I can close my eyes and remember the day my friend died. I was sitting in the kitchen on the stairs that led to the second floor. It was on the fourth step, where I always sat because it had a large window to my left.
It was a hot summer day. August 16, 1977.
My "friend" was someone I had never met, someone who never knew that I existed. But he was someone who touched my life in a profound way, possibly even saved it in those lonely wee hours of the silent mornings when the demons made their play for my soul.
His name was Elvis Presley. It's more than being just a fan. Much more. You see, my mom died in February of 1976, when I was 15. I felt lost, depressed, unwanted. I felt my mom was the only person that loved me, and that I would never know love again. And it got worse.
I had never gotten along particularly well with my father, and that relationship withered and died in the years that followed. He told me he wished I had died instead of my mom, told me when I fell asleep that he was going to kill me. I spent many nights sleeping under my bed, or trying to surround myself with boxes as I slept sitting up in a corner of my bedroom.
The time he stuck a shotgun in my mouth and said he was going to blow my head off, I no longer cared. I just closed my eyes and waited for the gun to go off. The truth is I wanted to die. I used to sleep with a loaded pistol pointed at my head, hoping that I would accidentally shoot myself in my sleep.
It was a dark time when I walked through the shadow of depression, thunderclaps of pain crashing about me and loneliness stabbing at me like searing bolts of lightning.
I thought that I would never know sunshine again. But, through it all, when my thoughts darkened and I'd cry and wish I was dead, there was always one ray of happiness that winked through the storm.
It was Elvis.
When I'd listen to "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" it was like he was talking straight to me. Whatever mood I was in, The King had a song to buoy my spirits. It was impossible to remain sad when I was listening to "Jailhouse Rock" or "I can't Help Falling In Love."
When Elvis lamented life at the "Heartbreak Hotel," it was like he understood my loneliness. And songs like "Love Me Tender" and "If I Can Dream" spoke to me of other, better times just ahead.
When I was depressed—and that was often—it was usually the sound of Elvis's voice that brought me back from the edge of the abyss. Yeah, we never met, but he was my friend all the same. He helped walk me through a difficult time in my life and he's been there ever since.
Elvis may have left the building, but he'll never leave my heart.
I love you, Elvis; and thanks for being a friend.
John Christian Hopkins is a member of the Narragansett Indian Tribe of Rhode Island. He is the author of Carlomagno. He currently lives on he Navajo Reservation with his wife, Sararesa.