sorrow. But he seemed to be able to laugh in the face of trouble. His joie de vivre was infectious, and everyone around him was just a little bit happier. I'm often drawn to melancholy, but every so often, I remember Antoine and I have to smile despite myself. While I believe crying is both healthy and cleansing, and that everyone needs to feel just a little bit sorry for themselves once in a while, sometimes all it takes to heal old wounds is a little laughter.
The most important lesson I learned from Antoine was about love. Antoine was never afraid to say, "I love you" to close friends. Love was never something implicit with Antoine, nor was it some abstract emotion. Once he made the decision to love you, despite whatever flaws, he was loyal and unmoving. He never let an opportunity to express his love go by. If that meant a hug, or a call, or a card, or just an "I love you", he did it. The last thing he said to his grandmother before she kicked him out was, "I still love you". The last thing I heard him say to me was this, "Chris, you're a good friend, I love you." And now I am indescribably glad that I took the chance to say to him, "I love you, too". I didn't know it would be our last time speaking, and at the time I was not especially demonstrative. I do not know why I replied in that manner, but some divine spirit must have moved my heart. It was my last chance to let someone who'd always been there for me know he was dear. Now I try never to let any time go by without letting people who are important to me know they matter. I am still not good at being demonstrative, but I realize that there are few second chances.
It has been two years since Antoine's death. I have resolved most of my feelings surrounding his murder. I no longer feel white-hot rage and contempt for the woman now serving a life sentence for stealing his life. I still miss Antoine. But I have become at peace with the fact that he is gone. I have let him go. Now that I have had a chance to deal with his death, I am truly grateful for having known him. He was a beautiful person and he taught me many things just by gracious example. I am still learning. Thank you, Antoine.
Christopher Caldwell is a 21-year-old in Los Angeles, who can be located via firstname.lastname@example.org or http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/Lofts/9010
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