Monday, October 25, 2010

R.I.P. Dylan Ellefson: The Most Amazing Man I've Ever Known

My best friend and roommate, Dylan Ellefson, passed away a couple of days ago at the age of 21.

Growing up, I never experienced a death other than the usual... distant uncles... grandparents... aging relatives... But I'd never had to go through the death of a friend. I always considered myself lucky and thought perhaps I'd dodged that bullet. But it seems that was not the case.

The day he died, I dragged myself out of bed, the sole reason being that I could see a light on in the living room and I was fairly certain Dylan was awake. He was almost always the first one awake in the apartment on weekends. Sure enough, there he was, standing in the kitchen in his silly plaid pajamas, asking me if I'd be interested in helping him make eggs in a basket. Melissa woke up soon after, and he cooked us eggs in a basket and bacon. Then we all sat down together to watch South Park. When the rerun was over, Dylan had to get to work. He was a proud employee of Hot Topic. Melissa mentioned that I needed to get to a store to pick up a pink wig that was being held for me, and Dylan offered to drive us. When I got out of the shower and got ready to go, there was Dylan, dressed in layers of bright neon rags and massive, highlighter yellow Tripp pants. He was wearing smoky make up and had his hair spiked up in the back. It was his Halloween costume for Hot Topic. I teased him, telling him he looked like Tidus from Final Fantasy X, and he laughed at me because I couldn't remember the term "Blitz Ball." Then we got in the car, and Dylan pulled into a parking lot out of the way, just so we could get out of the car easier. We thanked him and he drove off, hoping to be early for work.

The day went on as normal... I bought my wig, Melissa and I went and got tea, we bought some fruit at a market... then we came home, where Melissa realized she had an e-mail from Dylan's mother. The e-mail said to call her immediately. Melissa called, and I felt as if I somehow already knew what I was going to hear, even though Melissa didn't say anything that would lead me to know what had happened.

Dylan Ellefson had passed away.

There are too many cliché things I could say about how it felt to hear this news, so I won't even bother. Not knowing what else to do, Melissa and I began phoning as many people as possible and created a Facebook group in Dylan's honor. We couldn't think of any other way to let Dylan's friends know - especially because he was so popular. When The Badger Herald reported on the incident later in the day, the article had to marvel at the fact that the Facebook group shot up to almost 250 members within a few hours of being created (it's now well past 400). So many people loved Dylan. Some of Dylan's closest friends, including Maggie and Jamie, came over to help us out, and our other roommate, Hannah, returned home to join us in our grief. Melissa and I spent the night nursing Facebook, trying to manage the group and confirming new members, as well as e-mailing people and talking on the phone with grieving friends.

I feel like I've spent so much time trying to contact people and deal with newspapers and reporters that I haven't had a chance to just stop and feel sad. But writing this post is going to be my way of dealing with the grief for a moment.

I met Dylan Ellefson in my first semester Japanese class my freshman year of college. That was over three years ago. I met him through my friend Evan, who put out a message on Facebook looking for fellow Dir en grey fans attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Dylan had seen us in class and decided to hang out with us. A friend told me that Dylan said he'd always wanted to talk to me in class because he thought I was really pretty and seemed really funny. I was so touched that anyone would think something like that about me. Immediately, Dylan struck me as a quirky goth-kid. He had long, hippie-like hair and, despite his incredibly slim build, he was always wearing massively over-sized Tripp pants. Dylan and I hit it off right away, and it was hard to imagine our group of friends without him. We shared a lot of the same taste in music, including Marilyn Manson and lots of assorted JRock. We sat together in class every day and Dylan was always able to make us laugh, even when the teacher was talking and we weren't supposed to be laughing. Though it seems strange to say, Dylan was one of the most pure-hearted people I've ever known. It's rare to meet anyone as truly good as Dylan was. There wasn't a mean bone in his body. He told me he was trying to "live life for the lolz" - and that's exactly what he did.

The two of us shared so many incredible memories together. Even though we lived in dorms that were extremely far apart our freshman year, it seemed my friends and I were always at his place, or he was always at ours, or we would meet at a dorm somewhere in between. Our group of friends was inseparable. Sophomore year, we all moved into Nihongo Hausu - a Japanese language floor in the international dorm. There, Dylan felt as much like a family member as a neighbor, and many nights were spent playing video games and watching TV in his room. We did so many things together: went to Renaissance Faires, conventions, concerts, water parks, slept over at each others' homes outside of Madison... I remember he and I went to Marilyn Manson together, just the two of us. We saw Dir en grey together several times in America, and he was with us when our group of friends went to see D'espairsRay just a few months ago. Anyone reading this blog who's attended Dir en grey or D'espairsRay in Chicago or Milwaukee has probably even seen or spoken to Dylan, and not even known it was him. He was so incredibly friendly and approachable.

