Not long after Chris’s passing, Ben and I received a really funny poignant message from one of our old friends, Dave. Dave is one of those guys that exudes the perfect mix of heartfelt emotion without being cheesy. He let us know how much he treasured the times we’d spent together, and that he missed having us around- although in a much more cleverly worded and hilariously bizarre way. Sorry Dave- you just have a gift.
I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. Letting people know they matter to you while they are still around to feel it. Last night, I wrote about Casey and how much I love him. Existing in the affection I have for that kid brought me peace that has eluded me in the days prior.
Today, I had a pretty good day. Not without tears and impossible moments, but mostly spent in joy. I even made it to the park for a playdate and laughed and had normal conversations. So perhaps it is selfish, in that I want to keep this good juju going. But I also feel compelled to speak from the heart to the people who matter to me.
Jeff is younger than me by about three years. I imagine a good portion of older siblings grow up torturing their younger ones. I remember learning the power of doubling a boy over in pain by kicking Jeff square in the family jewels.
I was not very nice to him for a long time. As an adult, I worried he would harbor all of these horrible memories of me and not really want to hang out. But so far, he seems to have recovered from the kick and other acts of violence, and forgiven me for them.
As much as I associate partying with Chris, it was Jeff who kind of brought about a more wild side of me. I was that overly dramatic, perfectionist child who moped for three days if I got a B on my report card. I was part of the drug awareness program and student council. I was on the cheerleading squad, which most people today find hysterical. I was not prone to being bad.
Then something in my senior year made me snap. Maybe it was just too much pressure to be a goody two shoes. Perhaps it was getting involved in the wrong crowd. Whatever the reason, I went bad, and Jeff came along for the ride.
“I’m going to get a tattoo. You guys want to come?”
Jeff and his buddy Mike looked at me as if to say are you serious? After determining I was, they started lacing their shoes.
This was my first tattoo and I had no idea how the process worked. The only advice I had was “don’t get anything off the boards.” I didn’t understand that you talk to the artist before hand, tell him/her what you want, and then make an appointment for a few days later so that he/she would have time to draw it up. It was about six thirty on a Saturday night, and dammit, I wanted a tattoo.
I told the artist I wanted some sort of tribal symbol. Jesus, if there is one regrettable trend, is it not tribal tattoos? He asked how much I had to spend. I think I had $60-80. He drew up a ten to twelve random ideas. I picked one and he started setting up ink. Believe it or not, I was the first one in my family to get a tattoo. Not a good one, but the first one.
When Jeff graduated high school, I bought him his first tattoo- a red bulldog to remember his school days. Years later, I complained about one of my shitty tats (I’ve got a few). Jeff, now covered in tattoos said “Ahhh, I don’t regret any of them. They all tell a story from a time in my life.”
Jeff is the guy who is going to get shit done. I, like the rest of my family, seem to be a bit all over the place. But Jeff is the guy who is going to put a plan together and make it happen. Perhaps it is from joining the military, or becoming a father at a young age. But if I need to make something happen, Jeff is the guy who is going to do it.
This temperament manifests itself in a few ways, but my favorite is that Jeff is a wheeler-dealer. He’s the guy who goes to the flea market and walks out with a pair of lamps for a five dollar bill. Good lamps. Cool lamps.
I don’t remember the exact details of the trade, but he once pulled up in this kick ass truck, just kind of out of nowhere. I believe it was Jett that dubbed it the “Dill Pickle” and it was one of my favorite vehicles that he owned. Didn’t last long though- on to the next bigger and better trade.
Perhaps my favorite memory is of Jeff and my son, Liam. As you grow up, it is strange to watch your siblings become parents. Whenever we came to town, Jeff would let us stay in his place. When Liam was around three years old, Jeff took him for a ride on a four wheeler. Just around the block, nothing crazy or dangerous. But you could see in Liam’s eyes that Uncle Jeff had become the coolest man he had ever met. Jeff let him go fast!
It reminded me of my dad and his friend Mike. They had a couple of dirt bikes and would take us out for rides on the weekend. There were so many of us kids that we would have take turns. But the moment when you finally got to hop on the back and go fast- that was a moment worth waiting for.
For the rest of the vacation, Liam followed Jeff around like a puppy. At one point, I looked down from the balcony over the living room. Jeff was asleep on the couch watching TV. Liam was curled up right next to him. Liam is not a kid that snuggles up to just anyone. It made me happy to know he genuinely loved and trusted this man.
I learned how strong Jeff was when my dad passed away. Jeff was stationed half way across the world in Afghanistan. I was living in Arizona and finding it impossible to keep it together long enough to schedule an hour and a half flight. Jeff had to hop helicopters, charm pilots into rides. But he made it. He was not going to miss that day for the world. Even in the saddest of times, Jeff finds a way to wheel, deal, and make it happen.
The last night I was in Colorado Springs, one of Jeff’s friends gave me a ride home. As I mentioned in a previous blog, I was waiting for a cab, and this friend found out who I was. He didn’t offer a ride- he would simply not take no for an answer. I was Jeff’s sister, and that essentially meant that I was his sister too. No sister of his was going to take a cab home.
Jeff, I love you. You probably find this whole writing mess a tad embarrassing, but I’m going to do it anyway. I don’t ever want there to be a day where you are not explicitly sure of how amazingly strong I think you are.