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  • Erik Smetana, 20, George Mason University

Ryan: Jan 16, 1997 - Oct 15, 2014

I don’t remember under what circumstances I first met Ryan. I believe it was when my family first moved to Waterford in the early 2000’s when we were both in Pre-School, but I think it’s safe to say that we became friends very soon after meeting due to our similar passions and our complimentary personalities. It was in these early ages that Ryan sparked my interest and long lasting love for history by introducing me to games like Rome Total War and his various huge history books. Over our years together we had countless numbers of political and historical conversations and debates, each building upon each other’s knowledge. Another great passion of ours was playing with Legos which was where I first noticed how great of a builder Ryan was. I don’t think very many people know this, but Ryan had an incredible natural talent for being able to build things straight from his imagination that were incredible looking, structurally sound, and totally unique. We built our own creative narrative around our respective Lego “Kingdoms” where his place was a well-organized and beautiful metropolis and mine was a shoddily designed, war-torn, mess of a place constantly under siege that Ryan would always have to help me repair.

As we grew older we soon transferred our creative interests to the woods in our neighborhood and turned it into our own personal playground by building, well Ryan did most of the building, (I, as Ryan aptly put it, “was only good at building chairs to sit in.”) forts and paths. Ryan was always really protective and considerate of nature and made sure that everything we ever built in the woods for the years we spent in there were completely nature friendly. He simply used branches and bark that had fallen from trees to build virtually everything and never once harmed a tree. Ryan and I didn’t go to the same elementary school so we’d normally spend our afternoons and weekends hanging out in the woods exploring deer trails, talking about history, and building bigger and more ambitious projects. I don’t think Ryan was treated very well in school and the woods were an outlet for him to relax and escape from the viciousness of people. Eventually some other kids, who were around our age, started coming into the woods as well. In short, we didn’t get along very well. Soon the woods were divided between Ryan and I and the other kids and we would constantly fight to protect and rebuild our sanctuary. While we both were continually frustrated by these kids’ destructive behavior, I think in the end we both still enjoyed our time in the woods and became great at working together as a team. I definitely look at our time spent in the woods as the most enjoyable days of my life thus far.

Once we entered Middle School, while we still were hanging out in the woods, we both become more interested in video games, especially one called Empire Total War. Playing the game required us to join the gaming conglomerate of Steam and that’s where we began our next big journey together. On the Steam platform there was a group of people Ryan discovered who were basically competing online through the game Empire Total War and “role-playing” as different nations of 17th century Europe. Ryan and I thought this was probably the most stupid thing we’d ever seen being the ridiculous middle-schoolers that we were, but ultimately ended up joining them in their online game as the game was very addictive to us as people who were very interested in history and politics. While it may seem strange to mention Steam in talking about Ryan’s life, I think our experiences there had a major effect on both of us. I won’t go into great detail about what exactly we did on Steam as most of it was rather silly in hindsight. The important part is that I believe that being online on Steam is what really exposed Ryan to a large number of people and helped make him more comfortably speaking to and trusting people in real life. Ryan was very introverted and I don’t know that he had very many friends other than myself up until High School due to his experiences in elementary school and other issues. On Steam though he would talk to hundreds of people a day and befriended nearly everyone he spoke with. While I ended up being respected but disliked by a great deal of people on Steam, he was everyone’s friend and it was great to see other people recognize his good nature, even if they only knew him through text messages.

Once Ryan entered High School I think his experiences online really helped him make a huge number of friends who genuinely cared for him; friends who helped Ryan with his problems when I wasn’t there for him and for that, I am eternally grateful and thankful. For the first time we started to drift apart in a fairly major way. He suddenly became interested in metal (he had claimed to hate all music for years before then), he disagreed with my opinions more and more, hung out with a group of people who were outwardly very different from me, and ultimately I felt as though he either didn’t need or want my constant overbearing presence anymore. Because of this, I started hanging out with Ryan a lot less and hoped that he would find a great place with his new friends. I will regret having that feeling for the rest of my life more than any other mistake I’ve made. I don’t know what exactly triggered Ryan to decide to leave this world behind for good, I didn’t even realize what exactly he was dealing with ‘till much later in our friendship and even then failed to take it seriously enough, all I know is that I failed to be there for him when he could have desperately used my help. I don’t know how Ryan viewed me, but I think the most accurate description of how I viewed him is that of a younger brother and a near constant companion. He was a smarter, kinder, and more thoughtful man than I think he ever realized and most certainly a better person than myself, who made those fortunate enough to meet him better, no matter how small their interaction. I count myself among the luckiest to live to have spent so much time with him and I would not be the person that I am today if it were not for Ryan. Now that he’s gone a large part of him lives on within me and despite my previous silence and private tendencies, I promise to share the many parts of his story I carry so that his life may continue to make the world a better place.

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