Nineteen Years

jason and maddyThe last twenty four hours I’ve thought a lot about friendships. You go through life and create many friendships. Some are tried and true, while others are great while they last but eventually fade. I have a very small handful of friends that I’ve known and loved since childhood. I would do anything for these guys. Really. We’ve all been through thick and thin. We’ve seen each other at our lowest points and have never judged, looked down upon, or abandoned each other. And this group of friends I have, we were never some group of Three Musketeers or anything. We all interacted with each other in some way or another, but I had a very unique relationship with each of them. When it was a group of us getting together, certain aspects of ourselves were toned down a bit so as not to make the other feel left out of the very personal quirks and inside jokes we shared when it was just the two of us.

I met one of these friends my freshman year of high school, through my best friend from the third grade. Jason and I hit it off immediately, wondering how our mutual pal couldn’t love The Beatles, sharing a fascination with Daphne Zuniga, and a passion for the absurd and creating a secret society where only we were the members while the rest of the outside world were idiots. Jason came over, along with our mutual pal Tyson for my 15th birthday. We went and saw Child’s Play and stayed up way too late in my practice room downstairs while I played various homemade guitar riffage and Tyson got bored(love ya, buddy.) By our sophomore year in high school Jason and I were inseparable. Exposing each other to new music, new independent horror films, and sharing a fascination with the opposite sex. Also in our 10th grade year Jason began taking bass lessons from the same guy that gave me guitar lessons. We were ready to be in a band, man! With a Rush fetish, we began writing pretentious, overwrought lyrics about the plight of the working man, the single mom, and strange, powerful entities that couldn’t be seen by the naked eye.

We also wrote about chicks.

But throughout all of this Jason and I connected on a much deeper level. When I found him I felt like I’d found a soul mate, of the platonic kind. The kind of friend that at times knew exactly what I was going to say, but then at times I could surprise him with some oddball sentence or thought that knocked him off his feet. That mental connection went both ways. It felt like there would be many adventures for us.

Our senior year Jason began dating a girl. Now, I’d known this girl since elementary school. To say she was unique is putting it mildly. She was bright and funny, but could be very unpredictable. Imagine Punky Brewster with a switchblade and a copy of Frank Zappa’s biography in her backpack. That was Pam. There was a connection between the two of them that couldn’t be explained. I have to admit, I never thought they were a good fit. Not because of some friend jealousy or anything like that. No, it was because 5% of the time these two hit it off like gangbusters while 95% of the time it was like oil and water. Fire and ice. Or, some other cliche’d phrase. It just seemed that they would bring the worst out in each other. They’d break up, then get back together. Break up, and get back together. Despite driving each other crazy, there was that connection. I just never got it. In the winter of 1994 Jason told me that Pam was pregnant. I saw only pain and misery in store for my friend. I felt his life was literally over. I was only 20 years old and was too young to truly understand what having a child meant, so I was being a bit melodramatic here.

In August of 1994 Jason and Pam became parents to Madelyn Stephenson. She was born on a warm August night. My girlfriend(now wife)and my cousin headed up to the hospital in the middle of the night. I don’t know remember why, but we never got inside to see Madelyn. Maybe because it was 1am. Either way, the fear of my friend’s life ending had subsided and I was just extremely excited for him. When I did finally see Madelyn she was a beautiful baby girl, like a lot of beautiful baby girls. I was still too young to truly appreciate creating life, nurturing, and all that stuff. But I could see in Jason’s eyes that he was a proud papa. That was all I needed to see.

The next few years Jason and Pam would have their bouts of insanity, all the while raising this little girl. Jason brought Madelyn over to our house a few times. We’d gotten married in 1996 and built a home the same year. She was such a quiet little girl, never really saying much of anything, barely even cracking a smile. She did play with our niece a few times. Chloe was just a few months younger than Madelyn and they seemed to have a good time together playing with our dog’s toys. As Madelyn got older it was apparent that the silence in her was that of an estute scientist studying her surroundings and making conclusions, rather than just some shy little kid. The actions of those around her were turned into mathematical equations and she would then sit back and figure these equations out. I’m not sure what conclusions she ever came up with about me. Madelyn Stephenson was a bright, young lady. And in her silence and shy, introverted personality she hid a very unique sense of humor. A sense of humor she shared with her dad(her mom as well.) She looked at the world very much in the same way her dad looked at it as a shy, introverted 15 year old drawing grotesque caricatures of classmates and teachers alike in the school library. Despite many problems between Jason and Pam, problems that ended with them splitting after having two more children(Nathaniel and Helen), Jason still kept me up to date regarding all of his kids. All three very unique and funny in their own ways, but Madelyn was destined for great things.

