Tell them to their face

This past week was a pretty rough one if I’m being honest.
I’ve been a little homesick for Long Island where I grew up, and I finally got to visit--just not for the reason I would have wanted.
I was born in Los Angeles, but I was raised on Long Island, New York, in a place called Farmingville. I lived on a road called Falcon Court where there were two families who we would become familiar with.
This kid named Tommy was friends with my brother as well as a kid named Nelson.  They were all best friends and, honestly, I hated them. I was quite the bully in those days--something I severely regret--and I made them pay for their crimes of “having fun without me” on a constant basis.
It was awful in those early years of living there. I was constantly causing problems for everyone on my block with my anger and I was never able to hang out or have any friends for a very long time.
Despite all of my bad behavior, however, Tommy and Nelson would still come over to my house, and sometimes I would go over to their houses and play video games or watch wrestling. They kept allowing me to hang out with them, and I don’t quite know why.
Toward high school, I sort of mellowed out and there was less of an issue between me and the kids in my neighborhood, and we all started to get along little by little. We were all friends by the time I graduated in 2011.
After years of making fun of Nelson for it, I started watching soccer, and Nelson would always come over--or I would go to his house--and we would watch Champions League games almost every week.
After high school, we still hung out. Tommy moved, but Nelson was still around. We would go down to the soccer fields just about every week and spend hours playing there before we got kicked out or just got too tired.
I moved in 2016, and we still all kept in contact, Nelson was a member of a very large group text chat that included my brother and several of our friends when we played fantasy soccer every season.
We would laugh--mostly at each other rather than with--about stupid stuff daily in that group chat, bringing up little memories from the Falcon Court days.
We were always in that chat talking to each other, arguing about anything sports-related. It would sometimes go on for hours, and now I’m beginning to appreciate those conversations and arguments a little more.
Last week, I got a text from my brother telling me that our friend, Nelson, died in a boating accident on July 5.
I’m no stranger to family dying, but friends dying--young friends dying--is another thing entirely. I can put myself at peace when my older relatives die, most of them have lived full lives apart from one or two aunts and cousins. But someone young dying, someone who was close to you, is unsettling.
I can’t say I was as close to him as his family or even some of his friends that still saw him on a daily basis, but when you grow up with someone the way we did on our street, you can’t think your way out of feeling the sorrow. You aren’t supposed to.
Feeling sad and losing friends is a part of life. We are all going to experience it.
I made my way out to New York to attend his funeral and all the while I had to continuously stop myself from trying to not feel sad. Feeling sad has its place.
I was glad to see friends I hadn’t seen since I moved in 2016, even if it was to say goodbye and “Love you, man” to someone who could no longer hear it.
I told everyone there that I saw that I loved them. I had to because I didn’t know when or if I’d see them again.
That sounds morbid, I know. But it’s reality and it’s important to understand that we don’t have forever on this planet.
There’s no sense in holding in an expression of love from your friends and family.
I wish I would have told Nelson how grateful I was that we were still friends even though I was his childhood bully.
I didn’t get to, but I’m not sad about that, because we told each other “I love you” in our group chat right before we left New York.
This is not a happy column or a dorky, gushy “I love movies and photography” column as mine usually are, but I hope you feel something in this.
Tell your friends you love them. Tell them to their face. Even if they don’t want to hear it.

See complete story in the Journal Record.
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