I remember the first day I met Nick. It was on the 7th-grade field trip to the Renaissance Faire. It was filled with odd smelling men, large bosomed women and giant turkey legs. The trip was nothing extraordinary, but it was on that long bus ride home that I opened the note from him that read, "Hey, you're cute." I had no idea I was opening a door that would never close.

    What started as a childhood crush quickly grew into an unbreakable friendship. Nick was there through every teary breakup, bad grade, and family feuds. In my teenage angst, he mocked my dramatics and would find ways to publically embarrass himself to bring back my smile.


    During my awkward shy phase in high school, I didn't have a date to the homecoming dance. Unbeknownst to me, Nick secretly planned with my mom to show up at my doorstep with a crimson corsage that matched my dress perfectly!

    We bonded through our mutual obsession with the poetically crafted lyrics of AFI and Glassjaw. We found the upbeat guitar riffs of MxPx and New Found Glory as a bright light in our dreary lives.

    When my other friends made excuses to skip concerts that promised bruised toes and sore limbs, he was first in line to make sure I didn't get lost in the mosh pit. His goal was to always keep a smile on everyone's face. Nick's infectious laugh and ever-present grin made an impact on everyone around him.

    After high school, going to different colleges posed a new obstacle in our friendship. I moved away to attend Cal State Fullerton while Nick chose to stay in Temecula and attend San Jacinto Junior College. Once the distance between Nick and I changed from ten minutes to an hour and a half, I started to realize that calling someone a friend was more than just listing them in your top eight on MySpace.

    I found myself consumed by the enticing new feeling of independence. I hit the Del Taco drive-thru at 2 a.m. just because I could. Wandering through the dorm buildings with friends until we stumbled upon a party or coming and going as I pleased was a freedom I never fully experienced. My hands began to tremble for the fix.

    Soon phone calls from old friends started going to voicemail. The constant blinking of the tiny envelope on my phone reminded me that far away someone was trying to reach me, but far away is where they remained in my mind.

    It was 1 a.m. on Nov. 18, 2008, and I had five missed calls. A blinking red light and streaming vibrations from my phone lulled me out of sleep, but only enough to turn it to silent mode. Saturday nights usually meant the inebriated slurs of drunken dialers that I had no patience for, and I went back to bed.

    It was 2:00 a.m. and 10 more missed calls. I couldn't drown them all out anymore. As the screen lit up the bedroom wall, it created a flashing burst of light, and I began to worry.

"Joe, what is going on why do I have a million missed calls on my phone!"

    Could all the calls be margarita filled drunken dialers? My focus quickly shifted when I scrolled through text

  messages and read, "Please call. It's urgent." Suddenly I was too afraid to call back. I sat there in a half-awake daze

  considering the possibilities of what this could be about.

    My mind raced as I dialed Joe's number. On my phone, there were now 12 missed calls with his name on it. Each time   the phone rang I could feel my heart palpitating, my fingers numb and tingly as I grasped the phone tightly. I could feel   every second taking years in my mind before he finally picked up.

"Joe, what is going on, why do I have a million missed calls on my phone!"

I shouted. I was suddenly angry that I didn't know what was going on.

"Ashley, I don't know how to tell you this…but Nick is dead."

    Dead silence took over for a moment. My mouth moved, but no words came out.

    "Ashley, did you hear me? He's dead. Nick died. Ashley, are you there? Please say something!" Joe screamed. It was as if he was trying to reach his hand through the phone to slap me awake.

"Nick is fine. You're kidding, right?" were the only words I managed to scramble out of my mouth. Nick was only 21 years old, perfectly healthy and normal. This was completely out of the blue. He was just as healthy as I was.

    Joe calming continued, "Nick had a fatal asthma attack and didn't survive. Ashley, he's been in the hospital all week. Didn't you know?"


    Instantly a billion questions began spiraling through my mind. Asthma attack? Nick had asthma, but so did millions of other people. I'd never even heard of a fatal asthma attack. He was hospitalized all week? I had just talked to him five days ago. How was I just hearing about something like this now?

    I couldn't handle anymore. I dropped the phone and stumbled into my empty living room. It was silent, except for the millions of voices screaming inside my head trying to make sense of the situation. I suddenly remembered seeing a missed call on Wednesday from Nick.

