I Still See Him in Their Eyes: A Story of Loss and Found

January 2015: I was boarding a plane - a red eye flight - when I started having images of my friend Alex flash through my mind. Sure, I thought about him often, er, more accurately, worried about him often. But, this... This was different. Rapid thoughts of our moments together were abrasively skipping through my mind. Choppy, succinct memories. Traveling on the road with the band, working at a coffee shop, sitting lakeside, dancing during shows, and that one really hurtful fight.

Why?

I wasn't sure, but I knew I needed to visit him when I got back to Texas. 

Something about Alex changed in 2012. And when I left Austin to move home to begin my recovery from late-stage Lyme disease, he also announced he had been suffering from Bipolar I Disorder - a very severe mental illness that ranges from extreme mania and paranoia, to crippling, life-sucking depression.

By the time I got back to Texas that January, it was too late. I don't really like saying that Alex took his own life, because quite honestly, that's not really how mental illness works. It takes you. 

I don't remember many specifics that followed. But I do remember the pain that only comes with loss. I remember reading over old texts. I remember clicking through the same few photos, again and again. I remember replaying that phone call in my mind from our mutual friend; and the way she said "Alex," behind tears, and that's it. How my heart fell to the pit of my stomach because I knew. With just one word, he was gone. I remember the sunset on the lake, holding onto my friends - our band family.

I was afraid to be alone, but all I wanted to do was escape into the dark. The crevices of a small four-room space with just the light emitting from my cell phone as I scrolled through the same photos, the same messages, until my eyes blurred with tears and became too heavy to focus.

With time, we began to heal - or something. We celebrated his life, danced with the band on Stubb's stage in his honor, and some of us set out to travel in his name.

And every now and then, I still see him. I see him in strangers' eyes. A quick glance with a toothy smile, a little glister in their eyes, that sparks something inside of me that just knows -- somehow, someway, he's still here.

I don't know who these people are, but maybe the ones we've loved most can still show up for us, even when we had once believed that they were gone.

So if you're missing someone, ask to find them. Maybe you will.

 Taken From Alex O'Brien's Facebook (Posted Nov. 2014)

Taken From Alex O'Brien's Facebook (Posted Nov. 2014)