I don't plan on writing anything else in 2013. I'm going to step back for a couple of weeks. There are stories that need to get written and I need to recharge a bit before I try to decide where I'm going with the blog in 2014. Of course if you're a faithful reader of this blog you know I'm just as likely to break this promise to you, but don't expect any new posts until after the New Year. If anything noteworthy should occur I promise I'll share with you as soon as I get back on a regular posting schedule. In the meantime enjoy the holidays and get out and ride as much as you can. What follows is something that was very difficult for me to write. I wish I could have better articulated my feelings on this, but they're still raw and not resolved at all. Maybe through this I can become better at writing about the difficult things. When I was a young teenager in southwestern Ohio my best friend was Shane Lightle. Due to a late in the year birthday he was a year behind me in school, but we were the basically the same age. We met riding the school bus from the outlying rural region where we both lived into town to Clear Creek Township schools. Then we were in the same Boy Scout Troop where we shared a lot of amazing experiences. Our families became close as well.
At 14 he could easily pass for 18. He became a wrestler in high school and went on to compete in MMA as an adult. At 15 I was 140 lbs soaking wet so hanging with Shane provided me a level of protection from those that would have singled me out for torment.
His family was like a second family to me. He was like a surrogate brother to me; he and his brother Craig were my best friends. In 1989 I moved back to my home state of Kentucky and only saw Shane a few times afterward. But like so many we reconnected—if somewhat tenuously—as adults through social media.
After more than a decade unconnected we discovered that both of us had an interest in writing. He saw a note I posted on Facebook a couple years ago that told a story of our working together and my BMX bike getting killed. We exchanged some Facebook messages revolving around our mutual interest in writing. Then his son Michael was struck and killed by a car. Michael was a six year old twin. My heart broke for Shane, his wife, and his other two sons. Time passed. I didn't hear much from Shane. I didn't know what to say in the shadow of his loss. I couldn't fathom it.
I saw the occasional Facebook status and it seemed his family was healing; moving on. Then there was the family portrait: five chairs in a field with Shane, his wife Terri and his two surviving sons each sitting in a chair with a photo of Michael in the fifth chair. It was the most heartbreaking missing-man formation I've ever seen.
A few days ago I saw this post (his last public one) on Facebook:
"THE SECOND COMING
'Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.'
What do you think of 'Mere Anarchy' as the title of a novel?"
"Wished I'd thought of it first. Got a little anarchy brewing myself."
I was referring to a story I've been developing with the CTL.
After I responded to his post he sent me a message and asked if I still wrote. He suggested we exchange writing. So we did. I sent my Leadville or Bust rough draft and he sent me a short story he'd written.
The last message I got from him read:
"BTW. I'm asking you [my opinion of his writing] because I read a short story you wrote once, about us and a hay bailing incident. The quality of writing was better than most the hack genre writers I know in Columbus who regularly get published and paid. My advice to you is, write as though you don't give a damn if anyone ever approves of your work or not."
Early on the morning of December 21st, 2013 my mom texted me and told me he had died and to call her right away. He'd been on dialysis and apparently there had been some complications with his medicine. I hadn't known he was on dialysis.
The day before—the day he died—I was anxiously awaiting to hear back from him...his opinion of my book. I was halfway through the story he'd sent me earlier in the week entitled Dynamo Broken.
That Saturday morning when I found out about his death I was getting ready to go out for a 50 mile bike ride out and back from my house to the Red River Gorge loop. Numb, and in shock, I went on out for my ride at my wife's insistence. And while a good long solo bike ride is cleansing to a troubled soul sometimes it's not best to be alone with your thoughts and memories for three hours.
A couple of purging climbs took my mind off the news, but when I got back home it caught back up with me. I tried to write about it, but my heart wouldn't let me compose words that seemed true or authentic enough to capture the relationship I had with Shane. Tears kept coming unbidden. I fought off the emotional release I didn't know how to control.
Loss like this is something that scares me. At 40 years old I've lost exactly one other person I was close to: my maternal grandfather when I was 15. I'm afraid of losing my parents, my grandmother, my wife, my kids. I don't have the practice and I don't know how I'll handle those inevitable experiences when they come.
Shane's death has hit me harder than I expected it to. One thing I am blessed and cursed with is a high definition broadband stream of memory. When my thoughts began to turn to my memories of Shane and that time in my life when I was friends with him the floodgates opened and I was overwhelmed. I remembered it all. I relived it all in the blink of an eye and then it began playing over and over in an endless loop in my mind. But he's gone. I hadn't really been close to him in the nearly 20 years since we'd considered each other friends. Why did his death impact me so?
There's part of me that wants to tell every story. I could write about the time we climbed onto the Springboro High School roof and all of our harmless anarchy. I could recount all of the Boy Scout trips we went on. Shane once went backpacking with nothing more than some canned food and a change of underwear. One time after I'd moved back to Kentucky I went north to go on a backpacking trip with my old troop. Shane concocted this whole story about one of our friends having taken up hard drug use, and they acted it out for my unsuspecting benefit. The two of them had even gotten Shawn's mom in on the gag though she wasn't as good an actor as they were. There was the Memorial Day he came to Kentucky and camped with us. He and I ended up walking off of Furnace Mountain onto Cat Creek and we had to hitchhike back to Furnace and then walked three miles back to where my family was camping. No one knew we had been gone.
I remembered the scene from the movie Stand By Me where the adult Gordie character tells of hearing that his childhood friend Chris Chambers had been killed in a bar fight. We were that age when the movie came out. Shane was the Chris Chambers to my Gordie Lachance. I was the scrawny odd kid and he was the burly tough guy who seemed to cope so well. I remember us identifying with those characters. I'm pretty sure I'll never be able to sit through the end of that movie ever again.
Maybe I will try to write as much of what I remember of him as I can. This isn't the most appropriate venue for those tales so I'm not sure where they'll end up. But I had to share this here—my own obit for a friend I had hoped I could reconnect with. I lost that chance, but I feel blessed by his last imparted gift...that bit of advice which I plan on following with a vengeance:
"...write as though you don't give a damn if anyone ever approves of your work or not."
Godspeed my friend, if your path goes into the light; linger still a bit longer if there's darkness ahead. And if Providence wills it I hope we meet again someday. ADDENDUM 12/24: My parents and I went up to Zanesville for the memorial service. It was odd. I saw his whole family again and it was truly good to see them. I just kept thinking: The only person missing here is Shane.
We also discovered the cause of his death: accidental overdose of heroin.
I was stunned. I'm still stunned. And I'm pissed off at him. And I miss him more now than ever. My heart aches for his family; his wife of 17 years and his two boys.
The short story he'd sent me dealt with the hard life of a Naval recruit following in the footsteps of a crusty old officer and deciding after 48 hours of drug-induced insanity coupled with a suicide punctuated party that he needed to turn his life around. It ends with the following passage:
"On a scorching August morning I flew out of San Diego. My sea bag held every possession: six harmonicas, a dozen CDs, three aloha shirts, two sets of Levi’s, a few manuscripts, and a gold wedding band for my dear Tara. As the wheels touched down in Port Columbus the Grateful Dead blared over my earphones. 'Mama, mama, many worlds I’ve come since I first left home.' You’re damn right."
I'm still wrestling with why he sent me the story. I'm still wrestling with the unfinished conversation we were in the middle of when he died.