With no further ado, let’s begin our story about Joshua, a close friend I grew up with and admire.
Joshua and I have been friends for most of our lives. Our parents were members at a pool and cabana club that doubled as a hotel, and that’s where we met when we were three years old. I can’t recall too much of the first year or so, but Joshua seemed like a typical kid that would have his moments of anger: he’d swear at people he knew but never to strangers or elders. Joshua seemed to be a bit of a baby at times, which is what sparked these “tantrums.” If he didn’t get his way sometimes, or if he was yelled at for doing something wrong, he would just flip out. (As our story continues, his attitude will play out more).
At the cabana club we were always swimming, playing on the playground, and running around with ninja turtles or transformers all the time. As we got older, our parents would buy rafts and we would always try to pile them high and jump on them without falling off of them. It never worked but it was a blast. The cabana club is where we met Roger, the pool manager. To us he looked ancient, but he was only in his sixties. He taught me how to swim, and later he taught Joshua competitive swimming. Roger was a very nice man, but we were intimidated by him. He just looked old and mean but he was actually very kind. We would always run down the hallway of the boiler room where all the mechanical stuff for the pool was, and Roger would come down the steps and we’d bolt away in the opposite direction and run back outside.
When we were about five years old, Joshua and I were eventually put into the same soccer programs, and we began playing soccer together and having sleepovers. We grew up watching television, especially ninja turtles. We must have had every ninja turtle action figure and accessory that came out by the time we were in middle school. Throughout our elementary years, we spent almost every day together in school, at the park, and on the weekends at one of our houses. We played soccer and basketball, (Joshua eventually began playing baseball) and started running track together toward the end of elementary school.
Soccer was just a bunch of kids running after the ball. It was mass chaos because none of us had any idea what to do except try and get the ball. By the second grade, we started getting the hang of it and knew the concept of the game. Basketball started the same way, just a bunch of kids running after the ball but using their hands instead of their feet. Joshua wasn’t too good at either sport and was actually a bit chubby, as I recall. It didn’t take him long once his motor skills developed, though, to surpass many others and me. He was always running around and riding his bike, which gave him a lot of endurance for soccer and basketball. Once he learned to use his feet, he excelled at both. Eventually, his parents signed him up for baseball and Joshua liked it and won a lot of games with his teams, but he thought the game itself was too slow.
In sixth grade, we got involved in a city track program, and Joshua became a sprinter and a jumper even though people told him he should run distance, which is what I did. He thought anything more than 200 meters was stupid. Joshua was always outside playing, riding his bike and climbing stuff. So he had speed and power for these events. Track seemed to be where he excelled a lot. He was able to push himself and didn’t have to rely on a team to win anything. When he raced or jumped, it was only him. I remember one track meet where I was competing in the mile run. It was an odd meet because the order of events began with the 100-meter dash up to the mile. So the sprints were back to back with the jumps in between. Joshua was entered in the long jump, 100-meter dash, and 200-meter dash. The long jump began and every jumper had to jump four times. Joshua had one jump in, and then he had to run the 100. He placed second in that race and went back to jump twice more before running the 200-meter dash. He raced the 200-meter dash and won by almost two seconds, which is a lot in the world of racing. It was the first time I can remember where he had a blank stare and didn’t stop until the finish line. He was exhausted but went back for his final jump and recorded his best jump, which placed him second. Joshua showed only the tip of the iceberg that day, and I wondered how good this kid could be.
We also went through cub scouts together. I remember when we started there were over ten of us and our biggest responsibility was selling popcorn. Joshua was the top seller every year and moved up in the ranks quickly, gaining badges and rewards. I remember that during our first camping trip Joshua was nervous about being away from home, but he loved being outside so much. It was a great experience because we got to sleep outside, and the best part was the campfire. We played capture the flag in the woods, which was one of the coolest things we thought we did at that time.
Joshua was always outside doing something, whether it was raining or snowing. He would ride his bike, play football, manhunt with friends, or shoot basketball by himself at the park. At night he would stay in and watch movies or play video games if he had no homework. During the summer he went to a day camp at a park surrounded by fields and woods, and he would participate in activities like archery, boating, crafts, and music. I eventually went a few years later but only for a week here and a week there. It was fun running through the woods and swimming at the end of every day. We went on field trips every Thursday to places like Hershey Park, Phillies games, Mount Gretna Lake, and many other cool places. Every Friday we had hot dog roasting day, unless it rained. Rainy days were terrible, however. We mostly stayed in the barn, and it always seemed cold and crowded and smelly on those days. Also, during the summer, during the month of July for two hours each weekday evening, we would go to Bible school for grades second through sixth. Depending on what grade you were in is what determined what was taught. The story of Noah’s ark was Joshua’s favorite because it involved animals. He was really into nature. We didn’t go to church, but I know Joshua prayed every night before going to bed and would not use the Lord’s name in vain. I’m not sure if he was spiritual or not at this point, but he was inspired by the stories of the Bible.
