I can't help but think about this right now (and for the past week). My friend Jason was murdered on August 10, 2008. So why am I thinking about this now? Actually I think about this often, if not every week, at least every month for the last four years. I'm also thinking about this right now because he was murdered on the same day as my second half marathon. This half marathon was the Chicago Distance Classic (now known as the Rock N' Roll Half) which is normally in August but was moved to July this year. So every year when I do this half, in my mind, I dedicate it to him. I would like to tell you about how I met Jason through the time of his murder.
I met Jason in January 2001 when I started a new job in Downer's Grove. This job was a marketing/advertising company and when they hired new people, they hired them in batches. This company was about 400 people, with an average age of 24. I was 21 when I started (so I was able to go to the bar every week with everyone else! lol). Jason and I were in the same training class of about 12 people. We trained for about 2 weeks in a classroom type area and Jason and Charlie got placed behind me. Needless to say, being new to a company and put in a room for 2 weeks with the same 12 people, the training classes always became very close! Training classes stuck together, ate lunch together, went out for drinks together. After the 2 weeks were up, we got placed in a certain area within the company. I was placed in the research department and Jason was placed as an analyst.
That's how I met Jason (and Charlie). There is one day that I specifically remember during training which was probably how Jason, Charlie and I really became friends. Jason and Charlie loved to tease me. I'm an easy target and a lot of people like to tease me. It was all in good fun and I didn't mind at all. One day Jason and Charlie came into the training class. Charlie told me that I cut him off trying to get to work. He was messing with me of course, but they thought it was hysterical and they both just kept messing with me almost every day about cutting him off.
Jason was a partier. He liked to have a good time. He liked to go out and have more than a few drinks. Every Thursday night, our training class (and new work friends in our departments) would go out for a drink. It turned out that Jason and I lived only a mile from each other (we both lived with our parents), so if Jason drank too much, I gave him a ride home, and then a ride to work the next day. It was also at this bar that we started watching the tv show Survivor. Quickly, later on Jason and Charlie made an online competition with the show Surivor and we had friendly games on Survivor. Jason made himself the "commissioner" of the game. Just a fun, nerdy game that made the show more interesting.
Fast forward, I left this company in April of 2002. I kept in contact with some friends there, including Jason, and would make visits. One day, I emailed Jason at work and the email was returned. He had left but I didn't actually have his current number or email. About a year later, I was working downtown and I happened to run into Jason. Now we both worked in the city and only about 2 blocks away! I felt it was fate (because I'm nerdy and I had a crush on Jason). We would go out to lunch every now and again. I was never "best friends" with Jason so I didn't hang out with him on weekends or anything. This was mostly the extent of our friendship...the survivor show, lunches and an occasional work week drink.
Fast forward again...I emailed Jason at work (did I never have a personal email for him??) and he was no longer working there. I emailed Charlie and asked for Jason's current email. He gave me a pizza place email (example: jason@____pizza.com). I assumed Charlie was joking with me. I got pissed off but didn't say anything to Charlie about it and never contacted this email address. About 6 months later...I had a half marathon.
My second half marathon, the Chicago Distance Classic, on August 10, 2008. This half marathon always starts really early, at 6:30 am. I was meeting my charity group at about 6:00 am. The next day I called off of work. On that Monday, I went to my parent's house and checked my email. It was about 8:30 am and I had an email from Charlie. Charlie apologized for sending me an email about this but he didn't have my phone number. He told me that Jason had been shot the morning before at about 5:25 am on the west side of Chicago (the morning of my half marathon).
Charlie was known (to me) as being a little meaner in the joke department and I felt as though I didn't get along with him as much as Jason. I thought this was a mean joke. I replied to Charlie, "If this is a joke, it's not funny!" He told me he wouldn't joke about something like that and proceeded to tell me the details that he knew. I was in utter shock. This can't be right. Who would want to shoot Jason? I immediately called my dad, who knew Jason through the online Survivor game we had, and told him what I just found out and just started sobbing. Jason was a clean cut, super nice guy. I remember Jason as having this twinkle in his eye and always a smile on his face. It was so unreal, I just couldn't take it. I was about 3 miles away from Jason as I was driving to my half marathon. At the time I just felt like maybe I could have done something! If Jason could have called me, I could have taken him home. It's unrealistic to think I could have done something but I was near the area! If only...
|Picture of Jason|
Jason funeral was miserable. I couldn't stop crying. I felt life was so unfair to take someone like Jason away from the world. He was 29 years old, 1 week shy of turning 30. He had just graduated with a masters and actually did just open a pizza place (that email was real, I didn't know!). At the funeral, I was so angry at whoever did this! I remember the priest saying that life wasn't always fair. The priest said he knew we were all angry but that Jason wouldn't want us to live with this anger inside of us. This anger would consume us and whoever did this to Jason would win! We needed to forgive the situation and release the anger. It helped. It didn't make it easy and was extremely hard to try to let go of the anger, but emotionally it helped me. I'll never forget that day or that week.
Long story short...6 months later, they made two arrests...2 gang members, a 17 year old and a 22 year old. Just last year they had the trial. The 17 year old was acquitted and the 22 year old was found guilty. I have a lot to say on this but it's not going to do any good.
So needless to say, I never stop thinking about Jason. I will walk downtown and think I see him. Jason had a classic look. I still see that twinkle in his eye, I can still hear his laugh and see that smile. Every year that Survivor is on, I think of Jason. My parents and I still pick a person that we think will win the show and I always pick one for Jason. The first season after Jason's death, I picked a person for him out of a hat, and his person won. I felt like he was there playing the game with us.
The thing I took from this terrible tragedy was how short life really is. Jason lived life to the fullest. He was educated, started his own business, lived downtown, ran along the lake, had fun, was a great friend, was a great family member. He had two young nephews that have to grow up without him. It wasn't fair what happened to Jason. I wish it never did. But it did, and after that day, I vowed to try and live my life to the best of my ability. If something is on my mind, I'll try to say it. I try not to take life for granted. You never know when this day will be your last. Be kind to people. Be someone that people will remember.
Like I said, Jason and I were only social friends. Jason and Charlie were best friends. Since this day, Charlie and I are much closer and I'm friends with Charlie's wife. I also reconnected with a few other friends from that company that knew us both. So Jason's death wasn't in vein. I took so much from it. I'll never stop thinking about Jason. I'll never stop thinking of the message he left this world. So as I sit here with tears streaming down my face, I'll forever be grateful to Jason for that message. Here is to my upcoming half marathon that is always so much more to me than just another run. I've run this half marathon every year since then. It's THE most important run of my year, not for the time I might get but for the memory of my friend.