I have been both.
I was a night owl in high school. I remember Daddy’s shouting and scary look when he woke up to use the restroom and found me still studying in the corner of the room. “Turn off the light! I can’t sleep!!” But he had just been snoring loud!
I finally left home and arrived in America, feeling free as a bird. Graduate school’s heavy study load drove me to sleep at 2 a.m. and up at 6 a.m. Nearly two years of four hours a night sleep earned me a Master’s degree and I landed a job in Florida.
I continued to get up early and used the weekend to catch up on some sleep.
On one Saturday morning, it was 11:30 am when the phone rang.
“You’re still sleeping?” Will called to invite us for a BBQ over to his house.
He was our American neighbor turned good friend; we met shortly after moving into our new home. Will’s wife was a Chinese immigrant, just two years older than me. They met when she was working as a receptionist while attending graduate school and he, an engineer for the company where she worked. He was in his 40s, tall and gentle, loved Elvis Presley, and suffered a failed marriage with no children. She was in her mid-20s, petite and innocent with a bright smile. He adored her and she loved him.
There were six of us, three couples, one Caucasian and five Chinese. We called ourselves DINKs, Double Income No Kids. We made many road trips together, including one to Alaska in 2000. Will was the most loving and giving friend I had ever known. He patiently helped us to understand the difference between cultures in the earlier years, answered any questions we had, and tolerated our broken English. He always volunteered to drive during long road trips. I trusted his driving skills over the rest of us.
“I can’t ever see myself sleeping past 6 am.” Will said on the phone. I remember his voice as clearly as yesterday. I could hear his deep timbre, just like Elvis’s.
Now I am about his age and I can’t sleep past 6 a.m. either.
The morning hours are so beautiful. Being alone and feeling lonely are two completely different feelings. When I am up early, I get to enjoy my alone time. That time of day gives me the deepest connection to myself.
Will was a solitary man and didn't have many close friends. He must have felt so lonely when he passed away. I could picture the horror that must have gone through his head. He closed the garage door and turned on the fuse. As the toxic gas started to fill the room, he started to choke and gasp for air. But he had made up his mind. He couldn’t allow himself to continue to live like this. The police came to the house and found him. Later, I learned there were hundreds of child pornography photos on his computer. He couldn’t ruin his daughter’s future. He felt so ashamed. He felt the need to disappear to protect his family.
Will was the first to have children among the DINKS. He was an amazing dad to Sophia who recently left for university with a full scholarship. Sophia was 10 years old that year. She was told his father was killed in an accident in their garage.
Today is the 10th anniversary of my friend’s passing. What he did was unacceptable, no doubt about that, but I also know there was more to him than his biggest mistake. I don’t know what drove him to such a deep dark place that he couldn’t get out, but in my eyes, he will always remain a loving friend who cooked the best Thanksgiving Turkeys and made the best Christmas tree decorations.
Thank you Will, those 15 years of our friendship together were fun and loving. You left a bright mark in our lives. See you in the night stars.