In 2010 Jason had found some real peace in his life. He met Michelle. They fell in love and got married. Michelle had a little girl of her own and Jason connected with her right away. I think there was just so much turmoil between him and Pam when Madelyn was a little girl, that certain aspects of being “daddy” back then were overshadowed by what was going on between the obviously overwhelmed young parents. Around this time Jason and I stopped seeing each other as often. I don’t think it was a lack of love between friends. It was just that gradual movement in our lives to other things. Schedules, lives, interests get further and further apart and the time to spend with each other becomes less and less. I knew he was happy. I mean, really happy. For the first time in a really long time. In the last 19 years I’ve seen Jason go through so many ups and downs, both from external influences and internal demons, that when I would talk to him in 2010 after him and Michelle got married it was as if someone had turned some switch in one of my dearest friends and he had finally found himself. His purpose. He’d told me that Madelyn had been accepted into the Indiana Academy. Indiana Academy is a school for Juniors and Seniors in high school that excel academically, and located on the Ball State campus. It’s an absolute honor to be accepted into that school and she was welcomed in with open arms. I think for the first time in her life Madelyn had found “her people”, as it were. And though I didn’t see Jason as often as I’d used to, we still kept in touch. He’d tell me about how all the kids were doing(including his stepdaugther), and how Madelyn was doing down at Ball State. I ran into Jason on Christmas Eve at the store. It was really good to see him. He’d told me that Madelyn was transferring from St.Mary’s College in Notre Dame, IN to Indiana University. I could see Bloomington as being a perfect fit for Madelyn, and I could tell by the look on Jason’s face he was truly excited for her and what she had in store.

On Friday, January 3rd 2014, Madelyn Stephenson was driving on a snow-covered highway just east of South Bend, Indiana on her way to visit a friend before she was to move to Bloomington and start a new life as an Indiana University student when her car was struck by a semi. She died on the way to the hospital. She leaves behind a father Jason, mother Pam, brother Nathaniel, sister Helen, stepmom Michelle, stepsister Jasmine, stepdad Chad, grandma Linda, aunts Lalanya and Amy, cousins, countless friends, and a world that has no idea what it’s lost.

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf,
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day
Nothing gold can stay.

Robert Frost

20 Replies to “Nineteen Years”

  1. John, I am without words right now but your tribute to Madelyn and Jason have over-whelmed me. I can not thank you enough for this beautiful explanation of you and Jason’s friendship. Madelyn touched so many lives with her smile and quiet love of things different, just like her Dad. You are my other son and I love you. Thanks for loving Jason.


  2. I only met Maddy once, briefly, when she was just a baby. I remember thinking what a perfect little mixture she was of her mom and dad. She Was Beautiful… I’m not at all surprised that she also had a beautiful, artistic mind. She would have loved Bloomington, and vice a versa.
    I have no words… Only sorrow for all who love Maddy. What a terrible, senseless loss.


  3. Hey, Mad was my best friend at the good old Academy, and I was hers. I was the friend she was on her way to meet. You got it right, about the little scientist, quiet calculating in the best of ways. You were right that her sense of humor was beautiful. It’s why I love her so much, I never knew what she was going to say next and I never knew what she was going to make of something until I dragged it out of her. She smiled. A lot, she smiled and she laughed with me every single day for two years. What you said about soul mates, what you said about connecting to someone so unbelievably easy, that’s what Maddy was to me. And as you continued on, talking about watching Jason’s life unfold before you, that’s something I’ll never have with the person I loved most. I was so happy reading this, learning a little more, seeing photos I’d never seen before. So you know, and I’ve told Jason, whenever she talked about her childhood, she always seemed happy. Really amused, actually. She never seemed confused about that. Thank you for writing this, I’m really happy.


    1. Thank you for sharing this. I only knew the very young Maddy, so you sharing this really puts into perspective where she was and who she had become. It sounds like she’d become a very intelligent young woman, and a very happy one thanks to such a wonderful friend like yourself.

      I’m so very sorry for your loss.



    1. Jan, I am her Aunt Lalanya. The viewing is Thursday from 3 to 7 pm and the funeral is Friday at 10:30 a.m. Both will be held at Mishler Funeral Home on 15 North between Leesburg and Milford…


      1. Thank you very much, Lalanya. I will share this information with others whose lives Maddy touched. I will be at Mishler Funeral Home.


  4. Beautifully written, John. Having known Jason and Pam (and you and Tyson!) all those years ago, this was especially touching. I, too, remember viewing Pam and Jason’s relationship as a “fire and ice” kind of thing that I just couldn’t quite understand. I only met Maddie once, as a little girl, at Susan (Owens) Chacon’s baby shower. I remember her being very quiet, not shy but studious, and, according to Pam’s stories, very creative and intelligent. I got to hang out with Pam at the 20 year class reunion last summer; she told us how Maddie was going to the Academy. She was so proud (as she should be), and I remember thinking that Maddie was destined to change the world in some way. My heart aches for Pam, and Jason, and everyone who knew and loved Madelyn.


    1. Thank you Jill. Maddy was a special young woman. If there can be any comfort in this horrible situation, it’s that Maddy knew she was loved and that Jason and Pam know that she loved them.

      And it’s really good to hear from you, btw.


    1. I haven’t forgotten Maddy. Thank you for sending this email today. A friend and I talked about Maddy yesterday. A friend of Pam’s, Jan Carter from Leesburg, died and we were thinking how hard this day would be with both losses. The funeral is Monday. I would like to have Pam’s email. Have been thinking about her and her children. I was Maddy’s elementary school counselor.
      I appreciate your words and thoughts. I wish I would have had that information a long time ago. You have painted a realistic picture so kindly.

      Liked by 1 person

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