Remembering the boy with the lopsided grin

By Gena Anderson |

We both saw it at the same time. In that moment we froze trying to process this assault to our eyes.

The boy behind the counter looked unmistakably familiar.

“He looks-,” my best friend said.
“Just like Troy.” I finished his sentence for him.

Troy was our friend who died in 2008, yet standing in front of me was a boy who looked so much like him that it made both of us stop in our tracks. That boy, with his lopsided grin and acne, threw me back in time.

I remember sitting on the bus in the seat behind Troy Dean – the new kid with a goofy smile and a lot of enthusiasm. It was a warm and happy place for my thoughts to be, despite that in recollection, everything is somehow more beautiful.

The boy behind the video rental counter could have been Troy’s brother. But he wasn’t. This kid didn’t even know who Troy Dean was, but was stuck there being gawked at awkwardly. We probably looked like we had seen a ghost. That kid had no way of fathoming that he was that ghost.

It’s been almost three years since the day of Troy’s motorcycle accident. Three years and yet he never really leaves my mind.

“Why?” I’ve asked him a thousand times in my head.
“Why are you haunting me so much lately, Troy?”

There is never an answer. If the dead talk they don’t talk to me and that’s probably for the best.

The only thing I’ve been able to figure out is that I need to be more aware of all of the things I have learned from Troy’s death. The things I try not to think about because it makes me miss him and it hurts. I know now that I can’t do that. I have to think about it. I have to learn from that tragedy.

Here’s what I’ve come up with:

Time is more precious than anything. Troy was 19 when he died. I recently turned 20. I have officially outlived him. Life is short. So short. The scary part is you never know just how many days measure short. Troy loved life. Troy loved to skate. I should be doing more of what I love with what little time I have on this planet.

I love to paint. I love to write. I wasn’t really doing any of those things for awhile. But lately, I’ve been trying to more and it feels amazing. The world is so much better when you don’t let the mundaneness of day to day work drag you down.

I act like I have all the time in the world, but I don’t. No one does. Death gives me a reason to live, and to live fully. I know that one day all of this stops and I don’t want that to sneak up on me leaving me with regrets of not having done something I wanted to.

Love is real. I loved Troy. But I didn’t love Troy the way one very sweet girl I know did. Her love for him is a testament to the fact that young love is love regardless of whether or not anyone old enough to know mature love agrees. She stands out to me when I think of him. Her face that day, her attitude everyday after – she has loved again but she will never not love Troy.

Love. That’s a big thing I think about when it comes to Troy. My boyfriend was one of his close friends. I wonder if he’d like us together. Somehow I think it would have made him smile.

Find time to love. Even if that means just finding time to love your friends for existing and dealing with your crap because it’s amazing what we can put people through sometimes. There’s no doubt my friends deal with a lot from me. I’m trying not to be the crazy girl these days though.

Community is important. The nation came together after 9/11. The people of Pensacola, Fla. came together after Hurricane Ivan. The youth of my neighborhood came together in the shadow of Troy’s death. The latter was by far more significant for me personally.

Everyone is linked in some way. We have differences and similarities and yet for some reason we focus on the differences for all the wrong reasons. Think of someone you dislike. Name something you have in common with them. That’s the important part. That common thread that binds us all. People are communal creatures. Act like it.

Friendship should be valued. I can’t express what I would have done to see him just one more time – to be able to memorize the lines around his mouth rather than having to stare at pictures to feel satisfied. If only I could have recorded his voice just to be able to hear him again and again at my leisure as though he were still alive and just told the same story over and over.

I let my friendships fall by the wayside all the time because I am just to busy. I love my friends. They are by definition my favorite people, but sometimes life just bogs me down. School, work, relationships – we’ve all got something that eats up our time and stresses us out. That stress is all the more reasons why we need our friends in our lives.

Remember. Remember the good things. The bad things are important too. I needed to remember what it felt like to lose him. Remembering Troy makes me feel much less like I am drowning.

My boyfriend needed to remember what it felt like to have him. When I read him the early draft of this he cried, and after the tears died down he started reminiscing about the good things, the good days with Troy. He said he felt like a weight had been lifted.

That weight was denial. We can all pretend that things are okay that aren’t. We can all bury the pain as much as we want but one day it will come back up for you. It always does.

Don’t run from pain. It makes you grow. It gave me the motivation I needed to say: “this whole taking life for granted thing isn’t really working out.”

I hope this gets back to people who need this. I hope people from my high school or my neighborhood find this. I hope they get something from it. I needed this. Who knows who else does too. Maybe you do.

I was lucky to know Troy. I miss him everyday. I always will and I am glad about that.

This is my promise to him: to never forget what it means to be alive again.

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