Today I will attend the live stream of a funeral for a friend of mine. Jesse and I met first in elementary school. For half a semester we both went to Crestview elementary school in the 5th grade. We met again at baseline middle school in 7th grade. He walked up to me at the drinking fountain and said “don’t I know you from somewhere?” and I said “yeah I think… from Crestview – don’t you like dinosaurs? And he said “yes”. I said “cool”, and he said “cool.” We became friends, he and I and the Canadian immigrant named Olivier that only spoke some English. We were just the right kind of smart and funny and interesting and dorky and unpopular enough to become fast friends. Another that we ran with a lot at the time was named Calen. Once on a bike ride together with those three I hit a slick patch and fell off the bike and cut my knee up. I still have a scar from that today.
But Jesse’s scars proved to be deeper and less visible. I don’t know what makes a person an addict. I know that there is some contribution from genetics and from environment and from childhood. I know that there is no one single cause any more than the nature and nurture debate is solved for any other outcome. I know that Jesse’s death should likely be categorized as one of the “deaths of despair” that are so on the rise in modern America for young and early middle-aged men.
I was surprised but not shocked when Olivier texted me on 13 December to tell me that Jesse had died. Jesse and I had last spoken on November 14th, hed texted me for my birthday and we talked. He had been tired and frustrated with his addiction. He was running low on patience for the value an addict can offer the world. I tried to answer him, to help him answer that voice with attention to the past, present, and future. That he was loved, that he had value, that he had contributed to the world and would yet still do so. We also talked about books, and sci fi. He had enjoyed the Three Body Problem but was so mad the “Sophons” were made from Protons, not Bosons. He said it was so obvious.
It’s hard for me to capture all of the memories and feelings I have about Jesse. In between starting writing this and now I’ve watched the funeral livestream and his mom Chris and his brother Sam prepared amazing remarks. They were so deep and eloquent. And Olivier spoke very well extemporaneously and so did a few other of our friends. I’m sure I cant equal what they said. But I do want to express some of it. Here from afar in the home-office of my North Carolina home where I need to stay for my daughters during this global pandemic that keeps me from going home to see my friend off.
There are so many memories there from the early to the recent, moments in the mountains, on Boulder Creek, in the basement of his dad’s house watching stupid cartoons, at Olivier’s house introducing him to my daughter. At his mom’s house setting up LAN cabled XBOXes for a Halo marathon. Watching the sunset over the mountains the last time I saw him in person with my wife and daughter there. Seeing the shakes in his body but the kindness and gentleness in his spirit. The gift of a check to be deposited for my daughter’s college savings. Dressing up for the Renaissance fair as kids a Samurai, a Knight and Jesse as a bare-chested barbarian. Dragging Olivier into our apartment on his birthday reenacting a scene from Boondock Saints. Jesse speaking touchingly at my wedding to my wife, offering a kind toast having ridden a greyhound bus from Colorado all the way to North Carolina. Having just shaved his face and hair back and pulled on a suit for the first time in months. Watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy in that basement of his dad’s with Jesse’s amplifying comments from having read the Silmarillion that none of us had. Playing the Lord of the rings video game, him as Gimli, me as like Legolas and Olivier as Aragorn, Jesse and I reenacting Gimli and Legolas’ screen antics counting the number of orcs we slayed. Talking with Jesse in June of this year when he was in a very bad way and Olivier broke his promise to Jesse, to tell me about it. To tell me that if I wanted to speak to him before he died I had better do it now, today. Telling Jesse that he has value as a human. That he is loved that, his family, that my family and I appreciate him. That I can’t be there for him in person like his family and Olivier can. That I can’t even be available at any hour. But any day I will make time to talk with him about anything, feelings, or needs, or aliens and the cosmos. Listening to Flogging Molly turned up loud pretending we were pirates. Playing Sega Dreamcast at Masons house across from boulder high school… Getting so mad at each for how the characters we played fought each other that we fought in real life and wrestled and scuffled. Making him even madder by threatening to “unleash the power of my martial arts training” on him before Olivier separated us. Remembering Jesse defending me to his dad who thought my military ambitions were all in act and that I was a “stalking horse” that would not follow through. Driving together through the canyons in Colorado to Gateway talking and trying to catch up after years of being apart, me in Afghanistan him across the United States, San Francisco and New York and Chicago. Climbing up the Palisades together, the three of us poorly prepared for an adventure again but making it up as we go and living in the moment. Jesse dashing right up to the edge of the rock ledge, dangling his feet over the drop hundreds of feet down. I can see that picture so clearly in my mind, feeling the fear that he jump. Olivier assuring me that he would not. Talking with him again by phone in November that last time, about what he thought of the world, the pandemic, the war on drugs, the politics of the day. I told him then how grateful I was to him for the most salient memory I have of him.
My most salient memory of Jesse was our talk in the Denny’s by our apartment late one night Junior year of college. I was in my more hardheaded libertarian phase and he in his nearly communist one. He taught me then, though it took me years to absorb the lesson, that we as a people owe everyone the basics. Shelter and food and healthcare and security. He and I saw the world so differently then.This moment was a turning point in our relationship. For years we drifted apart for some time and came back together only in bits and pieces. But there at the end, this moment represents the greatest lesson that Jesse taught me. I told him that when last we talked. Like he did to many others, he taught me one of my more meaningful lessons in life. I’ll always be grateful to him for that, and his generosity to me, to my wife, and to my daughters.
We are our brother’s keepers.
Thank you and rest in peace, Jesse my friend. I miss you, we all do. We will work to carry the best of you foreword in the world. We love you.