On the fourth anniversary of a friend's death, the eulogy I wrote for him:
I've got this half-remembered line from a forgotten movie eulogy floating through my head, and Google isn't helping. “He was a man, and he died.” I'm not sure where it's meant to go from there, but I keep hearing it.
SSgt H- (for that is how I knew him) was Basie to my Jim. I literally sat on the deck of his room, staring at the pictures plastered to his wall locker; Tibbets looking out of the window of a coelacanth, preparing to take off, listening to him telling me things I'd never dreamed of, stories of death and resurrection, stories that began with “8 ounces, no open flame, no stairs, not until you know what you're doing,” Elvis all in white, books I'd never heard of, so much to absorb.
Somebody had said “There's a new staff sergeant down on first deck, and he's weird!” Random little notes plastered to the door, it took me years to learn that some of the best of them were stolen, “a screaming comes across the sky” was probably one of the first, but the best, the real best, were real, all original, and burned into my brain so that when I finally found him again, more than twenty years later, he exclaimed “Holy cats, you've got it!” at my recitation.
And twenty years later, he was supposed to be dead. I'd been googling him for years, strange memory for full names, for initials, for whatever, adding “USMC,” adding “staff sergeant,” “SSgt,” “obituary,” “Dead Bill,” anything I could remember or think of. Military.com had him discharged as an E5 for a while, then he dropped off their radar, and then I saw him masquerading as L-, a name I'd heard before but forgotten, the Monkey King, on Facebook. Message sent and confirmed, still alive, OH HAY, YOU'RE STILL ALIVE? KEWL because, from what I'd remembered, he'd expected to be dead by that point.
Still alive (again), huh? Good for you, beat those lying doctors. What would they know?
Memories of the beer can sized prescription bottles lining his desk at DLI:
“I call this one the Masque of the Red Death. It causes,” peering at the label, “nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath, and loss of depth perception.”
“So, what good does it do you?”
“It stops this one,” picking up yet another bottle, “from shutting down my liver.”
So once I got back in touch, we chatted for a few hours, got friended up, got his updates and opinions on Facebook. He tried to give me a book, but we couldn't break the DRM on it. He might still have been Basie, but I didn't feel like Jim anymore. I'd been to college, been to a lot more of the world than I had before, and I wasn't content to sit on the deck, but how do you argue with the opinions of someone who is still cleared up a million different ways and claims enlightenment to boot? Took a break, chucked him in the sin bin for a while, where I put my friends when I need a break from them, (and this is where the story goes south), stopped receiving updates, stopped him from seeing mine. After all, he wasn't dead yet, that meant that he'd live forever, or at least to a statistical average for his broadest demographic. I mean, he'd told me that he averaged four hours of sleep a week. That sounds healthy, right?
He tried to get in touch with me, found and contacted one of my alter egos. I know the impact he made on me, I'm still humbled that I made enough of an impression on him that he tried to find a way around the (it was supposed to be temporary damnit!) wall that I'd put up, that I was really, really getting ready to pull down when I got the news.
My loss, no one's gain.
I don't have any faith, and I don't know if he did or not, but I do know that wherever he's gone, he's been there before, and it didn't seem to have scared him. I'll miss him.
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