Jake Old: Remembering a friend, honoring his memory
Last week I found out that an old friend of mine from high school passed away. After graduating in 2007, we lost contact with each other, except for the occasional back-and-forth on Facebook.
I first met this friend — I’ll call him Grant — on the first day of my sophomore year, through a mutual friend. We were going through one the grand traditions of Blackman High School: the absolute chaos in sorting out the schedules given to students from the counselors. It actually seemed like they just threw darts to decide which classes each student would be enrolled in.
This is when I learned that Grant and I shared a similar sense of humor. In the sea of 16-year-olds agonizing about which lunch period they were assigned, he and I were the only two sitting back without a care, mostly making fun of the other students.
Many friendships in school and similar environments develop simply because you spend about 8 hours each day with the same group of people, and this one was no exception. While we had many common interests and similarities, there were fundamental divides in our personalities that would normally have prevented us from running in the same circles.
Grant was a wild dude. He was never looking for the party, because the party was wherever he was. I was a quiet guy who thought that a lot of the things that Grant did were crazy. If not for sharing many of the same classes, our paths may not have ever crossed.
We did, however, have some great times together in high school. And the best way to honor a lost loved one is through the memories you created.
In English III, I can vividly recall him throwing his voice (impersonating Hank Hill from the television show “King of the Hill” was a favorite) and loudly asking very stupid questions to our hard-of-hearing teacher, much to the delight of the other students.
Grant used to crack jokes about pretty much everyone and everything around us, but he was always quick to reassure anyone who might be offended. “Come on man, look at this gut,” he would say, implying that whatever it was that was being made a mockery of, it was not any worse than his negative features, and that everyone is in on the jokes. I never knew another teenage boy who reacted this way when he made jokes about other people.
And for all the general ridiculousness, we also managed to work in some serious conversations. We were both musicians, though he enjoyed a near polar opposite in music: while I preferred blues and jazz, his favorite genres generally consisted of a random adjective tossed in front of the word “metal.” And if he could see the end of that sentence, he would probably roll his eyes and start making jokes about B.B. King.
The middle ground we discovered, however, was classic rock, and we had many discussions regarding this topic. Did the Beatles breakup actually make the Stones a better band? If Jimi Hendrix lived another 50 years, what would his music look like? Would the Who still be as influential if they started in the 2000s instead of the 1960s?
And then, right in the middle of all of this serious discussion, he would get up and draw cartoon characters on the whiteboard.
Although I’m sure this is par for the course when losing someone you once knew, particularly at this young of an age, I regret not staying in better touch with him. I honestly do not know the last time I spoke to him in person. It was probably right around the time we finished high school.
I do not know the circumstances surrounding his death, and really have no desire to know. I never knew his family, and I’ve not been in regular contact with his close friends either. So instead of inserting myself into their lives, I simply made a small donation in his name to a charity, and I’ll keep his memory by sharing the stories he left with me.
Whether or not he was able to fulfill any of his larger goals, he was a person who lived life more intensely than most. His quarter-century was probably filled with more excitement than many will see in twice that time. If he could speak to anyone now, I like to think he might quote one of his favorite musicians, Neil Young, with a phrase he often quoted during our years together in high school:
“It’s better to burn out than to fade away.”
That was just the way he thought about things. He was a crazy, fun, interesting person, and the world is a worse place with him gone.