The Signal invited a few of John’s friends from his floor, Wolfe 4, to write about their perspectives one year after his death. The responses encompass a wide range of emotions, from hope and recovery to anger and regret.
I had never known pain or grief or numbness or friendship or family or love until March of last year. I’m not sure most of us did. This “us” I refer to includes the members of Wolfe 4 last year. It seems not only right but necessary that I write in terms of them as well as myself when I write about the person that changed all of us for the better.
I have come to realize many things in the past year – one of the most important of these being that no event, no emotion, no human experience can be explained to anyone else. Words simply cannot do it. Never, when I have tried to convey my feelings to family, friends, lawyers, detectives or strangers, has my language ever done me justice. So this will be a vague attempt to express only as much as words can allow me.
Since last March, I have walked around with a weight on my chest. A constant pressure that has scarred me and reminded me that the world is full of sadness, death, unanswered questions and missed opportunities. The only thing that lifts this weight is the people I have in my life. Sometimes it just takes looking at one of my friends and seeing a reflection of my own feelings in their eyes. Sometimes it takes crying or laughing. And even after a year, we are left in the same place. The human mind wants facts, information and answers. And we have none.
Sometimes when I think about the last year, it feels like it lasted for 10 years. Other times, it feels like 10 days. Sometimes I can hear his laugh and feel his arms hugging me after coming back to school from a break. And sometimes it feels like it has been ages since I have seen his crazy curls falling over those blue eyes.
John’s impact on my life has been tremendous. In his life and death, I have found love and sorrow alike. I have seen my family and friends for the first time. I have truly realized how much people need each other. I have realized I am loved, and realized how much I can love. Because of John, I listen more closely. I look at people. I study their features and the way they carry themselves. It scares me to death to know that any of them might disappear and I will only be left with pictures and not be able to enjoy the amazing pleasure of seeing them in front of me or hearing their voice. These gifts are truly God-given and something most of us take for granted almost every minute of every day. But John won’t let me make that mistake. His life and death have made me who I am. Yet looking back, I would give up who we have become and everything we have learned to give this amazing boy back to his family.
This is what overwhelms me the most. When I think about the Fiocco family, I sometimes am so overwhelmed that I think my heart might burst. If I can hardly handle the heartache I feel, I can’t even begin to imagine what they experience every moment. I wish that I could take their pain from them – these wonderful people who gave us a friend who made us laugh so hard we cried, was always there when we needed him, and whose life has inspired us to be better people. I would give anything for them to have their son again. That is what encompasses my thoughts and is the main source of the weight on my chest. Mixed in with their sadness, I am equally overwhelmed by the circumstances of John’s death. How can his family be left with nothing? No answers, no reasons, no simple fact to dwell upon. The frustration and nothingness is perhaps the most overwhelming of it all. Yet what are we to do? I choose to leave these answers to God.
John’s life and death is not about you or me, or this college, or the news we see on TV, or the investigation or the policies that have arisen since last March. It is about his mother, his father, his brother and his sisters. Perhaps we can make their weight a little less heavy if we all remember that simple, simple fact.
I am still at quite a loss. It’s been a year since John’s physical presence has graced my life. He lives on in me, undoubtedly, and I find myself doing things and making decisions because of him and what he believed and shared with me. I am blessed to have been able to become so close with John after only seven months. People have asked me how I can consider myself one of John’s closest friends, only having known him for this “short” time. “A moment is only as long as you hold it.” That is one of my favorite quotes. We didn’t waste the seven months we were given. A year, seven months, one week, one day, one minute. It is up to us what we make of it. A year has helped me realize I cannot bring John back to his family and those who love him. But until I see him again, I take what he has given me and use it every minute and make the best of the time I am given. It is all for him now, and I love that I have him with me. Sometimes when something good happens, I smile and say, “Thank you, Johnsy.” And if I know John, he gives these little moments to his family every day. A year later, that is what is most important. I will be eternally grateful to the Fiocco family for having given us this amazing person. I have to live every day knowing John won’t be there when I open my eyes. All I can do is love every minute I am given and love everyone around me. That is what John has given me, what more could a friend ask for?
– Julia Carey
This past year has definitely been a learning experience full of life lessons and sadness, but it also involved remembering all of the happy times that I shared with a person whom I will never forget. Things will never be the same as they were my freshman year, but I hope people realize that not everything has changed for the worse. Now I know that I have a guardian angel who is always looking down on me and many others, and that gives me a sense of closure and happiness every day. Without John, I would not be the person who I am today. His kindness, generosity, humor, talent and caring personality taught us all how to be a good friend, and it constantly reminds us about what is important in this world and to live life to the fullest. One of the things that I have learned from this is to only let those people with something positive to add to your life influence it. I experienced disappointment from many people who were completely ignorant to the whole situation but had negative things to say about John and his friends. The more time I spent dwelling on these things would only make me more upset. Instead, I eventually learned to appreciate those who helped me, such as my family, friends and the campus community. The most important thing to realize is to never think of John as anything other than the great person who he was and how he impacted those close to him. It’s the little things that get you through each day.
