When I moved from North Carolina to Illinois for graduate school, I immediately formed a tight bond with four other men.

We went to class together, studied in the library together, and relaxed together. We made a ritual of gathering every Friday night to eat pizza, drink beer, and watch a movie. It was a break from schoolwork and a time to talk about relationships and debate theology.

One Friday night, only my friend Mark and I were able to meet. After spending a few hours at his apartment, I said goodbye and went home. It was like any other Friday night.

But the next day was nothing like a typical Saturday. Mark and I had planned to grab coffee that afternoon. As I was leaving my apartment, an unknown number showed up on my phone. I usually ignore unknown calls, but this time I answered. It was a police detective. He asked if I had heard the news.

“No,” I answered. “What happened?”

His response forced me to my knees. “Last night Mark’s apartment caught fire. He was succumbed by the smoke, and his body was burned.” I pictured Mark’s apartment engulfed in flames. A haunting thought seized me: Perhaps I could have prevented his death. The fire started only two hours after I had left his apartment.

For weeks I was trapped in a nightmare. My grieving was interrupted by phone calls with detectives and visits to the police station. I wondered if anyone was able to understand my strange mix of emotions: sorrow, confusion, paranoia, and complete exhaustion. Sure, my friends were also mourning Mark’s death, but I felt like they couldn’t understand my situation. I had been the last person to be with him. And as the first one notified of Mark’s death, I had ...

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