Thursday, August 4, 2011

Remembering Joe

[I apologize beforehand.  This wasn't supposed to be so long.  It turned into a stream of consciousness, so I just let it keep bringing more and more memories to the forefront of my mind.  It was thoroughly therapeutic.]

10 years ago, today, I was a 16-year-old boy.  I had been driving around with my fresh license for 6 months.  I pushed carts at Walmart (I just got my first job on June 26th of that summer), and I worked full time since it was summer break.  At that time in my life, I was thoroughly devoted to band and the Red Cross.  And though I wasn't very popular any more (like I had been in middle school), I had a few circles of very close friends.

I started writing this post to detail a few of the specific moments that I remembered centering around this day, August 4th, 10 years ago.  All it made me realize is how fuzzy the whole time is in my mind.

I don't remember how I found out.  I do remember hearing that a fire in Detroit Beach had made the news, and that it was on 5th Street.  I lived on 4th Street for years, so I wondered if I knew anybody.  I remember hearing that one of my closest friends had shown up on scene just before emergency responders, and that she was trying to help get people out of the house.  I remember hearing that not everybody made it out of the house.  I remember finding out it was David's house, and that alone was devastating.

David lived a few hundred feet from where I had lived.  We shared the same bus stop from 3rd grade to 8th grade, until I moved (though he was a year ahead of me in school).  One of the most epic childhood fights I can remember happened in his yard, though strangely, he didn't have any part in it.  David had a cute little sister, and I remember wondering how old she must be now.  My first instinct was to call Joe and ask him if he knew anything about David and his family, since they were cousins.

I don't remember if I tried to call Joe, but if I did the line to his house was busy.  I remember hearing details about how the fire had something to do with the boiler, and that David's mom's oxygen tank blew up and made it even worse.  Again, it's fuzzy, but I do remember finding out that Joe may have been staying the night at David's last night.

Then there are huge gaps missing.

I remember speeding around turns on the long road leading from my house in the huge, red conversion van I drove at the time.

I remember breaking down crying while pushing carts at Walmart when it hit me that Joe had severe brain damage, and if he recovered it was likely that he would no longer be the Joe that I knew.  It was so awkward, and kind of embarrassing, as I ran through the store bawling.  I ran straight to the manager's office and told him that I was leaving for the day.  I tried to explain, but it was obvious I was distressed.  Though I was scheduled to work, I didn't show up again for over a week.

I remember hearing that everyone was at the hospital, and having mixed feelings on rather or not I felt like I should be there.  I remember his parents asking if I would be a pall bearer.  I was so honored, yet I felt like I didn't deserve to be.

I remember begging my girlfriend (who I was thoroughly in love with at the time) to hang out with me, alone, but all she wanted to do was hang out with friends.  Years later, I can kind of understand that, since I wouldn't have wanted to be alone with me at the time, either.  It's not like I lost a brother, but something about our relationship and the timing and my age at the time really left lasting effects.

I remember staying with my close group of friends every minute for days.  We switched houses every once in a while, but we all slept in the same room and stayed in constant sight of each other.

I remember watching porn in the basement of a friend's house, while we were all still together.  More friends showed up and found it awkward that we were watching elderly porn when we were supposed to be in mourning.  We agreed that it was strange, but life was fucked up, and we were enjoying making noises and narrating.  We were enjoying ourselves, and we were all at our wit's end, so it was nice to be doing something else.

I remember that I had snagged a picture of him on my cheesy little polaroid camera just a few days before.  The camera where you pulled out the thin strip and you were left with a mini one-square-inch picture.  I'm still convinced that it was the last picture of Joe before the fire.

I remember snagging his quads from the band room and bringing them to the funeral.  I remember driving all of the pall bearers around.  We had decided to wear Hawaiian shirts.  It seemed fitting that we shouldn't be dressed like stuffy penguins when Joe was always so light hearted.  I remember the casket being so heavy.  I was worried that it might slip, or that I might drop it.  How could it be that heavy with 8 of us carrying it?  I still wonder if it was really that heavy, or if there's some psychology associated with pall bearers that makes the casket so much heavier than it is.

I remember the line of cars in the procession was the most massive thing I had ever seen until moving to Los Angeles.  The traffic that we must have caused probably resides somewhere in Monroe record books.

