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At some point in my childhood, my friends and I went outside to play together for the last time. Years later I am still keeping in touch with some, but we all know how most long-distance relationships go. You intend on keeping up with plans of hanging out as much as possible on breaks from school, but we didn’t always follow through. We hardly ever did, yet somehow the love and friendship remained.

As the saying goes, “You never know what you have until it’s gone,” and when we lost William in December 2017 to a car crash, the resentment I felt towards us all for not trying harder to see each other bubbled under the surface of my skin. William’s passing didn’t just massive affect his family and friends, it touched football players and coaches across San Diego County, even the news who knew him as a stud player on the field. He was going to go to great places after high school. Staff members at Granite Hills were wounded by the fact that they had lost such a kind soul who understood the importance of creating relationships with these adults who want the best for their future. Everyone deserves a hello and goodbye – simple acts of kindness. His death even served as a lesson and movement for safe driving. Wearing a seatbelt isn’t something to choose whether or not to do. No matter how close or far the drive is, wearing that safety equipment can and will save your life.

A few weeks later, I lost my childhood best friend in the whole wide world to suicide. This was an absolute shock yet proves that we can never truly tell just by looking at someone what is going on inside their hearts and minds. I carry that lesson with me every day.

These two individual events opened up an immense hole in my chest that began to fill with despair, rage, and questions I never thought I’d ask. The most overwhelming emotion that I felt and feel to this day is guilt. Deep, unrelenting, ugly guilt. No, I wasn’t the reason either of these boys died before reaching the age of 18 or getting to go to prom with their friends, graduating high school, or committing to a college they were excited about. I felt guilty because I got to do those things, and my whole life up until that point, I had taken my happiness, mental stability, and the thought that I would eventually see them again for granted.

Over the past almost two years of them being gone, I have let myself be gutted, I have let these feelings open me up to the world and see the love and light that everyone deserves. This goes for me as well. On Easter in 2018, I prayed the Salvation Prayer at the end of the service at the Rock Church Point Loma location. That was my first church experience since early childhood, and I was so moved it brought me to tears. All my life I had turned away from the Lord because I was afraid to believe. I did not understand that for me to find the peace love and acceptance I wanted for others in life, I needed to bring His love, acceptance, and truth into my own heart and everyday life. Trusting yourself means living out what you already know to be true, and I know that every last one of us can do better than to give in fear. His love is not as incomprehensible as I pretended. It can be as light as an embrace we give a friend or as heavy as the sacrifices we make for our loved ones. It has the power to stand on its own.

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The loss of my friends has started a growth and acceleration of maturity in me that I don’t think could have happened any other way. I made it, didn’t I? I have had to do more than hold on, I have had to reach. I choose happiness every day of my life, even on the worst days when the bad feelings creep back in hoping to stay. I choose to live my truth and the truth is that this life is a gift and to do the work of becoming a whole, grown-up adult, it remains that no matter what happens, they will always be gone. It’s still a struggle to wrap my head around. No one can intervene and make that right, and nobody will. It’s just how it is, and I’ve had to survive that, endure that, live through that and I found God through that. I am moving forward, and I am so much better for it. Because it does get better. This life, this tiny beautiful thing, is what I am here for and I am so ready for what is next to come. I want my behavior and words to deeply impact those around me for the better. My journey with God may be new and I am still learning, but it gives me great peace to know that before they passed, they both accepted the Lord into their hearts. Even in the darkest of cracks, Trevor saw the light.

In my second year of college now, I have made it my mission to study mental health through my psychology major, as well as always doing my best to notice those who need some extra love and light in their days, whether they realize it or not. I used to believe that God robbed me of my friends, but now I know that their lives and deaths hold so much meaning. I can look at myself now and know that with all the pain this world has thrown my way, here I stand making gold of it. I have made radical changes in my life, flipping a 180 on what I previously believed to be true. This genuine healing, and actual “real deal down-on-your-knees-in-the-mud change,” as Cheryl Strayed put it, was entirely and absolutely up to me.

The unifying theme of my childhood and incoming adulthood is resilience and faith. My past experiences have helped me accomplish strength and nerve. And “if your Nerve, deny you,” as Emily Dickinson wrote, “go above your Nerve.” I am the agent of power in my life but that will always be a little scary, the way it always is when we’re brave enough to touch the realest, rawest truths.

“You may think it’s important to be one of the cool kids. You may treat people poorly to fit in. You may think different means less. You may believe you are a loser. Don’t…It’s stupid that ‘cool’ matters so much. It’s disgusting that different matters at all. You may think people should be accepted. You may realize everyone deserves respect. You may want to love them. You may want to love me…” – Trevor Daniel Barnes.

Thank you, William and Trevor, for growing up with me, even after you’ve been gone. 

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