Sometimes on mornings like today, when I'm paddling in looking at the beach and the empty sea wall where he use to sit, I yell out to myself "Jimmy!" just like he did. Sometimes it feels like he's still there paddling with me. We used to always paddle together. He loved calling me Jimmy and I loved hearing him say it.
When he died, I just stopped writing all together. It was like my voice had been taken along with my emotions. Writing used to be effortless; it used to flow from my the voice within, in a thoughtless unconscious way.
When one of my best friends overdosed on drugs and died, my world crashed. The one person in my life who had provided so much confidence in me was now gone. To the very thing, drugs, that had haunted him since the time our friendship began.
He wasn't perfect, but neither of us were.
I keep replaying our last conversation together, which got pretty heated. Over and over and over again I replay his words out loud in my mind every day. I can still see him there in the gym that night in his green trunks, black tank top and black hat. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think of him.
I can still hear him say "Dude, I know, you're right. I'm done doing drugs." A day and half later he was dead.
No wonder I could no longer write. The rock in my life was now nothing more than a memory. Dust to dust they say. Everything I tried to write would instantly turn to him. My eyes would water but I never cried. I would scream but no one ever heard me and boy did I get mad. I threw things, smashed things, punched things — the anger never left me.
I was dying inside. I even tried seeing a shrink and none of it was working for me. Months passed until one day I had heard about another friend who had died.
In a strange way I felt compelled to once again, try and write. I had been talking to myself for months. Trying in vain to rally myself. I thought about death often. His death was the final straw in my life that almost broke the camel's back. There had been a lot of things that had been adding up in my life. I was stuck, numb, unsure what it was that I was feeling. I was lost and everything seemed so dark. But I never gave up.
Eventually I began healing. I started reading, thinking, retreating, rebuilding and finally, now, writing. This will be my first column in almost a year and June 21 will mark the one-year anniversary of my friend's death. This is my way of honoring his death. Using my voice in the community, speaking out and writing. We have lost so many great people to drugs. It needs to end now.
I am taking my life back and fighting: for another day, another person, another chance at keeping my friend's memory alive by using it to make a difference. I always wonder if he had the chance to see the pain and destruction that his death left behind, would he still have made the same choices?
People never think that it's going to be them but trust me, it will be. Drugs do not discriminate. There are no stereotypes, no guidelines. I've seen lawyers, doctors, parents and CEOs use them. I have yet to meet a person who recreational drugs have helped.
Don't make the same choices that my friend did. Find what you love and follow your dreams. Believe in something real like yourself.
I will continue honoring my friend by sharing his story. Rest in peace. I miss you.
James Pribram is a Laguna Beach resident.