Writing about feelings is hard but writing about science is easy. In psychology, there are these two theories: the first is the “primacy effect” and the next is the “recency effect”. These pretty much mean that you remember firsts and you remember lasts. For example, if you were given a list of words then asked to recall them at a later time you would remember the first word and the last one from the list.
For the longest time, I thought my own memories worked only on the recency effect theory. I’m really, really good at remembering things that happened last. I’m sure other people feel the same way. It wasn’t until recently that I realized how present the primacy effect is in my life.
I remember the last time I was with Tim so clearly almost as if I can watch it on a reel. I’ve been ruminating on this moment to try and uncover every last detail of it so I can remember it in its most genuine form. It was a bit over a month ago. January 15th. Kaitlyn and I decided to go up to Penn State for the weekend because our school’s winter breaks are way too long and everyone had already gone back to school and Flemington is boring when you’re a college kid on break. We made the three hour trek and I was so excited to third wheel with two of my favorite people for the weekend. (But does it really count as third wheeling if they’re both your best friends?)
Hanging out with Kaitlyn and Tim was an event every time. Usually it would end up with Tim and I (and Megan, too) teaming up against Kaitlyn to make fun of her about stupid things. I remember it was such a process last summer figuring out the exact game plan for getting a parking spot so we could get our Hoffman’s ice cream down at the shore during one of the busiest times of the night. It was always Kait and Tim bickering back and forth about the smallest things and then all of us making fun of them for fighting making them realize just how silly they were being.
This wasn’t any different that weekend at Penn State. On the car ride there Kaitlyn made sure I knew that Tim forgot to register her car for a parking pass so he would be paying for the parking garage during our visit. We got to the campus after three hours of a car ride filled with stories about all the things Kaitlyn does when she goes to visit and who I’d be meeting and lots of pee stops. That Taylor Swift and Zayn song was playing on what seemed to be a continuous loop. I was excited to go to a D1 school and get that experience but I was really just excited to be hanging out with two of my closest friends.
We get to the apartment and I wasn’t shocked to see it adorned with stereotypical “boy” decor: a poster of a model, a Grey Goose sign, a Penn State Rose Bowl flag, and an overwhelming pile of dirty dishes in the sink. Once again, when we walk in I hear Kaitlyn making her usual snarky but loving comments to Tim about how gross the bathroom is. “I told him to wash the sink but he definitely didn’t,” she told me.
I went around to meeting all of the roommates and it didn’t take long for me to get a feel for the dynamic that existed in that apartment. Each roommate was a puzzle piece to their quirky, little home and you could see where each and every one of them fit in as friends. We vegged out for most of the day, I met all of Tim and Kaitlyn’s friends and we hung out for a bit until we decided to run out to Target (Kaitlyn wanted her own Shampoo and Conditioner to keep there so she wouldn’t have to pack it for every visit, Tim needed food or something, I joked about having to buy Penn State apparel to prove I visited).
We ran the errands, then went to a food place where Tim bought a huge serving of cheese fries even though Kait said she “wasn’t hungry”. “He doesn’t like when I don’t eat,” she told me. Her and I ended up eating most of those fries, anyway, as I’m sure Tim knew we would.
They gave me the Penn State experience that night and I remember Kaitlyn kept disappearing on us so Tim and I were dancing way too hard on the dance floor. “Closer” by the Chainsmokers came on and Tim, being the somewhat basic white girl he is, was so excited and danced even harder than he did at junior prom when he ripped the pants of his rented tux.
When we got back to the apartment that night, Tim and Kaitlyn were fast asleep once their heads hit the pillow but I was still pretty awake. For whatever reason, I ended up washing every, single dirty dish that was in the apartment that night to the entertainment of the other roommates who were also still awake.
When we left the next morning, I remember Tim and I making fun of Kaitlyn for saying she was craving a filet o’ fish from McDonald’s because who in the world orders that at McDonald’s. We said our goodbyes, got in the car, and on our drive found a McDonald’s unexpectedly. Kaitlyn ordered a filet o’ fish and I made sure to send Tim a snapchat of her eating it so he could get a kick out of it.
That was the last time I saw him. And for a while I thought that was going to be the only concrete, clear, high definition memory I would keep with me of my friend Tim. That I would remember him as someone who thinks filet o’ fish are just as stupid as I think they are.
But this is where the primacy effect kicks in.
The first time I ever saw Tim was probably in the hallway when I didn’t even notice. Going to a school as big as Hunterdon Central makes situations like that all too normal. But I remember junior year him and his friends sat at the table right near us during unit lunch. I found out who he was when Kaitlyn told me that he was in her Teen PEP class. Slowly I saw her interacting with him more and more during lunch. Fast forward through the school year and she was really nervous about not getting a date for junior prom (if only life was still this simple, right?). I remember saying that she should go with Tim as friends, knowing damn well that’s what everyone says before they end up dating.
I remember I chatted him on Facebook to see how he was going to “prom-pose” to Kaitlyn, as best friends do. He had it all planned out already and didn’t need my help but nonetheless I was and continue to be that nosey best friend in everyone’s relationships.
That’s what I thought of Tim for the longest time. He was Kaitlyn’s prom date. Until they started dating after prom (no surprise there, I called it from a mile away). Then he became Kaitlyn’s boyfriend. And that’s what Tim was until he wasn’t just that anymore. He became our best friend, too.
He would sit with us at the end of lunch, fill our water bottles for us at the fountain because we were all too lazy (he’d be sure to not fill up Kaitlyn’s just to get on her nerves), he would still hang out with us even if Kaitlyn was late for school that morning or was sick and didn’t come at all. He stopped getting nervous around all of the girls and started becoming just another seat at the table. Just like the perfect puzzle piece dynamic I saw when I met his roommates, that’s what he was within our own friend group: a perfect fit.
It’s hard to put into words the evolution of Tim from being the guy that sat near us at lunch to being one of our best friends. We would talk to him about boys, he would agree with me when I would be cynical and say something like “I hate boys, every last one of them!”, he would critique our outfit choices and he was always, always doing things to make us laugh even if it was at the expense of Kaitlyn. But more often than not she would end up laughing with us too.
Of course I wish we could all have just one more trip down the shore together, one more summer bonfire where he would jokingly give Kait a lap dance in front of everyone, one more chance to see how into the song “Ignition (Remix)” he would get. But I am at peace knowing that I got to share those moments with him once upon a time and one day we’ll all be able to be together again.
Being in love is a really cool thing, I’ve heard. But being a bystander to love is just as beautiful of an experience. Having the chance to watch the love that Kaitlyn and Tim shared grow over the years and seeing our love for him as a friend develop as well was one of the greatest privileges I’ve ever had in my life.
Just this past New Year’s Eve I remember going up to him and saying, “One day I’m gonna bring a guy home to meet you, if he can hang out with you then he’s definitely a keeper.” He agreed and said something along the lines of “Can’t wait.”
Kaitlyn and Tim’s relationship is uniquely their own, but it was a part of each and every one of us in our friend group and that is something that can never be taken away from us.
He went from being that timid, blushing boy that was nervous when she would say hi to him from across the cafeteria, to one of our very own best friends, and now he’s our amazing guardian angel.
And although we’ll miss his goofy jokes, his laugh, and the way he would always fall asleep first, we don’t have to miss the way he made us all feel because that will remain with us forever until we get to be reunited with him again.
There is strength in letting oneself be weak in times of pain. There is strength in reflection. There is so much strength in remembering.
We love you so much and miss you so much, Tim. Save us all a spot up there next to you in heaven.