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It never gets easy

I don’t know why it’s always been Nektar but since I’ve known Taylor, we always meet at the juice bar. The ergonomically-hostile iron chairs in front are exceedingly uncomfortable and the sun seems to reserve its sweatiest, skin-peeling rays for Nektar’s patio. For people who wear jeans, boots and black t-shirts, it’s one of the worst places to hang out. And yet that’s where we’ve always met.

The last time we caught up there, Taylor insisted on buying – a gesture he often made but that I never accepted. I was the one with the steady income and he was the dude working odd jobs and going to school. This time however, I let him pay. He wanted to thank me for helping him to write his personal statement for his university application. It was a piece of cake — easy to edit, packed with acres of heart, solid stories and deep personal reflection. And the dude was thirsty as hell to learn. In fact, the prospect of going to college excited Taylor more than any guy I’d ever met. Any adult, at least. Editing that essay had been pretty straightforward —I just sanded away a few rough edges, but Taylor seemed to genuinely feel that it was on the strength of that essay that he was accepted into school. I suspect it had more to do with his high grades. Regardless, he insisted that he owed me a debt of gratitude and so I let him pay for my juice. It had been a good few months since we’d seen each other so we caught up on all sorts of things, but he kept coming back to how grateful he was for our friendship – for the time we spent together, the metal concerts and festivals we attended, the ridiculous road trips and all that jazz. He kept telling me how much it all meant to him. For me, I told him, getting together with him wasn’t about concerts, backstage passes and watching UFC; at the core, it was always about the hang. Just kicking it while we drove around listening to metal and talking wild shit about everything. We had a great morning.

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In 2007, the Anaheim Ducks won California’s first Stanley Cup and on Sunday night, the club celebrated the tenth anniversary of that season by inviting back the 2007 team and by pounding the ever-loving shit out of the Washington Capitals, 5-2. On the way out, I got the text. Taylor had died of an overdose.

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With over a decade of recovery under my belt, I’ve seen more than my fair share of heart-pummeling, untimely death but this was the first time that it was one of my close friends. I’m still numb. Late night phone calls with friends, a soul-bludgeoning chat with his mom and little stretches of time where, for just a nanosecond, I entertain the delusion that it’s all a lie, that Taylor’s off riding his motorcycle somewhere and I’m going to wake up in a few minutes. Vintage Kübler-Ross. As is so often the case with this stuff, the first person I want to talk to about it all is the one person I can’t – Taylor. It’s not insanity though- it’s just grief. It was like when my dad passed away this summer- during the wake and the funeral, all of these little stories emerged that he would have loved to hear and every once in awhile, I’d find myself mentally noting to share one of them with him the next time we spoke. It’s been the same with Taylor. It’s almost like I want to call him up and tell him to get his shit together because he finally crossed the line. Which, of course, he did. There’s a saying in recovery that we don’t get to choose our bottom – our bottom chooses us.

It wasn’t all shits and giggles. There were times when he’d push my buttons like few people have figured out how to do. Casey and I were chatting about that on Sunday night, laughing that anybody who knew Taylor long enough and well enough had the same experience. But then he’d do something sweet and selfless and with genuine contrition, he’d apologize for getting out of line and you’d be laughing at something stupid within a few minutes. It was like that with all of us. He could be utterly infuriating and yet in some weird way, you only loved him more for it. And it was Casey who put it best when he said that his biggest regret is that now nobody else will be able to meet Taylor and see how amazing he really was. But we know and my life is immeasurably better because of that.

I was thinking about my final conversation with Taylor last night and how grateful he was, even more than usual. To me, whatever favors I might have done for him had already been repaid tenfold, simply by his friendship. But no matter how I’d try to brush off his comments, he insisted on having his say and on thanking me for all of the things we’d done together and how much it all meant to him. He listed them all out. Taylor didn’t know he was going to die only a couple of months later, but I have to think that if he could have scripted our final conversation, it would have sounded an awful lot like the one we had. What a beautiful way to live.

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