We had a lot of the same friends who we grew up with together. (Most of them moved away or got into trouble with the law later in life). We would watch movies, eat, drink as many cokes as we could, or play video games until our eyes hurt. During the day we’d be outside playing some sport or building a fort (or snow fort).
Looking back on all of it, I realize now a lot of our friends took advantage of Joshua’s kindness. We were too young to realize it; we just thought it was cool to be around people we thought were cool. Joshua always let people borrow movies or video games, even his bike, and he rarely got them back, which led him not to lend anything a few years later. In one instance, some of the guys called Joshua and acted like they were a girl he had a crush on. They tried making their voice high pitch and thought it was funny. I know, because I was there when they called him. Joshua wasn’t stupid; he knew who it was and hung up the phone. I felt very bad about that even though I stayed quiet in the other room, which brings me to another situation Joshua faced.
Joshua was a tough kid, but he was still bullied. His natural response was to stick up for himself, which actually got him in trouble in our elementary years, and sometimes the bully got caught too. Joshua never got hurt because he hit back and then would run away. Joshua’s mentality about this eventually changed: he wouldn’t hit back unless there was no other option.
When middle school arrived, it was a whole new world for us. (This was the final year that middle school was seventh, eighth, and ninth grades. After our seventh grade year, the sixth graders moved to middle school and the ninth graders moved to high school.) Our middle school was a bigger school with a lot of new kids. It was very different having to walk from class to class and use a locker to store our stuff, but the biggest change was that we had to change for gym class. It was fun, though.
Both Joshua and I adapted nicely, and we played on the soccer team in the fall season and Joshua became the goalie. He was already the best field player due to his endurance, but with his quickness he was an even better goalie. We all did a lot of running and Joshua did lots of quickness and hand drills. Overall, we were a pretty bad team. We didn’t play soccer anymore on the rec team because we just didn’t have the time. In the winter we would play basketball for the school and the rec league. We were on the junior varsity during our seventh grade year, but we didn’t actually play too much. We gained more experience in the rec league but had more intense practices at school. In the spring Joshua stuck with baseball, even though everyone said he should do track. In eighth grade Joshua became the captain of our soccer team and the MVP, earning a varsity letter. We were still pretty bad and lost a lot of games, but the amount of saves Joshua had was astonishing. It wasn’t exactly fair because we were the only school district at the time that moved ninth graders to high school. So we were playing against ninth graders in almost every game. Basketball wasn’t too good for us our eighth grade year, either. Both of us were on the bench a lot, and we were only put into the game when it was obvious we weren’t going to win. We busted our tails at practice and still didn’t get the respect of the coach. I eventually quit, but Joshua kept at it, although he didn’t get much playing time. Our rec team went undefeated and won the championship that year, which was better than how we did on the school team.
Aside from sports, middle school offered a wider variety of subjects that we were taught. I was an average student but Joshua excelled. He did well in every subject, especially writing, math, science, and music. We also had to take home economics, and he was even good in this class because he always baked stuff with his mom, and she also taught him how to sew. Joshua was inducted into the junior national honor society in our eighth grade year, and he received the math excellence award for his high math scores.
In middle school there were new problems that we faced. We were both bullied by older kids during our seventh grade year and couldn’t do too much because they were so much bigger. I’d try to fight back but would end up being beaten. Joshua wouldn’t fight back and eventually they would leave him alone. This occurred into our eighth grade year, even after the older kids moved to high school. (This was a turning point because we were the older students in the school now due to the ninth graders being moved to high school and the sixth graders being moved to middle school.) Different kids had different problems, and there was one kid who seemed to be pretty cool but wanted to fight everyone. It was weird at the time because he was fun to be around, then all of a sudden he was looking for a fight, pushing and shoving people. He came after Joshua and me a lot. I fought back, but Joshua didn’t. He would maneuver himself to dodge punches or kicks, and he could even use his wiry body to move out of the way when the kid tried to push him. Joshua wouldn’t even raise a hand in anger or in defense; he just used the kid’s own momentum against him until the kid was so embarrassed he gave up.