Living in Nihongo Hausu together, Dylan and I spent every day together. A day in which I didn't see or hang out with him was not a normal day. We even continued to have classes together. Junior year brought about the unfortunate splitting of our group. While Hannah and Evan and Melissa and Dylan stayed in Wisconsin, I left for Japan. The second semester that I was abroad, Dylan also left Wisconsin to study abroad in Spain. Yet no matter how many countries apart we were, he and I always managed to find time to chat on Skype multiple times a week. There was absolutely no question about the fact that, upon returning to America, the two of us would be living together.

Senior year, it was now Evan's turn to go to Japan, but Hannah and Melissa and I all moved in together in a four bedroom apartment. Dylan and I seemed only to grow closer, and we joked that we were in a bromance together. We cooked food together, went shopping together, and had so many inside-jokes together that I almost feel like the two of us had our own language.

Dylan was an incredible person, plain and simple. He was working hard to fulfill his Spanish Education major and he was already student-teaching Spanish at an elementary school. He was a diligent student and was constantly rolling his eyes at my inability to focus on a textbook for an extended period of time. He was also a great employee and was never late to work. Sometimes I would pop into the East Towne Hot Topic just to bother him and watch him goof off and make an ass of himself in front of all the employees and customers. Dylan radiated warmth in a way that I've never before felt in a human being. He was so overwhelmingly positive that even a difficult or frustrating customer became his favorite story to tell us at the end of the day.

I loved literally everything about him. Looking around the apartment now, there's nothing that doesn't remind me of him. His pumpkin is still sitting on the counter, with a ghost carved into it and the words "FEED ME CAKE". His socks are still lying on the floor where he tossed them. His dirty dishes are still sitting next to the sink. His Nightmare Before Christmas lunchbox is still sitting on the counter next to the pumpkin. At one point, sitting there in the living room, Melissa suddenly started to freak because she could still smell the bacon Dylan had made that morning. I got up and realized that the pan was still in the sink. Not knowing what else to do, I began obsessively cleaning it. I cleaned it once... twice... three times... anything to get rid of the smell. When the news reported on Dylan's death, there was a single photo released of a pair of shoes lying on the sidewalk surrounded by cones. Just looking at the photo I knew the shoes were his. After all, who else but Dylan goes to work wearing red plaid shoes? And it pains me to think that my last photographed memory of Dylan is just that... a pair of red plaid shoes tossed upon the sidewalk surrounded by police cars...

If ever there was a person who wasn't ready to leave our world, it was Dylan. He was incredibly ambitious and wanted nothing more than to teach his own Spanish class. He was even dreaming so far ahead that he was trying to find a way to travel to Japan and teach Spanish at a Japanese university - a way to combine his love of both languages. Dylan was someone who never slowed down long enough to even consider that his life could be cut short. Still, he filled my life with so much love and laughter that I feel as if he lived ten times longer than he actually did. I truly feel as if I have no regrets about the time we spent together. I truly maximized the time I could've spent hanging out with him, talking to him, and getting to know him 120%. If I had spent any more time with him being his friend while he was alive, we may have fused together at the hip.

I hope he knows how much he meant to me. I hope that even on that last day, as I stood there gathering plates for him while he made eggs in a basket, Dylan was able to feel how much I loved and adored him. I hope that he never once doubted our friendship for even a moment. I hope that even as the worst happened, he had no regrets and felt no pain. I hope that he was able to move on, knowing that he was loved in a way that few people will ever experience.

For now, Hannah and Melissa and I have been able to support each other through laughter. At first, we were uncertain if it was okay to even think about anything funny... if it was too soon. Yet even as the three of us stood there in the kitchen, bewildered, unsure of what to do, Hannah finally had to say, "Dylan even left his dirty dishes there for us to wash." After a moment of silence, Melissa muttered, "that bastard" - and we all laughed. It was a nervous, hesitant laugh, but a laugh nonetheless. But soon after that, we began to realize how important it was to look back upon Dylan's life positively and remember how much he made us laugh. We needed to laugh and remember all the amazing things he did, not dwell upon his tragically early death. Dylan would have wanted us to "remember him for the lolz." Soon, we found ourselves laughing nonstop as we reminisced about all our favorite Dylan stories...

The time Dylan managed to splash an entire can of Spaghettios across his face...

The time Dylan danced and flailed around the room to the song Yozora...

The time Dylan vomited into a clear glass on a table at a Japanese restaurant...

The time Dylan did The Macarena with me during an opening band...

In fact, I don't think I have a single memory of Dylan that isn't full of hilarity. But that's what we need to focus on...

Yesterday, my friend Jamie drove Melissa and Hannah and I to the scene of the accident. The whole drive there, I was unable to stop my brain from recreating Dylan's last moments. No matter how hard I tried to stop it, I couldn't make it go away. He dropped us off at the wig store... he drove away... he drove down this road...

