I hopped into my friend Teddy Ertel’s white Honda Pilot SUV on July 26, 2016. My friends Jonny, Teddy, and Mir were there too. We were going to Teddy’s beach club, Catalina, which was located in Atlantic Beach. We all squished into the back seats, fighting for room. As I banged into Teddy, I heard, “Ow, that hurt.” The only thing that was more uncomfortable than my tight swim trunks was realizing that Jonny Semach, one of my best friends, would be moving over 5,000 miles away, back to his home country of Israel, and this was the last day I would be seeing him. He would be on a flight to Western Israel on July 28 and I wasn’t going see him again before he left. Usually the beach is the one peaceful spot that can soothe my problems and stress. However, on this day it felt dreary and dismal. I knew it was going to be an agonizing day but also knew that spending it with three of my best friends would make it a little more bearable.
I’d known Jonny for a long time. I met him during the first grade at PS 158 and we became instant friends. As soon as I saw him, standing in the corner with his eyes opened wide, I realized that he looked petrified to be joining a new school. Right then I made the decision to introduce myself. I scooted over to him and said, “Hi, I’m Tyler. Do you want to be my friend?”
He answered me in a shaky voice and said, “Yes, my name is Jonathan.”
I don’t know why, but from that moment on I started calling him Jonny and it stuck. We bonded while playing with the trains during choice time and that bond grew stronger through the years. In addition, I also knew Mir for a long time, even longer than Jonny. Teddy and I became close friends in fifth grade.
The car ride to Catalina Beach Club was both a depressing and bittersweet experience, because, even though we all knew Jonny would be leaving, we also knew that we were lucky to be able to create one last memory with him at a place we all enjoyed, the beach.
Once we got through the arched, tremendous entrance and signed into the beach club, we sprinted toward the ocean. My all-time favorite place to be is the beach. The sound of the waves was extremely peaceful, so I started to relax a little. In addition, the waves seemed as huge as a gigantic waterfall, just like the first time I went there with Jonny the year before.
That time it was only he and I. There was a carnival at the beach that day which included a dunk tank and an extremely tall water slide that towered over us. Jonny and I took turns in the dunk tank and laughed like hyenas when we hit the target, sending each of us into the dirty, sandy water. We raced down the water slide again and again, and whoever won got bragging rights to say who was the fastest. Since we were such good friends, it never mattered to either of us who won. The flow of our conversation was always calm and easy.
Getting back to my last hours with Jonny, the air smelled of sea salt and the day was as bright as the sun. The ocean was clear, not a piece of seaweed to be seen. As we approached the water, Jonny asked in a depressed, glum voice, “Is today the last day I’m going to see you?”
I responded by saying, “No… it won’t be, so don’t think about it,” but in reality I really didn’t know if I’d ever see him again. I was reassuring both myself and him.It was like I was sugarcoating the truth for us, because I couldn’t bear the thought that this could actually be true.
Then we all raced into the ocean, charging through the water like military soldiers charging into battle. Minutes later, we stopped and looked up and saw that there was a gigantic, eight-foot wave standing over us, making us look like we were ants. All of us said in unison, “Uh oh, we better brace ourselves before it knocks us under the water.” That gave me a funny sensation, because I felt like Jonny leaving was knocking the wind out of me, but I laughed along with the other guys, while I felt like crying inside. Crash! Bang! We continued to get knocked around, pulled under the water, and pushed onto the beach, which took my mind off everything temporarily. We were all chuckling hysterically as we swam back out for the next huge wave to overtake us. I was glad that we had this amazing time to add another farewell for Jonny to remember us by.
After about an hour we left the ocean to have lunch with Teddy’s parents and his siblings. We all argued about who would sit next to Jonny. In the end I plopped onto the chair next to Jonny on one side and Mir sat on the other. We had Jonny’s favorite food for lunch, which is pizza and then cookies for dessert. Lunch was calm and silent, which was very strange for us. In the past, we were never silent, therefore I realized everyone was just as depressed as I was. Eventually, we faced the elephant in the room and talked about how each of us was going to miss Jonny.
