When I was 18 I met a boy named Jason. My best friend had matched with him on Tinder and they were talking constantly. I was living in California, the golden state that dreams are made of. Her and I would spend our days driving up and down PCH, listening to music and laughing about the boys she would find on dating apps. We’d get coffee and go to Ruby’s diner and watch movies and do our nails and walk around her neighborhood in Long Beach looking for walls to take pictures in front of. We’d walk for hours, searching for the perfect backdrop for our Instagram pictures and filling the afternoons laughing and pointing out which houses we wished we lived in.
Sometime in January she got a house sitting gig and we would spend all night curled on the couch watching movies, either horror or teenage coming of age, and she would show me random guys on random apps and I’d say “yes” or “no” or “absolutely not”.
This boy Jason was different. They talked all the time and then he wouldn’t reply for days and then he’d slide back in with some one liner, or he’d comment on a photo, or he’d DM her, or send her a song. There’s a specific breed of boy that usually gets the farthest on dating apps. You have to be just mysterious enough, and take just long enough to reply, but then text back like it’s been years since you’ve talked and you’ve been dying without her. Lowercase letters or all caps are your ideal wingman, and using the person’s first name is important. Sending a song after not replying for a day, or a meme. It has to simultaneously feel like you’re best friends and already married while also feeling like you have no idea who this person is.
We didn’t have much to do besides hang out on the internet, so we got this down to a science. We’d refine her bio and photos and look for the most interesting guys. Anything they did to not be boring was a win in our books.
And this boy Jason was anything but boring. I followed him on Instagram when they started actually talking (like any best friend should) and he followed me back and he was hilarious. He had the energy of a puppy and the curls of a giggling kid and the charm of Ryan Gosling circa Crazy Stupid Love and this glinting sparkle in his eye. He was such a presence. He was golden somehow, even though he was really only the boy my friend was talking to that she met on the internet. Either way, he was in our lives all the sudden, and he was the kind of person that made you wonder what had been there before him.
(This is not the story of me falling for the boy my friend was into, by the way. In case you thought that’s where this was going.)
So she got this house sitting gig, like I mentioned earlier. It was an upper floor apartment across the city from her parent’s house and it was an adorable one bedroom with a balcony and a bathroom with a red heat light that got well utilized for photoshoots. One of the days we were there she said casually “Jason wants to come hang out.” She was nervous. He was driving from LA to hang out, at least a 30 minute drive, and she had never met this boy in person. But the situation seemed perfect and another friend of hers was there hanging out so we all did a shot of whatever we could find in the liquor cabinet and sent her out the door to meet him in the parking lot. Her friend who was there and I peeked over the edge of the balcony to spy on them as they walked around the apartment complex. He was tall and we could hear her laughing a lot.
Hours passed and at some point they both came upstairs. I was on the couch drawing in my journal and texting my boyfriend at the time when they came in. Jason was much taller than I was expecting. The first thing I heard from him was a laugh, and his energy filled the room like a golden retriever running around.
“Hahaha hey, it’s Inkkveins.” He’d only ever called me by my instagram handle, to this day he’d never used my name. He asked about my writing and I asked about his music, and he started playing Anderson .Paak on the speakers. He said his friends called him Jasace, “like Versace. It’s classy.” So that’s what we called him from that day forward. All three of us talked for a while and then they went to bed and I slept on the couch, falling asleep to the sound of them laughing was comforting. In the morning I’d barely woken up when he was leaving and I pretended to be asleep because usually the morning is too early to talk to someone you barely know.
And that was that. They only ever hung out that one time and contact died out at some point, but he always hit my friend up on her birthday and holidays, and occasionally we’d reply to each other's stories on Instagram and even though I only ever spent less than 12 hours around him, years ago, to this day I think of him fondly. He was so golden.
Years have passed and so much has changed. I’ve moved 3 or 4 times since then. I’ve had different jobs and left the country and came back and an endless list of other things. I’d think of him randomly and text my friend.
Oh my god, remember Jason? No, yeah, Jasace, remember?
He was so great, I miss that kid.
Last October I was feeling nostalgic and I tried to look him up on Instagram just to see what he was up to, but we’d unfollowed each other at some point. Probably out of loyalty to my friend when he ghosted her the first or second or third time. About a week after I thought of him last fall, my friend texted me.
Remember that kid Jason?
Of course, I just tried to find his account last week.
I just found out he died.
I’d only ever seen the boy for 12 hours, but I got that text from my friend and my hands started shaking and my arms started shaking and my legs started shaking and my whole body started shaking until it felt like my gut was turning itself inside out. The walls were spinning and I laid down and my roommate pressed her hand on my stomach to try and ground me. I was crying for this dude I barely even knew and to this day I still don’t fully understand why. He’s the first person my age I’ve known to die. One of the few people I’ve known not to die of natural causes. The only person I’ve known to die at the hands of violence, on the streets of LA no less. He was nothing but good. Even when he ghosted my friend, he was still this puppy boy with sparkling eyes and bouncing curls who everyone loved.
He was the first person to die who made my life feel pointless after I found out. The first death to really shake me, wake me up with ice water and slap me and say, “What are you doing filling your days like this?” Not long after I found out I had to start taking breaks from work to pace the parking lot. I had to call my dad from outside the office in the icy early Wisconsin winter and recount what happened and ask without saying “What’s the point of anything now? What does this mean for a 21 year old girl who doesn’t know what she’s doing?”
I always texted my boss and told her I needed a moment when I stepped out, and sometimes I stayed a minute or two too long in hopes that someone would come looking to ask if I was okay so I could say no. I wanted to tell these people how not okay I was and how fruitless this job felt and how much I wanted to run from the building screaming most days just to prove to myself that I still existed.
Instead, I rode the bus home with my headphones in. And I called my friend while I walked from the stop because the sun sets before 6 in Wisconsin in October and it doesn’t feel safe to walk home alone without someone knowing what’s happening in real time.
He was the first person to die to wake me up like that. The first person to die to make me want to call everyone I’d ever loved and ask them if they still held feelings for me like I did for them. The first person to make me want to live more fully and more loudly and more outwardly. I channel him sometimes, the puppy energy I knew for a few hours and over the phone, the way he lit up the room when he walked in even though I only saw him do it once. The way that he probably doesn’t even know that a girl in Wisconsin is writing about him on her blog, and the way that maybe he does. Maybe he’s floating past my window right now as I write this. Maybe he’s reincarnated as the golden retriever he reminded us of. Maybe he’s running around laughing, playing jokes on all his friends and coasting through his kitchen to show his mom he’s still around. It’s almost been a year, and his spirit is just as strong as ever. Thanks Jasace, for everything you taught me without even knowing you were doing it.
This isn’t a story of me falling for the guy my best friend was into. This is a story of how fleeting life is, and how enduring friendship is, and how no matter what happens, at the end of the day we meet people for a reason and they can mean as much or as little to us as they are supposed to. If that confuses you it’s because life is confusing and I’m so far from figuring it out but a little closer to being better at writing about it.