At the place where it happened, there was already a ribbon tied around the tree, commemorating where the worst event of my life happened:

It was hard to stand there, knowing that Dylan's life ended at that very spot. We all stood around the tree, unable to believe that something so terrible could have happened at such an unassuming location. On the way there, we each bought a bouquet of flowers that represented either how Dylan thought of us, or how we thought of Dylan. We also bought a bouquet to put down for Evan, who's still in Japan and can't be here with us. As for my bouquet... Dylan was a rabid fan of the band D, whose symbol is a red rose. His ring tone was Tightrope by D and he and I listened to D's 7th Rose album together multiple times. Because of that, I bought him seven red roses and laid them down at the tree. It sounds cheesy, perhaps, but it was just the kind of cheesiness that Dylan loved. This was our memorial to him:

Melissa and Hannah cried, but I stayed silent, simply thinking the whole thing over. Cars zoomed past us, perhaps curious about what we were doing, perhaps knowing what had happened and wondering who we were to the victim, and some perhaps failed to notice us or care. It was hard to believe that traffic could proceed as normal behind us while something so terrible had already halted my life at that spot. We stood there, the four of us, frozen in a circle around the tree.

But I don't want to focus on that. I don't want to focus on where Dylan's life ended, I want to focus on everything he was before that.

He was bright...

He was funny...

He was original...

He was always trying to make us laugh...

He was creative...

He was loving...

And everyone loved him.

At this point, it's hard to imagine life after Dylan, but I know he would've wanted us to try and remember all the good times and do our best to move forward.

The thing I'm most grateful for is that, due to the nature of the last moments I spent with Dylan, my final words to him were "thank you" and "see ya." I think very few people get the chance to say those are their final words to a loved one. I didn't know at the time how grateful I'd be that "thank you" would be the last thing I'd say to him, but... I'm glad it was. I'm glad that, even in the end, I was able to let him know how much I appreciated him, and what an honor it was to have known him.

Dylan, you were one-of-a-kind, and your spirit will live on through all the wonderful stories and memories that I'll carry with me for the rest of my life.

You were one of the greatest things that ever happened to me.

And I'll never forget you.

R.I.P. Dylan Ellefson


  1. Thank you so much for posting this beautiful memorial to my roommate and best friend. I wish I could express my feelings about Dylan and his passing as eloquently as you just did. It brought tears to my eyes. Dylan was everything you said and more to me. I'll never ever forget all of the things that made Dylan the most beautiful person, inside and out, that I have ever met. The memories you mentioned are priceless to me. As impossible as it is to digest that he is actually gone, I feel like this made it just a little bit easier. I will definitely return to this post to help reflect upon everything that is Dylan. THANK YOU SO MUCH. Thank you thank you. I'll never forget.

  2. This post was so well thought out. It is really heartwarming and I made it up to the pictures without tearing up, but when I hit the break down with the pictures I couldn't help. It's such a strange sensation to be smiling and crying simultaneously. Dylan was the best kind of person.

  3. I'm really very, very sorry for your loss and I really wish I could think of something better to say to you. Stay strong.

  4. I'm so so so very sorry for this loss.
    It's never fair when this sort of crap happens.

  5. I graduated high school with Dylan but didn't know him very well. The pumpkin with "feed me cake" made me laugh and now I wish I could have known him better. I'm shocked that he's gone, and I've been thinking about it every day. I'm so so sorry for your loss.

  6. Dear Jamie, Melissa, Hannah & Evan,

    No words will ever take the pain away nor take away your cherished memories either!

    Having lost so many important and special people in my life, I have come to the realization that the only way we move through times as horrific as this, is to make sure we always honor their existence by living life to its fullest and always making sure that the people we love and care about know it daily!

    There is no doubt in my mind that Dylan knew how much he was loved by you all and while he may have made you laugh and enjoy life through his humor and generosity of spirit, don't forget that your friendships provided the platform for him to be just who he was...special and unique.

    I send you hugs and warm thoughts across the miles and wish you peace amongst your memories of him. He lived well and will live on because you were his friends.
    With love,
    Judy J. (Jamie's "Godmother")

  7. I never knew him, but I am so saddened by this tragedy. Thanks for this loving tribute.

  8. May all of Dylan's friends and family be filled with Love, Peace, Joy, and Hope. In his honor be honorable adults.
    Dave's Mommy

  9. This is such a moving tribute. It makes me wish I was closer with this part of my family. It's a shame I never got to meet such an amazing person. All of his friends and family are in my prayers.
    Jenna S. (distant relative of Dylan's)

  10. I never got a chance to meet Dylan but am good friends with his Father. I know his Father through my job and he always spoke highly of both his sons. I do remember him talking about Dylan quite a bit so I felt like I knew his spirit. I hope that each new day gives his family and friends a stronger sense of peace in their hearts and that Dylan's memory lives on in their hearts forever.