After lunch we headed back to the ocean. We continued to get knocked over by the waves. Boom! A gigantic wave overtook me and knocked me back to the shore. I was hoping I would be comforted by the sounds of the ocean, but unfortunately, that didn’t happen because deep inside I knew I would miss Jonny’s friendship the most because I had spent the most time with him. I became nostalgic as I remembered all the times the two of us laughed and told each other silly jokes that no one but us thought were funny. The image of us laughing so hard our sides felt like they were splitting open made my lips curl up into a smile.
Those few hours brought back a lot of memories, like the first time I had a play date with Jonny. I went to his house and, since we both shared a passion for building, we played with Legos all day. By accident I broke one of his Legos and in true Jonny fashion he did not get angry and forgave me immediately. He told me that it was OK and that he and his dad would put the Lego together again after I left. As a result, we had play dates a lot through our years at PS 158.
Our favorite thing to do together was to go to the park and we continued to do that until the day he left. My favorite times with Jonny at the park were when we played football. He never criticized me and always picked me to be on his team. He gave me the confidence to want to keep playing. For this reason, I will be forever grateful to him.
Around three o’clock we left the ocean and descended to the pool to have a flip contest, however I didn’t know how to flip. I walked slowly up to the diving board and thought to myself, I can’t do this. What if I’m not capable of doing it? What if I fail? I realized after careful consideration that, if all my friends were willing to try it, I should man up and give it a try too. I jumped off the blue, unsteady diving board and did a belly flop and landed in the pool like a dead fish. As I landed on my stomach Mir and Teddy pointed and said, “Oh boy, Tyler, that must have hurt.”I said nothing. I felt so embarrassed, even though I laughed along with everyone. I swam back to the diving board and tried and tried and tried, even though I never succeeded.
Jonny jumped into the pool and doggy-paddled over towards me. In typical Jonny fashion he said, “Don’t worry, Tyler, you’ll master it the next time around. It took me a long time to get it right too.”I was thrilled that I had made Jonny chuckle so hard when I belly-flopped and created another great memory with him when he came to my defense.
After a while, we went to the snack bar and got ice cream like we always did each time we came to the beach. Just knowing that this experience would never occur again made me feel like a part of me was leaving along with Jonny. It felt like I was losing an arm or a leg. We reclined on the bench in front of the snack bar and started to tell jokes and stories until I blurted out, “I’m going to miss this.”No one talked after that, because we were all so overcome with emotion. It was as if the waves collapsed on the sandy beach.
After finishing our ice cream we went down to the beach and played baseball for about an hour with Teddy’s father and his brothers Jack and Josh Ertel. I didn’t catch any balls for the first few minutes, then miraculously, a baseball landed in my glove. I smiled and realized that if everyone else could do it, so could I. Since I was never really good at baseball I was proud of myself, and was happy when Jonny said, “See, I knew you could do it.” That made me feel very proud of myself, but I wondered who would ever be as kind to me as Jonny always was. This reminded me of all the times he had my back and I was so thankful to have had him for my friend for so long.
Then the bright, sunny day was gone and it turned to dusk. Off in the distance the sun began to set over the ocean just like my smile began to fade again. We packed up and headed down the beach towards the snack bar. We all ordered the same thing, which was chicken tenders and french fries. It was hilarious and proved how similar we all were.
Once we were all finished we left the beach and re-entered the white Honda Pilot. I was thankful that on the drive home we hit a lot of traffic, which meant that we weren’t going to lose Jonny just yet.
When we got onto the FDR Drive and then York Avenue my heart basically stopped as the car stopped in front of Jonny’s building. I could hear what sounded like the loud beating of a drum in my chest and felt as if my heart was going to explode out of my chest. Immediately, my mood became extremely sad. The four of us hopped out of the car, as Jonny began to get out. None of us wanted the evening to end yet, even though we knew it was going to.