    I thought back to all the calls I ignored from him. The times I was sprawled over a sea of textbooks and not able to take a break.

    When I was drowning in bottles of tequila and Coronas and not able to step away. The little red phone symbol had become my new best friend. I could always just call Nick back. I was supposed to be able to. Now all I wanted to do was to hear his voice.

    Guilt immediately coursed through my veins like a shot of heroin. I was a horrible friend and could never make it up to him again. I ignored his calls and this was the worst punishment I could ever imagine.


    I suddenly realized my face was coated in a layer of salty tears and runny black eyeliner. At that moment, every muscle in my body gave out. I felt like a toddler having a tantrum, kicking, screaming and crying every breath out of my body until I gasped for air. As my vision started to fade to black, I couldn't help but think back to the last time I had heard his voice.

"Now all I wanted was to call him back."

    We were on the phone for hours reminiscing about sweat-filled concerts and late-night exploits. We shared secrets and told stories like we were back behind the high school bleachers, whispering about the newest gossip. I saw his ear-to-ear smile even through the phone, and in that moment, I wanted nothing more than to reach out and hug him. That memory was all I could hold on to. Life soon became a blur.

    Weeks dragged into months, and my exaggerated emotions soon flattened out into blank numbness. My mind began to float in and out of consciousness as I watched the leaves slowly change outside my window. I took a semester off from Cal State Fullerton to attend a local community college since my attention span was lost with the rest of my emotions. I stopped clubbing, quit my job and absentmindedly sat in my classes like a zombie.

    The overwhelming apathy in my life worried my parents, which led to a local church program to help me "find the light" in my life. Everyone had something that could fix me, from self-help books to special relaxation candles. Nothing seemed to make any difference. I often sat alone in my room, cuddled tightly in a blanket listening to sullen acoustic music. I thought it was helping me cope with my pain. Depression had its hold on me. No candle was going to lift that black veil that was suffocating my life.

    After months of tear-drenched nights and never-ending days, the dark tunnel I had slowly crawled into lost all signs of light. My accomplishments didn't seem to matter anymore. I had finished two years of college, and it meant nothing. The goals I planned for my future now felt like they were a million miles away.

    I contemplated dropping out of college and settling for a part-time job. Though it didn't make sense for me personally, it seemed like the easy way out. Pretending to care about anything was increasingly exhausting, and I could only fake a smile for so long before my facade fell apart again.

    Nick had also been like a second son to my mom. We would spend many nights lying on my couch, mesmerized by black box images. He and my mom soon become very close as well. As much as Nick's death personally hit home for me, it devastated her even more to see the loss of my life when I was still alive.


    "Mija, Nick would not want this for you. If he saw you sitting around wasting away, he would be so upset," she would constantly say to me.

"Then one night Nick visited me in my dreams. It was one of the most realistic dreams I can remember."

    "Nick was all about living life to the fullest. If you're not   doing that, especially since he can't anymore, you're letting   him down. If anything, you should do it for him," she said  with concern.

    These words would rewind in my mind over and over again.   I knew it was true, but I didn't know how to climb out of   the dark hole I had dug myself into.

    Then one night Nick visited me in my dreams. It was one of the most realistic dreams I can remember. It played out scene by scene like a movie. It was just like any another day with Nick when he felt most alive, on his drum set. Nick's gelled-up hair and faded MxPx T-shirt were exactly as I remembered him. I could see the overwhelming joy as he banged on the drums. His infectious smile lit up his face as I watched him throw his head back and forth to the song and match the beat of the music.

    Suddenly, the scene transitioned to a movie theatre. He grabbed my head, warm and gently that it felt so real. He looked at me, and flashed that infamous Nick smile that I had longed to see again. He only whispered two words, "Let go."

    I woke up drenched in sweat and tears, and I couldn't help but feel like that was the most reality I'd had in months. My body shook like I had just experienced a spiritual connection through a ouija board. I had called, and Nick answered. I had to let go for my new life to begin.

    Nick taught me to look at friendship in a whole new way and give everything I can to the ones I love.

    There will be no more wasting time because time is very unforgiving. That one phone call from a friend could be the last moment you share with them, the final memory you make and the last laugh you have. To this day, I always answer.

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