Friends and Challenges

This is an essay I wrote for my English class this year in college. I wrote it because Adam was my best friend, and I’ll probably never have one as good again, so I’ll do anything I can to see that he is remembered, and that he did not suffer for nothing.

I believe friends are the people who challenge you. I met my best friend, Adam, over a game of ping-pong when we were both attending college at Bob Jones University in South Carolina. I had just finished playing a game with a friend who then had to leave and go do other things, and Adam was playing a game with someone else.

He was almost six feet tall and gangly with short, buzz-cut hair and an intense look on his face. When his game ended (he won) and the person he was playing wandered off, I suggested we play a game.

While we played, we talked, and found out that we had a lot in common, and that we both cared about analyzing and thinking deeply about things, even silly things like a game of ping-pong. He beat me in that game, and in many others; although, I got in my fair share of wins over the years.

I only stayed at Bob Jones University for one semester, returning home to my family in Georgia without telling any of my friends at the school that I was leaving. But Adam tracked me down even though I’d left no contact information, and called me at home to find out why I wasn’t there when the semester started.

We stayed in touch, mainly through my almost monthly visits to the school so I could see friends. During that time, Adam and I would usually spend entire Saturdays hanging out, wandering around the campus and talking.

One day not long after his graduation from Bob Jones, Adam called me and asked if I wanted to move to Kentucky with him. I didn’t have to think about it long. I was tired of living at home with my parents, and I felt like my life was going nowhere.

I learned a lot of things in Kentucky, many of them Adam taught me. One of the things he taught me was that I could write. While living in Kentucky, I decided that I wanted to be a fiction author. Yet I didn’t write much. I would have ideas for stories, but I would never do anything with them.

Adam noticed, and he asked me, “If you really want to be a writer, why aren’t you writing?”

I didn’t have a good answer apart from “lack of motivation.” A lot of friends would have let the conversation drop, but Adam kept digging. He asked questions and listened to my answers.

In the end, we started a writing project together, a collaborative story, even though he had no real interest in being a fiction writer. We lived together in Kentucky for two years. We had a lot of good times, and a few bad ones. I wouldn’t change a minute of it.

After Kentucky, we parted ways for a time. He got married (I signed his wedding certificate) and then he moved to California with his wife. A few months later I moved back to Georgia to live with my parents again, but Adam and I stayed in touch.

He called me when he found out he had Lymphoma (cancer of the lymph nodes). I didn’t get to visit him during that time, because the cost of a trip to California was just too high for me to afford. But the treatment went well and his Lymphoma went into remission. His wife divorced him right after he got out of the hospital, before he was even fully recovered from the treatments.

About a year and a half later, a month after his last alimony payment, he found out he had Leukemia, probably caused by the treatments for the Lymphoma.

He sought treatment at the cancer center at Duke Hospital in North Carolina, where his parents live. He went through months of chemo and radiation, and while he was at Duke I was able to visit him. I was with him in the hospital when they started the chemotherapy for the Leukemia. We watched the first five episodes of “House of Cards” in the hospital room together.

After several months, his Leukemia went into apparent remission, and he returned to San Francisco to recover and work. But the cancer came back quickly, and the only option for saving his life was a bone-marrow transplant. He got the transplant done at Duke, and when he told me about the treatments later and what he went through, I was appalled at the torture his body had endured.

The last time I visited him, we sat at a pizza place in downtown Burlington, NC, and talked about math and physics. That conversation made me realize I could understand math concepts better than ever before, and I made my decision to return to Computer Science.

For a month after that, Adam and I spent almost every night playing computer games together online, and talking about software engineering. He designed programming problems for me to solve, and walked me through the parts I couldn’t figure out.

One night we were playing a game together and he mentioned that the next day he was going back into the hospital to have some tests done. His body was having worse symptoms of rejection, and they needed to find out what was going on. I assumed he would be out again in a week with some minor modification to his drug regimen.

Instead I got a Facebook message from Adam’s brother-in-law telling me that Adam was dying. I wanted to drive the four hours to North Carolina that night, but Tim (the friend) told me they were only letting immediate family visit anyway, due to the risk of infection.

Five days later Adam said, “I love you,” to his sister, then closed his eyes for the last time. He died of liver failure when his body finally gave up trying to process the poison that had been pumped into him over the last four years. I helped carry his coffin to the grave at his funeral three days later.

Not a single day goes by when I don’t think about him, miss him, and wish I could talk with him. Some days I feel like giving up college completely, because it doesn’t seem worth it to become a software engineer and not be able to share it with him.

But I know that he would want me to succeed, to grow, to be happy, and to live. So I do. I try harder than I would try if I were just working for myself, because I feel that whether or not there’s a God or an afterlife or just nothing, Adam is still out there somewhere cheering me on. Friends challenge you.