– Lauren Maull
Even as I sit here and type the words, it pains me to write. How do you begin to put in writing an event that partially defines who you are? What words do you use to describe something that changed your outlook on life?
This is the task I’ve been handed, one that still has me searching for answers one long year after.
After all this time, I still have no idea what to say. Again, I find myself at a loss for words, at a loss for meaning, just like I was last spring when we lost our dear friend, John; last spring, when we lost a part of ourselves in the whirlwind that followed.
This isn’t about us or me and what happened in the frenzy that followed John’s disappearance.
This is about how I feel a year later, how the scars are still very real and the process we all go through, some slower than others, in order to cope every day with his memory and the remainders of that terrible period of time.
More than anything else, I feel guilt; the tremendous burden of “what if?” It is said that once you start blaming yourself for another’s death, it’s a slippery slope that ends in an age of wandering and wondering. I question myself every day if I’m at that point.
We were all there that night, all of us under the same roof as John before he disappeared. I was two rooms away from the last place any of us saw him. His life was stolen from us, right under our noses, and, personally, there will always be the hanging question of what I didn’t do to keep him alive.
A day doesn’t pass where I don’t think of John and, usually, it’s accompanied by an unfathomable feeling of personal failure and guilt. The scars are still very real, even one year later. Time heals, but the lingering doubts caused by the unknown will stay with me a lifetime.
For a month John’s life hung in the balance – a month of not knowing where he went, what happened to him or if we’d ever get to sit down and just have a conversation together again. That’s what I miss most, I think: the conversations.
The waiting was really the worst part. We were all bracing ourselves for the worst case scenario which ended up becoming reality; all of us hardening our hearts for the news that, at times, almost seemed like inevitable. Hope was a valuable commodity during those times. You sometimes needed an abundance of it just to get through the day.
During times like those is when you get the opportunity to see some of the most perverted things humanity has to offer. Reporters tailing you to class to get the story and dressing up as students in TCNJ gear to sneaking up to our floor just to get a soundbite or a quote. Having the police accuse you, point blank, of murdering one of your best friends. All this we experienced and coped with while John’s life hung in the balance.
I used to be a journalism major. A reporter said to me one day, “Journalism is fun, but it doesn’t pay. Get out while you can.” I couldn’t agree more. Hounding people in pain just to get a quote isn’t worth it for me. After seeing “modern journalism” in action, I quickly switched. Like I said, experiences like that stick with you. They change you.
Before I end, please don’t mistake this column for something overly pretentious or melodramatic. Understand that what happened was, at its core, a tragedy and, inherently, was filled with a wide range of human emotions.
As I finish this piece, I’m still unsure if I said anything of substance; if I just rambled on for a page or conveyed feelings that resonated and affected people.
I said earlier that I still have no idea what to say. After writing this, I know that’s not entirely true. I have one thing to say and I hope it’s heard: John, please forgive me.
– Ray Lodato
One year. A common word for the date one year after an event is an “anniversary.” Unfortunately an anniversary sounds more like a celebration. It’s most commonly associated with happiness and joy. March 25 of this year is going to be anything but happy. It’s going to be a public reminder of what a close group of friends can’t forget. I as well as many others live every day thinking about the tragic events of last year. Unfortunately, looking back I don’t feel like much has changed, like much was accomplished.
I look at the events of last year and I get angered. I see errors made on the part of investigating parties that resulted in the loss of many possible clues to what happened to John. The police know as much about this event today as three days after it happened, and from my point of view it’s their fault. I watched on, frustrated, as the close group of friends who were trying to cope with the loss of their friend had their lives put under a microscope. I’ll never forget what that was like.
It was like living in a nightmare that never ended, every day woken up by detectives. You go from the hall full of detectives to the window and see dozens of news vans parked along the back of the building. You couldn’t escape it in your room. You would sit in class, and hear the people around you talking about the rumors they heard, or pretending like they had some inside information. I often sat there, quiet, hiding the fact that inside I was hurt knowing my friend was missing, and quite possibly dead. No matter where you turned, it was in your face, and more importantly, in your heart. The only people you could turn to were your friends on Wolfe 4 who were going through the same thing.
John was here at TCNJ seven months to the day, and I lived with him every day. It felt like more. I didn’t just know him for seven months, I lived with him. I spent countless hours playing video games or watching movies with him. I spent plenty of time simply killing time in friends’ rooms. We became a tight group of friends on that floor, everybody trusted and respected each other, and everybody was comfortable enough to leave their doors open virtually all day. However, seven months just wasn’t enough. I’ve spent countless times wishing for one more day; wishing for “one last good time” with John and the Wolfe 4 crew.
Since then I’ve had to move on with my life. I’ve made new friends, found a new roommate for this year and continued with college. But the one good thing I’ve seen come out of this tragedy has been the bond built between myself and my friends of Wolfe 4. We still live with it every day. I’m not talking about the bracelets we wear, it’s in our hearts. We never forget John. Not one day goes by that I don’t think about him, and not one day goes by that I don’t miss him. I’ll always remember John and I’ll always love him as a friend that I was lucky enough, if only briefly, to get to know.
– Mike Merkowsky