I never understood why he didn’t fight back until we were out of college. Joshua watched a lot of Bruce Lee movies and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. From watching the fighting techniques and listening to speeches made by martial art gurus, he disciplined himself not to fight unless there was absolutely no other option. I wish I had that kind of discipline, and I try my best to reach his level of discipline. Another example of Joshua’s discipline was during a fire drill. We were all going down the steps to exit the building and one of our friends tried to do a “buckshot”—when a person takes two fingers and pokes someone in the eye. Joshua instinctively blocked the kid’s hand by smacking it away and acting like he was going to punch the kid but didn’t. Our teacher saw this and assumed that Joshua had punched the kid when Joshua pushed his arm away. She flipped out and Joshua got written up, and he spent a day in ISS for doing nothing. He was frustrated but shook it off because we all know he did not deserve the punishment. The woman in charge of ISS knew it, as well.
Our scouting adventures continued in middle school but we were now Webelos—a step up and more work but so much more fun at this point. Our camping trips were a week long in the summer and we’d fish, swim, and earn badges and not shower for days. I dropped out after the first year but Joshua stayed in. He moved up the ranks quickly and got along great with the older kids in the troop. The older boys either moved up to boy scouts or quit, and Joshua became the leader of the troop. It was a good choice because he had natural leadership abilities.
High school arrived and we were both moved up to the junior varsity/varsity soccer team as freshmen. Joshua was the JV goalie, sometimes the varsity goalie, and I was a midfielder on JV. It was a lot more intense than middle school. We had to do a timed two-mile run under thirteen minutes every week. Joshua, of course, was almost a full two minutes faster than everyone else, and, being the goalie, he didn’t even have to run as much. As a goalie, he did almost all drills and technique work because he didn’t need to run the field. Joshua was tough and could take hits, which made him a good goalie. During our first scrimmage, he slid to the ball and the kid from the other team kicked it full force into his stomach. Joshua held onto the ball and slowly made his way to his feet. It knocked the wind out of him, but he stood up and tried not to let it hinder him. Sometimes, Joshua would play the field; he wasn’t too good but he could kick the ball and get to it before most people.
Playing on this team wasn’t as fun for him as it had been in middle school. This is also around the time when Joshua started feeling like he didn’t belong. We grew up playing soccer with a lot of these kids, but they all seemed snobbish towards Joshua. A few blamed him for every loss because he was the goalie, but there wasn’t much he could do when our defense was weak and the other team was much better. Joshua began distancing himself from other people, including me. He seemed not to talk as much, and just showed up because he didn’t want to quit. After the season, he didn’t do much until basketball season. He played basketball on the freshman team and on the rec league, and he also played indoor soccer. But the same thing happened here—he didn’t feel like he belonged and started becoming a bit more distant. He had friends but preferred to stay home and play video games. He would hang out with them, but he would leave when they decided to drink or smoke or call girls to sleep over. Joshua wanted no part of that. To decide this took a lot of discipline, and I really admire that about him.
Academically, Joshua was thriving. We were both in the honors classes but not in all of the same classes. He had all A’s and B’s, and he played the guitar and was more advanced in music than most of us. He could learn half a book of songs in the time it took me to learn one page. Joshua began to write and excelled in science. Towards the end of our freshman year, Joshua wrote his first poem. I thought it was very good, but he didn’t really tell anyone about it. He was very mysterious to a lot of people because he didn’t share a whole lot.
Also, towards the end of our freshman year, Joshua got his first job as a lifeguard at the hotel/pool club where we grew up. His boss Roger ended up becoming his best friend. Joshua learned a lot about life from the older man’s experiences. Roger was always telling Joshua that there is really no reason to be angry and when he does get angry to stop and ask himself, “Why am I angry?” But Joshua was a teenager who didn’t listen to this advice. Joshua had some of his angriest moments during this time, mostly because he was trying to improve the pool club, but he got no help from anyone but Roger. Joshua was even threatened by people just for doing his job. I feel this situation caused a lot of his anger and frustration because people seemed to think that Joshua’s life should have revolved around the pool when none of it was his fault when something went wrong. The owners of the hotel put no money into the place, while Roger and Joshua put forth an epic amount of energy to keep the pools as clean as possible. Yet, Joshua showed up out of respect for his boss. They had a great bond and friendship. It was impressive that on top of everything else Joshua did, he was able to manage his time and keep his job.
