In September, I learned that my best friend from childhood passed away while in India. Writing about this has helped me understand and internalize it. The post below is what I would say if I had the chance to speak at my friend’s funeral.
Harish was my best friend. He was my best friend in that loyal, dedicated way in which children without siblings make best friends. We immigrated to the US in the same year, lived in the same crappy apartment complex and watched our parents struggle for the same American dream. It was only natural for us to come together.
It was Harish who showed me Pokemon for the first time, effectively guaranteeing that my brain would think of nothing else for the next few years. We would find ourselves rushing home from elementary school, making it to his home just in time to see Ash win another battle.
It was Harish who showed me how to roller-skate, to zip through our apartment complex making friends with the other tenants. We did our best to emulate the scenes from our favorite video games, assigning each other secret agent numbers and playing advanced hide-and-seek. We’d go to the temple with our families, and Harish would teach me the art of passing temple time. Of course, temple time passes much slower than any other time you spend waiting for your parents, like Dillard’s time and Home Depot time (just to give a few particularly boring examples). We grew up together in those days, and always closer, despite him being four years older than me in age.
As the years went by and we changed schools and addresses, we always kept in touch. I would look forward to the weekends when I could sleepover at Harish’s apartment, learning about cool video games, good movies, and bad words. My early taste in Quentin Tarantino movies and Weezer songs both came from Harish. Of course, our favorite pastime was going to CiCi’s Pizza for any special occasion or excuse that we could think of. I guess you could say we made sure to grow fat together, just as we grew up together.
Eventually, Harish moved on to college at UT Austin, the same year that I started high school. And for the first time, we were cities apart. Left on our own, we made new friends and grew busy, but I still looked up to Harish and hoped to follow in his footsteps to UT.
But in my junior year of high school, Harish first started showing signs of a confusion that would come to consume him. I remember the night too vividly when his parents called us in agony, dumbfounded by Harish’s behavior. He had come home from college for summer break and acted like a different person altogether. His grades had dropped and he suffered from the guilt and pressure that all Indian children know when it comes to academics. My parents brought him to our house and tried to set him straight. Harish eventually did pull himself together, and his parents, who had become like a second family to me, thanked us and took him back to Austin.
I would eventually join him there and restart our friendship during my freshman year at UT. It was time again to learn from Harish – this time about the best tofu places on campus, and where to find the free t-shirts.
Yet, Harish again showed signs of a deeper problem. Just before winter break of my sophomore year, I called Harish to ask for a ride home for the holidays. He agreed, but fabricated stories about my roommate and caused drama that drove a rift in our friendship. When I rode with Harish to Dallas for the 2010 winter break, it would be one of the last days I spent quality time with him.
At the time, I didn’t know he was fighting with mental illness. He would be diagnosed years later. Since that car ride, I’ve thought often about reconnecting with Harish. Whenever I saw his mother in Dallas, I would ask if I could meet him again. But when she went home and asked Harish, his answer was always no.
So, the days would pass by and I would move on in my life, graduating from UT Austin and starting my first job. Harish would end up moving out of his parents’ apartment, working intermittently, and finally moving to India for steady work earlier this year. It was in India that his life was taken on August 31st, but we learned of his death on September 7th. Just the night before, I had stayed up late catching up with my close friend about our times with Harish, and how we hoped to reconnect with him sometime soon.
I wonder what went through Harish’s head in the past few years. Maybe he had forgotten our times together, the laughs we shared and all that he had taught me. If that’s what his illness could do, then I hate it. I hate that Harish had to go through such an internal battle. I hate that he couldn’t be the jovial, brilliant kid I had always known. I hate that he died without being my friend again, without letting me share one more slice of pizza with him or lecturing me on his opinions about the latest internet craze.
So much of who I am today and the interests or passions that I have are a direct result of growing up with Harish. He taught me more than I can say about American culture, Indian families, and the world in general. In the coming years, I’ll be sure to remember him, the way he laughed and told stories and argued with his mom. I want to cherish the parents he left behind, and all the funny memories that still make me smile.
I hope that if you’re hearing this or reading this, you’ll remember your own best friends from childhood. Maybe you’ll recognize the impact they ‘ve had on you. And if you’re lucky enough to still be friends, I hope that you hug them a little tighter the next time.
Harish was my best friend. And he will always be my best friend. May he rest in peace.