The last twenty four hours I’ve thought a lot about friendships. You go through life and create many friendships. Some are tried and true, while others are great while they last but eventually fade. I have a very small handful of friends that I’ve known and loved since childhood. I would do anything for these guys. Really. We’ve all been through thick and thin. We’ve seen each other at our lowest points and have never judged, looked down upon, or abandoned each other. And this group of friends I have, we were never some group of Three Musketeers or anything. We all interacted with each other in some way or another, but I had a very unique relationship with each of them. When it was a group of us getting together, certain aspects of ourselves were toned down a bit so as not to make the other feel left out of the very personal quirks and inside jokes we shared when it was just the two of us.
I met one of these friends my freshman year of high school, through my best friend from the third grade. Jason and I hit it off immediately, wondering how our mutual pal couldn’t love The Beatles, sharing a fascination with Daphne Zuniga, and a passion for the absurd and creating a secret society where only we were the members while the rest of the outside world were idiots. Jason came over, along with our mutual pal Tyson for my 15th birthday. We went and saw Child’s Play and stayed up way too late in my practice room downstairs while I played various homemade guitar riffage and Tyson got bored(love ya, buddy.) By our sophomore year in high school Jason and I were inseparable. Exposing each other to new music, new independent horror films, and sharing a fascination with the opposite sex. Also in our 10th grade year Jason began taking bass lessons from the same guy that gave me guitar lessons. We were ready to be in a band, man! With a Rush fetish, we began writing pretentious, overwrought lyrics about the plight of the working man, the single mom, and strange, powerful entities that couldn’t be seen by the naked eye.
We also wrote about chicks.
But throughout all of this Jason and I connected on a much deeper level. When I found him I felt like I’d found a soul mate, of the platonic kind. The kind of friend that at times knew exactly what I was going to say, but then at times I could surprise him with some oddball sentence or thought that knocked him off his feet. That mental connection went both ways. It felt like there would be many adventures for us.
Our senior year Jason began dating a girl. Now, I’d known this girl since elementary school. To say she was unique is putting it mildly. She was bright and funny, but could be very unpredictable. Imagine Punky Brewster with a switchblade and a copy of Frank Zappa’s biography in her backpack. That was Pam. There was a connection between the two of them that couldn’t be explained. I have to admit, I never thought they were a good fit. Not because of some friend jealousy or anything like that. No, it was because 5% of the time these two hit it off like gangbusters while 95% of the time it was like oil and water. Fire and ice. Or, some other cliche’d phrase. It just seemed that they would bring the worst out in each other. They’d break up, then get back together. Break up, and get back together. Despite driving each other crazy, there was that connection. I just never got it. In the winter of 1994 Jason told me that Pam was pregnant. I saw only pain and misery in store for my friend. I felt his life was literally over. I was only 20 years old and was too young to truly understand what having a child meant, so I was being a bit melodramatic here.
In August of 1994 Jason and Pam became parents to Madelyn Stephenson. She was born on a warm August night. My girlfriend(now wife)and my cousin headed up to the hospital in the middle of the night. I don’t know remember why, but we never got inside to see Madelyn. Maybe because it was 1am. Either way, the fear of my friend’s life ending had subsided and I was just extremely excited for him. When I did finally see Madelyn she was a beautiful baby girl, like a lot of beautiful baby girls. I was still too young to truly appreciate creating life, nurturing, and all that stuff. But I could see in Jason’s eyes that he was a proud papa. That was all I needed to see.
The next few years Jason and Pam would have their bouts of insanity, all the while raising this little girl. Jason brought Madelyn over to our house a few times. We’d gotten married in 1996 and built a home the same year. She was such a quiet little girl, never really saying much of anything, barely even cracking a smile. She did play with our niece a few times. Chloe was just a few months younger than Madelyn and they seemed to have a good time together playing with our dog’s toys. As Madelyn got older it was apparent that the silence in her was that of an estute scientist studying her surroundings and making conclusions, rather than just some shy little kid. The actions of those around her were turned into mathematical equations and she would then sit back and figure these equations out. I’m not sure what conclusions she ever came up with about me. Madelyn Stephenson was a bright, young lady. And in her silence and shy, introverted personality she hid a very unique sense of humor. A sense of humor she shared with her dad(her mom as well.) She looked at the world very much in the same way her dad looked at it as a shy, introverted 15 year old drawing grotesque caricatures of classmates and teachers alike in the school library. Despite many problems between Jason and Pam, problems that ended with them splitting after having two more children(Nathaniel and Helen), Jason still kept me up to date regarding all of his kids. All three very unique and funny in their own ways, but Madelyn was destined for great things.
In 2010 Jason had found some real peace in his life. He met Michelle. They fell in love and got married. Michelle had a little girl of her own and Jason connected with her right away. I think there was just so much turmoil between him and Pam when Madelyn was a little girl, that certain aspects of being “daddy” back then were overshadowed by what was going on between the obviously overwhelmed young parents. Around this time Jason and I stopped seeing each other as often. I don’t think it was a lack of love between friends. It was just that gradual movement in our lives to other things. Schedules, lives, interests get further and further apart and the time to spend with each other becomes less and less. I knew he was happy. I mean, really happy. For the first time in a really long time. In the last 19 years I’ve seen Jason go through so many ups and downs, both from external influences and internal demons, that when I would talk to him in 2010 after him and Michelle got married it was as if someone had turned some switch in one of my dearest friends and he had finally found himself. His purpose. He’d told me that Madelyn had been accepted into the Indiana Academy. Indiana Academy is a school for Juniors and Seniors in high school that excel academically, and located on the Ball State campus. It’s an absolute honor to be accepted into that school and she was welcomed in with open arms. I think for the first time in her life Madelyn had found “her people”, as it were. And though I didn’t see Jason as often as I’d used to, we still kept in touch. He’d tell me about how all the kids were doing(including his stepdaugther), and how Madelyn was doing down at Ball State. I ran into Jason on Christmas Eve at the store. It was really good to see him. He’d told me that Madelyn was transferring from St.Mary’s College in Notre Dame, IN to Indiana University. I could see Bloomington as being a perfect fit for Madelyn, and I could tell by the look on Jason’s face he was truly excited for her and what she had in store.
On Friday, January 3rd 2014, Madelyn Stephenson was driving on a snow-covered highway just east of South Bend, Indiana on her way to visit a friend before she was to move to Bloomington and start a new life as an Indiana University student when her car was struck by a semi. She died on the way to the hospital. She leaves behind a father Jason, mother Pam, brother Nathaniel, sister Helen, stepmom Michelle, stepsister Jasmine, stepdad Chad, grandma Linda, aunts Lalanya and Amy, cousins, countless friends, and a world that has no idea what it’s lost.