Warning: this story contains content about drugs and death that may disturb some readers.
“These will be perfect to give to Gavin,” I thought to myself, as I slipped the size zero plugs for stretched ears I had originally bought for myself, back into my pocket.
I gave them to him a few days later at school. It was an early Christmas gift for one of my best friends.
But a few weeks later, his younger sister handed me back one of the two. I strung it on a silver chain and wore it around my neck for the good part of two years. The other one was cremated with his body.
At 17, my friend group started experimenting with drugs. Psychedelics were becoming popular and were easily accessible at my high school. We would do them in a big group and hang out on the beach, in a park or just walk around uptown Saint John.
December 14, 2013 was our friend’s 17th birthday. To celebrate, Gavin bought himself and our friend four hits of a substance called 25i. They could barely stand by the time they left the dealer’s house an hour later. Despite the sub-zero weather, Gavin ended up leaving wearing only one of his shoes.
They were both so high they could barely see. They were planning to meet up with me and a few other friends at a party in Saint John’s south end. They were in the north end, a short walk away they both did often.
The party was ugly Christmas sweater-themed and was decked out with red and green lights. The rooms were smoky and hot, the bathroom lit with a blacklight.
Later I found myself attempting to console Gavin’s girlfriend, my best friend, on the spiral stairwell just outside the heavy front door. No one was answering our phone calls. We couldn’t understand where our friends were and had a hunch something had gone wrong.
We were right.
No one knew where Gavin was, but the friend he was with ended up in the hospital.
There was a huge storm that night that brought about 25 centimetres of snow.
The next day, I went to work at 6 a.m. and had completely forgotten anything had happened. I showed up late, hungover and shaky. About half way into my shift, I remembered Gavin never showed up to the party. I contacted his girlfriend, and she still hadn’t heard from him.
The missing person notice went out later that night.
His body was found the day after. He’d frozen to death, only a stone’s throw from a busy road where he could have found help.
His girlfriend and I were told the news at Gavin’s house. I remember the warmth of the inside air cutting through the cold as we stood outside on the stoop. I stared down at his father’s shoes and just let the tears fall.
Later on we had a gathering at my house, the place where friends were always welcome to hang out. We lit candles and left them burning hoping somehow the messages of love and hope would reach our best friend.
Senior year dragged on. Our favourite places felt different: the coffee shop that had his favourite coffee, the alley where we smoked cigarettes.
Christmas that year was difficult. But Gavin’s memory is something that lives on inside me and all of my friends. Still, every time it snows I get a sour feeling in my gut that something bad is going to happen and when another December comes around it’s just a sad reminder another year has passed.
Christmas season is supposed to be about love, hope and spending time with your friends and family. It’s hard when someone who meant so much is suddenly and cruelly ripped away.
I believe he’s still here, a best friend from formative teenage years lives forever in your heart.
So I’ll take the necklace out of my keepsake box and wear it again this holiday season. Gavin’s a part of who I am.