In the spring of our freshman year, we both joined the track team, me as an injured distance runner and Joshua as sprinter. He was the fastest guy and best long jumper on the team. He pushed himself so much in practice that he would throw up after tough workouts. I was scared the first time I saw this happen until I realized it was just his pushing harder than anyone else. Our coach saw something in him and made Joshua our team captain. Quickly, he earned the respect of the guys and girls and gained some confidence. With our first meet approaching, he realized we had two distance runners and tons of sprinters. Joshua wanted the team to win and sacrificed his sprinting and jumping to become a distance runner. A few sprinters then chose to become distance runners, thereby creating a decent distance team. Joshua was the heart of this team, but he would continue to throw up at practice and at our first meet. He ran a 5:01 mile, which isn’t something that I will forget easily because from the start he just ran with no one even close to him. Maybe he should have done distance earlier. Joshua’s speed allowed him to have an amazing kick at the end of races and eventually he was moved to the 400-meter dash and 800-meter dash, along with the 4×400 meter relay. After a rough beginning of the season after the switch, Joshua kept pushing and became the fastest 800-meter runner in the league. Another breakout race came soon after, and he became the fastest 400-meter runner. No one was even close in that event and he set a school record. Our 4×4 team was untouchable with Joshua as the anchor. We lost one meet the entire season but missed winning the league meet by two points. Joshua was angry over this; he felt he could have done better and let the team down but it wasn’t his fault. That’s when I noticed how bad Joshua beat himself up when he felt he could have done better for others. This is a characteristic of a leader that we learned about during a leadership-training course in scouts.
Even though we were now in high school, there were still a lot of people who acted like they were in elementary school. This really bugged Joshua because they would never get into trouble even though they kept disrupting the class. Joshua loved having fun but knew when enough was enough. He even called one of these class clowns out, and I thought Joshua was actually going to fight him. We were in art class and the kid was throwing erasers across the room trying to hit us, but he knocked over a cup of water Joshua was using to paint with. Joshua flipped out and called him out, yelling and challenging him to pick up the eraser. This behavior was very out of character for Joshua, but I doubt he would have done anything to the student. For disrupting class, Joshua got a day in ISS while the kid who threw the eraser did not. Something was different about Joshua than when he was in elementary and middle school; he was creating more distance between himself and others and I didn’t know why. We weren’t close at this point.
In the fall of our sophomore year, I continued to play soccer and so did Joshua (we were pretty bad, not even making post-season), and he tried cross-country and became one of the top runners. He ran in the league and district championship meets and was running very well for not doing five-kilometer races before.
After the cross-country season, we started basketball right away. Both of us tried out for the junior varsity team and were cut from the team. We were both good enough to make it, and people on the team asked why we weren’t on it. Coaches scout for their teams from year to year, and students who don’t make an impact before coming to high school or were a top football player are overlooked. We still played in the rec league and at least there our team was very good.
Over the winter we also played indoor soccer and rec basketball, and we ran winter track. This was an intense season for Joshua because of a huge injury. It was during one of our first games and Joshua was in goal. He was having a heck of a game and blocking everything until he fell on the ball and ended up getting kicked in the face. I remember this like it was in slow motion: Joshua got kicked but he kept playing, slowing down as each minute passed until the ref called time out due to Joshua’s bleeding face. He walked to the side dazed and said he had blacked out for a few seconds after the kick. His mom took him to the hospital and Joshua had a concussion. He didn’t play soccer or basketball for a few weeks and came back towards the end of the season, although he was running winter track during this time.
After the winter season, Joshua quit soccer and focused on running and basketball. In spring we joined the varsity track team and Joshua excelled—he bypassed everyone in his year and some of the older kids on the team. He had a heck of a year, dropping almost ten seconds in the 800-meter dash and about one second or so in the 400-meter dash. He ran in the district meet as part of the 4×4 relay team. Joshua was a competitor, but I don’t think he ever knew how good he truly was. I think that Joshua was always trying to do too much and always held himself to incredibly high standards. It was tough seeing him like this because he had so much potential and seemed to be his own worst enemy. He kept to himself a lot and seemed to isolate himself on weekends and summers.
A distance runner who befriended Joshua invited Joshua to the youth group at the church where we went to Bible school. Eventually, Joshua went but continued isolating himself even there, as if he were still carrying a lot on his shoulders. He was around some good people who were always positive around him, and he went on trips with them and played on the youth group basketball team. Joshua eventually stopped going because one of the leaders told all of the guys not to go to the birthday party of a girl in the youth group because it was being held at a pool, and young guys didn’t need to see young girls in swim suits. Joshua thought this was extreme and ended up at the party anyway, because it was at the pool where he worked.
