Regina Friend will don her son's ceremonial cap Thursday morning and take footsteps that were supposed to be his.
The mere idea of those steps gives her chills, but she will take them. Her only child worked 41/2 years to earn a diploma from Temple University, and she will collect it, proud as any other parent in the room.
"He's not here to accept it," the Cockeysville resident said. "So as his mother, and I'm still his mother, I need to get it for him."
Last August, Roswell Friend — Dulaney High graduate, college athlete, selfless friend, soon-to-be Temple alum — went for a run over a Philadelphia bridge and never came back.
Regina Friend is a tough, funny woman who refuses to skirt around the wrenching circumstances of her son's death. "I can talk about this because of great anti-depressants," she said Tuesday as she prepared to walk in his stead at Temple's graduation ceremony. "But I don't want this to be the elephant in the room. Roswell took his own life. Now where do we go from there?"
For her, the answer is a stage in Philadelphia, where she'll try to snatch a rare moment of joy from the aftermath of her son's unfathomable end. Regina calls it her Mother's Day present. But she'd rather have Roswell show up and give her a hanging plant, like he did last year.
"There aren't that many high notes," she said in explaining why she and other loved ones will participate in Roswell's graduation. "This is closing a loop for him. For me, oh no, there will never be closure to this."
Roswell Friend didn't seem to fit the stereotype of a potential suicide case. He had more than 1,500 Facebook friends and those closest to him remember his brilliant smile and the "Barry White" voice that rumbled improbably from his slender frame.
"He grew up to be the man I raised him to be," Regina said. "If he could fake us out, anybody could."
"He just had the biggest, greatest smile," said his close pal Tyler Brown, who texted or spoke with Roswell every day, even when they attended college in different cities. "He had more friends than you can imagine."
Brown gets stuck sometimes, trying to replay last summer in his head. "It's been rough, to be honest," he said. "I still think he's going to call."
Roswell had struggled with depression at times, visiting a campus therapist for counseling. In the weeks leading to his disappearance, his mother heard him dwelling on problems that she said shouldn't have loomed that large — overdue rent, balancing his schedule, the pressure to secure a job.
They talked at least every other day, and she told him, "You're almost done. You're a college student; you're not supposed to have money yet."
She had raised Roswell as a single mother since divorcing his father, and moved to Baltimore County when her son was in eighth grade. He quickly built a world for himself at Dulaney, where he was a varsity athlete and seemed to know everyone.
Roswell ran track at Morgan State his freshman year but wasn't happy on the Baltimore campus. His mother didn't know he was thinking about Temple, however, until a fat burgundy envelope turned up in her mailbox one spring afternoon. He gave a satisfied shout when she called him about it.
Roswell was happy in Philadelphia, she said. He majored in public relations with a focus in broadcast journalism and ran the 4x800-meter relay for Temple's track team, which embraced him like a family member.
Last summer, he lived in a house with five other members of the track team, taking a tennis course to round out his requirements at Temple. He planned to graduate in December. He had interviewed twice for a position with the advertising sales division of Comcast Cable and had a third interview scheduled for Friday, Aug. 19.
The evening before, Roswell alarmed friends with several cryptic communications. First, he posted, "I'm sorry everyone," on his Facebook page. Then, just before 7:30, he texted Brown: "I love you, dude."
He then left the house for a run, as he often did. Temple security cameras captured him gliding along the edge of campus a few minutes after his text to Brown. It was a rainy night, but a few moments later, another camera recorded Roswell running onto the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, which connects Philadelphia to New Jersey. It was one of his favorite routes.
But cameras on either side of the bridge never caught him leaving the span that night.
Meanwhile, Brown called Regina and said, "Something's wrong."
She called Roswell. No answer.
"If you're in danger or you feel some kind of way, just get in the car and come home," she said in a message.
She knew that if he was upset, he would comfort himself by running. "Let's give him an hour to come back," she told his friends.
That period came and went. Regina called the police. They checked his house four times that night and each time, his belongings remained unmoved. He did not show up for his job interview in the morning.
Family and friends headed for Philadelphia. They spent the weekend posting fliers and meeting with authorities. Roswell's teammate, Louis Parisi, had kids searching Fairmount Park by flashlight.
The truth set in for Regina on Saturday night. By Sunday, she told everyone, "Look, I just want to find his body." No, no, no, they replied, but she knew her boy had most likely jumped off that bridge.
"Realistically," she said, "he was gone before we even knew there was anything wrong."
Monday morning, Aug. 22, police found Roswell's body on the New Jersey bank of the Delaware River.
Friends struggled to reconcile their hopeful search for Roswell with the reality that he'd never reappear, grinning, in their midst. Regina felt she had stepped into someone else's life, one of those sorrowful people you see on the "Today" show.
At Thanksgiving, instead of going to her mother's house for dinner, she took a train to Pittsburgh and checked into a Best Western, where she ate pizza and watched television. That random choice seemed more comforting than the familiar, she said.
Even now, she describes her thoughts about Roswell as "schizophrenic." A warm memory might bubble up in the morning and make her laugh. But come afternoon, she might hear a song or see something on television that catapults her to a dark place.
When Temple officials broached the possibility of Regina accepting his diploma, she was conflicted. She finally decided that Roswell's story needed a happy chapter.
"I've come a long way just to be able to do this," she said of the impending graduation celebration. "I've learned way more than I would have liked to, trust me."