Hug Your Friends

I don’t know who originally said it, but every so often I’ll see this saying floating around Facebook: “Friends are the family you choose.”

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My friends and I at Columbus Zoo Wildlights 2009. Front row (L to R): Chelly, Joey, Justin. Back row (L to R): Caitlin, Nate, Emmy, Janet, Jessica, me.

Chalk it up to the fact that I didn’t really have any true friends until I was in middle school, but I really believe this saying.  My friends are the family I chose.  Many of us have been together since freshman year of high school — a few in our group knew each other long before that, even, and a few joined our circle later.  We’ve been through thick and thin.  We’ve argued, we’ve bickered, we get annoyed with each other from time to time.  But we’re always there for each other, in the end.

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Me, Caitlin, Jessica, and Janet (with Nate in the background) on some New Year’s Eve.

We went to different colleges, some moved away.  And some have been in our tight little group for a few years before drifting away, as sometimes happens in life.

But even those who I don’t see on a regular basis anymore, or don’t talk to every day, they were still part of my little chosen family.  I still cherish the moments I shared with them.  I still smile at the pictures from the adventures we had together.  I still love them.

We have an ongoing Facebook messaging group conversation, but it only gets used if we’re planning something or sharing news.  Why not text?  Because two of our number live internationally right now.

Today I sent a simple four-word message to the whole group, in the conversation that hasn’t been touched for weeks:  “I love you guys.”

It’s one of those tough moments we’re experiencing together now.  A few weeks ago, an old friend of ours who used to hang out with us often, Joey, went missing.  This was unlike him.  He disappeared without a trace.  He didn’t show up for work.  A search began.

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Joey at Columbus’s Red White & BOOM fireworks display a few summers ago.

The search ended this week, but in the worst way.  His body was found in the river that goes through downtown.  While I watched the news sites, waiting for confirmation of who it was, I hoped that it wouldn’t be Joey.  No one deserves that, and particularly not him.  We found out today it was him.

Joey was a sweet guy, always smiling.  He made us all laugh and he fit in with our particular brand of weird.  I doubt he ever had anything bad to say about anyone.  It’s been a few years since I last ran into him, a few years since he last came to one of our chaotic gatherings, but he was one of us.  He laughed with us, he goofed off with us, and he was just an overall good person — which is how I’ll always remember him.

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Justin and Joey, when we all went to see the last Harry Potter movie.

First shock, then sadness, and it’s only a fraction of what I know his family and close friends are feeling.  All I can do is let the people in our group that were still close to Joey know that I’m here for them, but even then I know it’s not enough.

That’s what friends do, though.  Try their best to help each other through the tough stuff, offer a shoulder to cry on, share those funny pictures and happy memories of times gone by.  My little chosen family is hurting today, more than we have in a long time.

And when I see them in person next, whenever that might be, I’m going to give each of them a hug.  For now, I just have to be satisfied in the fact that they know I love them — each of them — for all their weirdness and kindness.

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Joey and me at Red White & BOOM (the same year as the picture above). This photo belongs to my friend Chelsea.

Hug your friends.  Hug your family — biological or otherwise.  Let them know you love them.  You never know when it will be the last time.

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