Few things in life prepare you for those personal events that shock your inner being, leaving you scratching your head wondering if things could have turned out differently. Unavoidable thoughts in your ongoing internal dialogue following the loss of a loved one. I’m attempting to use this post as a way to, in words, memorialize the gift and privilege of being able to experience life with my best friend as I try to process everything.
On December 23rd, 2013 my brother passed out of this life. Today, or rather, a few hours ago, would have been his 32nd birthday. So technically he’s my friend; in reality, my brother. An interesting and eccentric man, he loved those that he loved with all he had. He kept to himself and did what made him happy, kept a small group of loyal, loving and close friends and was always ready to give the shirt off his back for any of them. His outlook about life in general was always different from whatever yours was so it was pretty easy for the uninitiated to mistake him for a dick sometimes, but looking back now I can finally see just how open and wise he really was. The things he taught me or rather, tried to teach me about life, happiness and staying true to yourself are things I once didn’t understand until I had the opportunity to learn them by other means, and then go on to realize he was right all along.
I remember back in the day when I was young, dumb, fresh outta school and full of myself as I was beginning the journey into corporate hot-shot’dom. He drilled my ass day in and day out about how one day I’m going to resent ever chasing a certain brand of “Success”. He was right. Two kids, a mortgage, marriage, burnt out from my first career, and 10-some years later I finally get it. I surely don’t resent the kids and wife! but lemme tell you, I surely do resent the motives behind placing work before all else – talk about soul-sucking. As I write this now I’ll be honest, I shed a tear thinking about how I’d surely love to thank him for at least trying to convince me way back then when we were still kids.
He was like that. He knew things.
Met the guy way back in 1996. My family had moved to Wisconsin after my father had completed his 20 year career a Navy Seabee, wanting to now settle down. As our family was concerned, it was the end of us having to move to a new post every 3 years; the only stability I knew of up until then was my family unit and the fact that we’d end up moving every few years. Friends were temporary… part of the military life that you accepted. I was born into it and didn’t know any different though so it was a little weird and made me worrisome to think of how I’d get by knowing that there was no automated 3 year reset button this time around. We settled on a house situated in the “burbs” of Poynette, where I was to start my freshman year that year.
The packers won the super bowl that year – I learned all about what Wisconsin culture was like for a high school kid in a small farm town, tried to make friends amidst a sea of small-town kids who didn’t know what to make of me; I ended up eventually settling into being one of those guys that hung out with anyone; an equal opportunity friend I guess, never really fitting into any one particular group as my now fairly diversified list of facebook friends originally from Poynette will attest to. Lucky for me, he was one of those guys too. I can’t recall how it happened but somehow we got to know one another. I think it might have had a little to do with the fact that back then we both liked trucks, computers, naked ladies, blowing shit up, and defying the status quo at every turn; a quality that somehow landed us in some rather interesting situations of getting into trouble for pretty weird things.
Over the years we grew closer as friends to the point where by senior year we were practically family, and as my parents were entering the dreaded “divorce phase” of their marriage, I had done screwed up a lot of my hopes for ever graduating let alone with a decent set of grades. His parents physically took me in to live with them and quite literally (at least as a scared high school senior, I thought so anyway) threatened to kick my ass if I didn’t graduate. Against the odds, and with his help and encouragement we pulled it off. To this day and forever, this act of love is one which no feeling or words exist to express the gratitude I have for him and his family and whether he, or his parents ever knew – and while seemingly insignificant in the way I present it here, was one of the most pivotal moments to ever shape my life’s direction, who I am as a person, and the way I view the world to this day.
I married my high school sweetheart-he best manned our wedding, thanks bro! But we eventually moved away to Maryland to start a family and “Chase the dream”. I achieved it, but was ultimately unsatisfied with my motives once I figured life out a little more on my own. I can still remember the late night calls when we initially moved out there and I was desperate for someone to convince me I wasn’t selling out-even though I still wouldn’t listen, he knew. Eventually though, and while my wife and I learned a ton about life and grew immeasurably in our relationship, we realized there was more to life than what we were doing there and came back to Wisconsin to be close to our families. J and I didn’t see much of one another during those last few years; although I made it a point though to come back to WI 4 or so times a year… so when we did get to chill we still shot the shit, philosophized and bantered about life over cigarettes and Mt. Dew in the workshop or barn, engaging in redneck activities like building lasers to cut through steel, getting all the dogs in Poynette to go insane using sound waves, running lawnmowers on water; shit like that. The last time we hung out just late last year before he passed, we pissed off some hunters doing target practice during hunting hours, went down to check out some train tracks & a rail switch down the road from where he lived, and discovered the awesome firestarting properties of a polymer-based screen backing they used to put in old LCD TVs. I bagged a few pieces to throw into my pile of camping stuff. We had our own little brand of ‘fun’ going on there and in a way we kinda never really grew up 😉
He surely didn’t have it all, but deep down was solid in himself and had measured success by his own yardstick, definitely fought an unfair share of hardship and strife, but I believe that the good Lord put him here to do something special. We may not know what it is/was, but what I do know is that he has been imprinted into the fabric of my life personally and will without a doubt live on inside of my heart so long as I draw breath here on the Earth.
So here we are now… It’s your birthday my brother. On the outside I do what I do best now. Clients need help, sales need to happen, family needs love, and the bills are due soon (no, really… it’s almost May 1). I promise to do everything I can to help your parents if they ever need it. Inside, the past few months have been a little confusing, it’s been difficult to process this even after a few months have gone by but what I pray for just about every day is that God is pleased with your time here and what you did with it to be something special to those you are close to and make a difference in their lives; because at least for me, your impact will be everlasting even though sometimes I didn’t show it or thank you enough. I hope you now see how loved you always were to everyone you loved so very much 🙂
Until the next life! Much love to ya bro!