He was larger than life. He moved in when I was in 9th grade – the guys in my neighborhood and I could hardly believe it. We didn’t even know what to think, he was just so “alive”. And he’d try anything!
John was all about social interaction. I’m not sure how he did in school, because when he talked about it, it was about the people who were there, and his crazy-funny-interesting interactions with them. I remember that a couple of days after he started school he managed to create quite the sensational fight. After school hundreds of kids gathered around the pool in Wade’s backyard to fight one of the Lambson brothers. Nobody fought the Lambsons, they were crazy mean and we all kind of gave them reverent fear.
But there John was, finding the toughest kids in the high school (John was in 8th grade and Lambson was in high school) and taking him on. I was afraid, I didn’t go watch, and don’t remember what he said happened. But I do remember after that everybody knew who John was. Soon he was hanging out with the Lambsons and being great friends with them. How did he do that? The kid dripped charisma.
One night we picked him up to go out, I think we were in Ben’s Gran Torino. John came running out of the house and jumped in the car smashing half of us and laying on the rest yelling “go go go”. The thought now still makes me laugh. He was all smiles and energy and once we were away he answered all of our questions about why he was acting like that by pulling a bottle of his mom’s cooking wine out of his pants (with great effort as I recall, there were 8 of us in that Gran Torino). John knew his mom was going to kill him when she found out – but he just couldn’t resist the opportunity to make an entrance.
He was a good looking kid – amazingly athletic. Girls were never a problem for him. I liked hanging around him just to talk to the girls on the fringes of his entourage.
He never told a story about himself and his adventures, but we always had a new one to talk about. He gave our lives more life, more adventure. I think we all were proud to know John – to be in his inner circle of friends – to relate the stories again and again and laugh and be amazed and wish we had the courage to try.
One night we were going somewhere, John and I, I think we were 17 or so by then – he was driving some old car, a brown Rambler? It was a car that wasn’t very cool, but John was cool enough to cover that fact. He had enough cool for himself, me, and the car.
We were right there at 1300 east and 2100 south going north on 1300 in a rainstorm. He turned to me and told me I didn’t have to be like I was. I had a choice. I didn’t have to be afraid to try new things, I could take my life into my own hands and do whatever I wanted to do. I could work out and buy a new wardrobe and “get laid” a lot, or I could go to europe and travel, or I could be a professional photographer. It was my choice.
The sincerity of the moment shocked me. The message took years for me to understand. I always thought that somehow God had just made him that way – that he was just larger than life at birth. As I look back now I’m pretty sure he was telling me that he lived that way because it was fun – living larger than life was a choice he made. And he was good at it. He was great.
Memories of him and that conversation that night have always been part of the building blocks, way down there at the foundation, of my life. The foundation that gave me permission to move out into life and just try things without knowing the outcome in advance, to simply try things because I thought it’s the right thing for me to do.
After years of me feeling that everything I did was wrong here’s one of my heros telling me that it’s all a choice, that I could be great by the definition I give my life, that I could do and be anything I wanted. John knew that at a very young age, and had a great adventure of a life because of what he chose. That’s cool.
Years separated us. I had heard he wasn’t doing well. Rumors like a divorce leaving his heart broken, him being overweight, alone. I went to his mom’s house one to ask how to find hime and ran into him while I was there. This was about three or four years ago, I think. The rumors were all true.
When I saw him my mind couldn’t even grasp what I was seeing, or why. I wish I would have taken the time to remind him that it’s all a choice. But really, all of this that I’ve written here didn’t come together for me until right now. It’s helping me see why his death is affecting me so much.
John passed away from a stroke at the age of 46. That fact has brought tears to my eyes many times this weekend. I had no idea he meant so much to me.
When I saw him at his mom’s house I was prompted deep inside that he needed me, needed a friend. But I almost couldn’t believe it. How could John, one of my heros, need me? I never followed up on that feeling. Never reached out. Now I feel like I let my hero down. When my buddy needed someone, I wasn’t there.
I will work hard to follow through on those feelings more completely in the future. Maybe learning another life lesson from him will help me feel better when I see him again.
Wherever John is, I hope he knows he is important to me.
I know I’ve kind of set up a “thing” here on my blog where I take a photo of the people I’m talking about. No photos of John in my collection though. However it’s one of the deeper things I’ve felt for a while. I’ll get back to the photo thing next time. For now, I just wanted to honor my friend.