I remember hearing his father crying out in the church.  I remember thinking that it must have been his mom, until I looked over.  It only happened once, but that shriek still haunts me.  I remember thinking that the whole family must be on ridiculous doses of antidepressants to even be sitting here going through this without going absolutely insane.

I remember not crying.  At the viewing, my best friend read something aloud that he had written in his bus ride back from Texas (where he had been spending time during the summer break).  Everyone cried.  I didn't.  It made me feel heartless, but I didn't cry.

I remember crying.  It is some sort of law that there has to be witnesses when the casket is lowered and the first few piles of dirt are thrown on.  That's where I lost it.  That's where most of us lost it.  Some guys had to walk away.  I remember not being the only one brought to their knees in tears at that particular moment.  The only other moment that came close to this, was when they handed the pall bearers the items from Joe's casket as they were closing it... for good.

I remember dedicating everything I did that year to Joe, and David, and David's brother, who were all lost in that fire.

I'm not sure how Joe and I became friends.  It's likely that it happened through band, but we had an interesting bond through computers.  We chatted on ICQ, hacked, and passed around cheesy video games before it was cool.  We were rock stars in our middle school computer class.  I stayed the night at his house once or twice (I wasn't one for sleepovers, so that's kind of a big deal.)  I remember that one time his mom made meatloaf, with green peppers throughout it.  I hate green peppers, but I smothered it with a ton of ketchup and choked it down, because that's the respectful thing to do.

The last time I saw Joe was at a bonfire.  He showed up with one of our friends; the two of them had been hanging out a lot at the time.  Hanging out so much, that I was kind of jealous.  When they left, I remember calling Joe our friend's bitch.  Those words still haunt me.  The last thing that I said about one of my close friends while he was still alive was awful.  It really put into perspective alot of the words that I choose in my life now, forcing me to avoid 'love' as much as I do the word 'hate'.  Be careful when you are talking about people.  Words can be so powerful and so everlasting.

I have this great picture of the two of us in our high school marching band uniforms after we performed at the University of Michigan Crisler Concert the fall before.  We were both going to go to Michigan for college and be in band.  He was going to be in the drum line, and I was going to play trumpet.  Easy enough.  Now the picture that sits on my wall is one of the few concrete objects that just the two of us shared.  It'd be a great picture to include here, but I never scanned it.  It just sits on my wall.  I did live up to my part of the deal, though.  I only applied to one college, and when I considered dropping out of the marching band before my senior year, he was one of the reasons I didn't.

Though I always feel like I'm discrediting those closer to him, like his family, whenever I express my feelings on the whole situation, it feels good to finally lay down everything that I remember.

Rest in peace, Joe.  10 years feels like yesterday, and I will always remember you,


  1. Man, I remember that summer, learning about it at football conditioning. I think it was the first time many of us had to deal with death, even those of us who weren't as close as you guys were. Definitely an unfortunate defining moment in high school.

    A few weeks ago I saw an ad online for the new Tribes game, the last was Tribes 2. I immediately thought about Joe and those mornings spent in Caves' lab playing the game. I have some pictures from Hawaii I come across with him. It's strange how fast a decade can pass yet how strong some memories last.

    Side note, I also remember the cart pushing at Wal-Mart. Worst job ever but I'm glad I did it, since one of my dreams is to bust that company down a few notches, and at least I can say I was in there, even for a few months.

  2. Though I feel like us kids in Monroe dealt with an extraordinary number of young deaths, this one struck the most cards (likely due to my close relationship). It is interesting to hear how it affected everyone in the community, not just those of us close.

    Walmart was awesome. One of my favorite jobs so far. It kept me in great shape, I had a good tan, and I got to experience the People (and Employees) of Walmart every. single. day!

  3. I remember getting yelled at by a "coach" for not clocking out at 9pm but it was always because they assigned me a task that took longer than I had time to do, but required me to finish before I could leave (there is a pending class action lawsuit on this exact matter, did you get a letter about it too?). I remember having to request the managers to call the main Bentonville office to have the air turned up when it was sweltering inside since we didn't have control over our own store conditions, and you'd have to call them 3-4 times before they'd actually do it. I remember the anti-union videos we were shown in orientation, and I remember the so-called "internal hiring system" in which they kept telling us we were first considered for openings in other departments before they would take outside applicants but then only hired externally every time anyway.

    I had a good time meeting all the fun people that worked there, but just always had(and still have)issues with the corporate structure. You're just a part of the money machine at Wal-Mart, they just don't care about the workers.