Joshua didn’t talk much to anyone about anything during our junior year. He didn’t do much except work, train, and study. He made it to districts in cross-country, played in two different rec basketball leagues, and ran another season of track. He was on the 4×800 relay team that placed sixth in the state meet. All of the runners ran under two minutes and were four seconds off the school record—the third fastest time in our league’s history. Aside from being on the track team together, I didn’t really see Joshua our junior year. I don’t know what was going on with him; to me it seemed like Joshua felt he didn’t fit in and was tired of trying. He was very quiet and it seemed like he alienated himself throughout the entire year. This is where I, as his friend, began to feel powerless. I wasn’t a constant churchgoer or very involved in my faith, but I prayed for Joshua every chance I got.
During our senior year we barely crossed paths. Track seemed to be our only common factor at this point. Joshua was fully engaged in his sports, and we were in different classes. Joshua was in advanced biology, creative writing, Art III, and a computer class. He did most of his tasks for graduation his junior year and took electives his senior year. I focused mainly on composition, yearbook, and writing. Joshua ran well in cross-country, as he was one of the top runners in the league and was co-captain of the team. In the winter he ran winter track and began swimming for our school. (Roger taught him the competitive strokes after cross-country season.) He was very good and should have done it sooner because he grew up in the water. He also played basketball in two different rec leagues and worked part-time at his job. Both of his basketball teams won championships, and he would actually go to swim practice, to a track meet, to a basketball game, and back to the track meet. He didn’t get any recognition from his coach for this, but the coach did give a runner who was slightly faster than Joshua who played for our school team and ran in the meet after his basketball game all the recognition in the world. Joshua didn’t care at this point. He did what he did because he loved it.
Joshua was ready for a big year in track; he had calls from colleges and was offered a full ride by one college, Appalachia State University that he had committed to. It didn’t work out for him because at the first day of practice he pulled his hamstring, which put him out for almost two weeks. When Joshua was cleared to run, he ran in our first scrimmage in one of the windiest meets and won the 400-meter dash. It wasn’t fast but he won it, nonetheless. The entire season was up and down. He was one of the fastest runners in the league and made it to districts, but with his not running as well as he should have, the college coach stopped contacting him mid-way through the season and Joshua felt terrible and just shrugged everything off at this point. It was obvious he was not opening up to anyone.
Throughout high school Joshua liked two girls. One was a year older and her name was Sherry. Sherry was a drinker and smoked a lot of marijuana. The other was our age and named Natasha who didn’t drink or do drugs but was with a lot of guys. They both ran track and were intelligent and athletic but not very good people, in my opinion. Joshua was turned down each time he would ask one out. They were too busy chasing other guys who treated woman like objects, and Joshua was left hurting. They were always nice to Joshua, and he would help them and let them borrow his CD player. Other guys made fun of Joshua for always asking one of them out or being so nice but never getting anything from them. (This reminds me of the girl he really liked in elementary and middle school, his first “girlfriend.” They were too young and didn’t even know what dating was at that point; it was more like immature kids thinking they knew what they were doing. Joshua was too shy to even talk to her and she eventually got into drinking and things went downhill from there. They had some good times together, held hands a few times, and Joshua always offered her food.) Joshua asked Natasha to go to the prom but she didn’t answer until a week before prom. She said she’d go with him as a friend, which Joshua thought was progress. The night, however, was a downer for Joshua. Once they were at the prom, she danced with all the guys she hooked up with and Joshua was left alone. He left early and eventually met his friends at the post-prom. He didn’t talk to Natasha again. Joshua began to look tired and worn. He was and it showed.
On the brighter side of our senior year, Joshua had reached the highest rank in scouting. Joshua attained his Eagle Scout rank, which was an incredible achievement. I dropped out of scouts and regret it, but I am proud of him for sticking with it, especially when there were only two people in the troop for a while. Both of them achieved Eagle Scout status and had a co-scout Eagle ceremony. It was a great experience to be there, and I was able to write an article for the school newspaper. Joshua acted like he hated giving speeches. He may have but he was always exceptional at it. His speech at the ceremony was incredible, because he never prepared for a speech and just spoke from the heart. He told a story, and when it came time to thank people, he said the opposite of what you might think he would say. He told the audience that people have doubted him his entire life, and he thanked all of them for the inspiration to prove them wrong and to become an “odds beater,” as he put it. Everyone was so proud of his speech that none of us knew what to say, but we all stood and applauded him. No one realized he was such a good public speaker. His speech made me realize that he was still Joshua because of the inspiration and enthusiasm he showed to all of us.
The awards kept coming towards the end of the school year. We were at the senior awards banquet, and Joshua received an award for being a scholar athlete, a scholarship for outstanding leadership, as well as the PIAA District three sportsmanship awards, an award that goes to one individual in the entire district. That was an impressive achievement but rightly deserved. Joshua would talk and congratulate anyone who he raced against. On the track he was a monster but off the track he was a sportsman.