Jonny walked slowly towards his apartment building, as his upper body drooped down, like he was going to collapse onto the concrete ground. The kind of walk you do when you have to do something you don’t want to, but you know you have to. We each hugged Jonny and told him what a great friend he was to each of us. I saw Jonny start to bawl his eyes out as I watched him walk into his apartment building, leaving forever.
He put one foot into the elevator slowly and then the other, still looking at us with a look of despair on his face. Then the final blow came, I saw the elevator doors shut behind him as he left. The finality of the doors shutting signaled the end of the way our friendship had been all through the years. It all had happened so quickly, I could not comprehend that the time we spent with him had ended. That ending did not seem like enough to me, as I was not ready to say goodbye to Jonny. It was too quick and left me in complete despair. I remember looking at everyone’s glum faces and felt my eyes start to water, but I wouldn’t let the tears flow, because I was afraid they’d never stop.
Mir, Teddy, and I went back to Teddy’s apartment. We played mindless video games so we wouldn’t have to think about what had just happened. The time went by slowly, because we just couldn’t bring ourselves to face the reality of Jonny moving away. Then at about 10:00 p.m. I left in Mir’s car and the pain I felt was obvious. I felt like I needed to cry, but yet I couldn’t.
I arrived at my apartment building and climbed up the stairs, hunched over like an elderly man without his cane. I tried to calm myself down, even though my mind was still racing and I was still feeling so emotionally drained. My mom greeted me at the door and asked, “Tyler, honey a,re you OK?” in a soothing voice, the kind of voice someone would use when they were very concerned about someone they cared a great deal about.
“No, I’m devastated,” I said, as my mom gave me a huge, reassuring hug. I walked into my living room and, even though the light was on, it seemed dark to me. As I sat on the gray couch my phone started vibrating over and over again in my right pocket. I kept sitting on my gray couch staring at my gray rug. Just looking at that gray color made me think of how gray my life seemed at that moment.
I finally looked at my phone and noticed that Mir, Teddy, and Jonny had all texted me. I texted back and we all exclaimed, “Jonny, we do not want you to move 5,000 miles away from us. We are going to miss you so much.”
Jonny responded, “Guys, I can not stop bawling my eyes out.” At that point in time my heart broke for him as well as me.
I am very thankful that Mir, Teddy, and I created a memory book for Jonny about things we did all through our friendship, especially during fifth grade and the summer. Creating that book brought back memories for all of us, and Jonny was happy to have a piece of us to take with him when he left. Those memories with Jonny had been a huge part of my life and made me realize that even the slightest things could change how you look at the world. It’s like looking at the world through rose-colored glasses, and every memory you make with your best friend the world gets nicer around you.
Very soon after Jonny moved back to Israel, I realized that I had to be more self-sufficient. Prior to fifth grade I never played sports with the other boys at the park after school or on the weekend, because I thought I would not be good enough for them.
One day at the beginning of fifth grade, Jonny convinced me to start playing sports with him and his friends. I liked sports, but I felt I needed to be better to play with them. Jonny insisted that I start playing basketball and flag football with them every day after school. I was so motivated, I even practiced with my brothers at home. I realized playing sports was fun, even if I wasn’t the best player.
Jonny had been the link to my relationship to my friends, however, after he moved back to Israel I realized that he had given me the confidence to be more self-assured. Now that he isn’t here I have become more self-reliant and willing to try new things.
I am extremely thankful to Jonny for pushing me beyond my limits and challenging me to change who I was. He transformed me into a funnier, smarter, more understanding, and, most importantly, a better friend.
The day I walked over to Jonny Semach and asked him to be my friend was the best decision I ever made. Everything that happened in our relationship after that led me to the person I am today.
I will always remember Jonny, the most amazing friend anyone could ever have. Goodbye for now, Jonathan Semach!