There are certain days in our lives that we will never forget. Where we were, what we were doing, who we were with. Last Wednesday was one of those days for me. That was the day I lost my friend to suicide.
The day was like any other. I dropped my son off at preschool, went to work, and later headed to the gym. After about 15 minutes on the treadmill, I got a call from my mother. When I played her message, she said, “Call me back. Right away.” We had been on the phone together just minutes earlier while I was still in the car. Our chat was interrupted by heavy knocking on her door that I could hear in the background. It was steady. Urgent. Something was definitely wrong. She told me that it was your dad and that she would call me back. It was then that I knew death was knocking. And I knew for whom.
My fear and worry would not allow me to wait for her call. The first time I tried her, I got her voice mail. Another sign that something was wrong. I called right back. This time she answered.
“John’s dead. He’s gone. I’ll call you back.”
Everything around me suddenly went mute. I don’t know how, but my legs continued to walk. I stared blankly at the T.V. posted on top of the treadmill trying to process what I just heard. There had been talk that you were in a bad way since the new year. A new girl, who you really liked, had recently called it quits. And in the last week, it was suspected that alcohol, and maybe even drugs, consumed your days and nights. Mom said that she would look out of the window and see your garage door up as usual, but that things had been quiet for some days. Too quiet.
My phone buzzed.
I reduced my speed from 5.0 to 2.5. Everything was moving so fast. But I had to keep moving even if slower. Didn’t know if my legs would hold me up if I tried to stop and get off.
“What happened?” I asked just above a whisper so that the joggers on the treadmills next to me could not hear.
“He committed suicide. I called 911 for his dad. He is hysterical. I went over with him. He’s sitting on the floor. Tied something around his neck.”
“Oh my God,” I mumbled into the phone. “Was he dresssed?” I asked not knowing exactly why I asked.
“Sunglasses, cap, shirt, and camo shorts. He had one leg folded to his chest and the other outstretched.”
Her other line rang again. A hallmark of sudden tragedy. Continuous interruption and frenzy.
I always thought that drugs or alcohol could take you away from us too soon. Never did I think that you would intentionally do it at your own hands. You made threats to certain people at certain times, but no one thought that you would ever really do it. We all dismissed it as the deceptive voice of depression. It would pass. It always seemed to.
Although I ask myself why, at this point, the reasons no longer matter. As you so simply stated in your farewell note, you could no longer take the pain. That you are sorry for the pain that this would cause.
We woefully accept your apology, and are so devastated that you left us like this.
I will miss you. So much. I’ll miss your super corny jokes. Your annoying cop siren ringtone that you kept on the highest volume to scare the day lights out of all of us whenever your phone rang. Your “how you doin’s?” in your Wendy Williams voice. Your big blue eyes that you one day told me that I, too, could buy from Walmart when I complimented you. How we cracked up at my thinking that they were truly that blue for all of these years. How I would pass through the family room in mom’s house and see you through the windows out back driving your lawn mower from yard to yard doing your day’s work. Skin darkened from the scorching hot sun, sleeveless tee, tatted arms exposed, and flip-flops. The same camo shorts, sunglasses, and cap that you clad yourself in on the day you departed.
I’ll warmly remember how you called my mother “momma” and would even get in trouble with her from time to time just like a real son would. How you were there for Mervy when cancer ushered him into the sunset of his life. You were his pool hall buddy. His occasional booze and cigarette smuggler. You did anything he wanted, anything you could to make his last days bearable, happier. He adored you as if you were his own. Thank God that he is not here to see this day.
You acted like it was unimportant, but I could tell that deep down you longed to be a dad to your daughter in the truest sense of the word. Court ordered payments were not enough. You wanted time, a relationship. Perhaps more than anything, you wanted a special girl of your own. Especially, this last one. The illusiveness of love left you perpetually disheartened. Had you shrugging your shoulders and telling yourself that it didn’t matter, when it mattered more than any of us could have ever imagined.
When I saw you last August, you showed me how to drive your lawn mower. You snapped pics of me with Jaxon on my lap as we zipped around Brian’s lawn that you were working on. I deleted those pictures from my phone annoyed at how fat I looked. I now only wish that I had not been so vain. But, thankfully, I still have the one of you flying that stupid kite on the night we went to touch up my tattoo. You were in such a good mood. I took pictures and recorded you running down the quiet streets of “your hood”, as you called it, trying to keep the kite up in the air. We were like the kids we were when we first met decades ago. How you were that night–laughing, being silly, cursing the kite, running top speed, and so full of life is how I will remember you John-boy.
Tattoos were our thing whenever I came to Florida. You were with me when I got the one in memory of my baby girl. You were with me when I covered the inked remnants of my own failed marriage. We strolled into the tattoo shops and each time, you proudly announced that your sis wanted to get a tattoo done. We were brother and sister. In our hearts.
There you stood tall, tanned, and with the bluest of eyes. I, short, hair wild in its semi-natural state, with the darkest of skin. We could not look more opposite if we sketched ourselves. We would lock eyes and bust out laughing. Their shock and confusion was always the anticipated punchline of our private joke.
As the needle buzzed back and forth over my skin, you would stand in front of me chatting, saying things to try to make me laugh in distraction. Thank you for always being the hand that I squeezed so tightly to get through the pain. If only you knew, believed, that there were many outstretched hands that you could have squeezed to get through yours.
Love you bro. Rest now and be at peace.