Changing the Past: Saving a Life
Sophia Wortmann, Division 3, College freshman #ws18e-s2d3

Many horrible things have happened in the history of the world. Hitler rose to power, MLK was murdered, and the United States has fallen into disarray. However, if given the chance to change the past, some people would not change these things. They would use this newfound power for selfish reasons. If I were given the opportunity to change the past, I would do something somewhat selfish, which doesn’t sound great. However, it’s something that would benefit every single person in my small town of Key West, including myself.

On July 8, 2015, I woke up, thinking it would be a normal day. I ate breakfast, showered, brushed my teeth; everything a normal routine includes. My best friend, Caleb Paul Tomai, had been at my house the day before. We had watched movies and eaten dinner together. I tried to text him that day but got no response. No big deal, I thought. I went about my day as usual. I was dog sitting at the time, and walked down the street to let Duke, the big black lab, out for a walk. I hung out with my little sister, ate lunch, and watched the television. Still no answer from Caleb. Then, around 5:00 p.m., my mother came home from her job as a pre-school teacher for the Navy.

“Caleb’s mom called me earlier, but I was in the classroom. I’m going to go out front and call her back,” my mother said, grabbing her phone and walking out the front door. My little sister walked upstairs. I stood in the kitchen, waiting. After a few minutes, I heard my mother scream from out front. I ran to the door, throwing it open. I tried to ask what was wrong, but she shushed me and closed the door in my face. I paced through the kitchen, hyperventilating. I was so scared. Don’t let it be Caleb. Please, God, don’t let it be Caleb. Let it be anything else but Caleb. These thoughts ran through my mind as my mother was outside.
She was outside for about ten minutes. Then, she came inside and told me and my sister, whom she called downstairs, to go onto the back porch. We had to call our father, who was working in another state. We walked silently to the back porch and I sat at our back table. I dialed my father’s phone number and waited as it rang.

Ring. Please don’t let it be Caleb.
Ring. There’s something wrong with Caleb.
Ring. Please let him be okay. When my father answered, he sounded out of breath. His voice was heavy, unmoving. The words that escaped his mouth are the words I never wanted to hear.

“Caleb killed himself this morning.” The words rang in my ears like loud bells. I immediately screamed. I stood and backed myself into the corner of the porch, doubling over. I screamed in pain. I cried for a second, but then all I could do was scream. My mother took me in her arms and held me as I continued to hyperventilate and scream. I couldn’t believe it. He had been at my house just yesterday. We had laughed, watched one of my favorite movies, ate chicken and pasta. I invited him for a sleep over, but he told me he couldn’t. He had to help his mom early in the morning. He gave me a lazy hug and told me he’d take me out to dinner the following Monday. Then he left. My mom called his that night. She stated that Caleb didn’t have to help her, and that Caleb was allowed to sleep over. We couldn’t figure out why Caleb decided to go home. But now we know why.

He had been distant for months, but I assumed it was because he had gotten a new boyfriend. For four months, Caleb was distant. I never once thought to ask if something was going on. I approached him a few times and asked if he was angry with me. He never batted an eyelash. “Of course not, silly! You’re my best friend,” was always the answer. He never came to me for help. Instead, he went to other people, who ignored him. He wrote a ten-page letter to his mother and overdosed on medication. When his parents found him, he was blue. There was nothing anyone could do for him. He was gone.

In the weeks that followed, a memorial service was held for fellow peers of his. I wrote a long speech and sang Israel Kamakawiwo’s version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow in his honor. We were told to not wear black to his funeral. His mother did not believe Caleb was a dark person. He deserved to be remembered with light. I agreed and wore a purple dress. I watched as his mother tearfully delivered her final goodbye to her son. I watched as his grandmother held his step-mom and cried. I watched, and I was silent. I could not move myself to comfort them. If I moved, I would crumble, and I could not let that happen. If I crumbled, I felt that I would be seen as weak, so I wouldn’t let myself crumble.
We spread his ashes in the ocean in Key West, Florida. One day while he was alive, he asked me to send his ashes to space and play Highway to H*ll at his funeral. I could not get him to space, but I did play the song on the boat ride back to shore. I played it silently on my phone as me and my sister held one another. We cried and smiled, remembering the times we had with him.

A month later, his grandmother went to a medium. The medium stated that he would show himself to us as a bird. Ever since, birds frequent around me. There is one tiny bird that greets me every morning when I open the door to walk my dogs. On his eighteenth birthday, on October 18, 2017, I went to a tattoo parlor in Key West and requested a bird tattoo. About thirty minutes later, I walked out of the parlor with blue ink on my ankle, his favorite color. I’d endure the pain of a tattoo for the rest of my life if it meant I could be closer to him.
I had a dream after he died. We were sitting in a diner with our friends. I began to have a panic attack and asked him to walk outside with me. We stood in front of the diner and I began to cry, telling him that on July 7, he had to sleep at my house. He laughed. I told him that it wasn’t funny, and he had to, no matter what. He agreed. The dream changed to after July 8. We sat in the same diner, and he sat across from me. I went outside again, and he followed. I broke down, crying as he held me. I had warned him, and he survived. So, if I could change the past, I would change the day before he died. When I asked him to sleep over, he said no. I would make him sleep over that night. I would make him stay at my house and talk to me. If I could change the past, I would sit him down and address the problem. I would make sure he was safe at my house where he could have gotten help.

I blamed myself in the beginning for what happened to him. I know it wasn’t my fault, but I felt like I held part of the blame. I did not notice he was in pain. I did not notice that something was wrong. I thought he was young and in love. Whenever I reached out, he never said anything. I would try to talk to him. I would try to make it better. If I could change the past, I would save Caleb Paul Tomai’s life. I miss him every day. If I could do everything differently, the only thing I would change is that day. He never got to experience all of high school. He never got to go to a high school dance, or a party, or school field trips. He never got to attend graduation or prom. If I could change the past, I would save my best friend.

This could be perceived as selfish; however, I view it as something not only for me, but for many other people. Caleb touched not only my heart but the hearts of every single citizen of Key West, Florida. He touched our hearts and our lives. He made life better. Without him, a sadness has rested on the town. We fight through it, but we miss him terribly every day. With the power to change the past, I would save his life. What would you do?
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