We’ve had an outpouring of support. The news has gone global. He was the number one trending story on Facebook for half a day. I’ve avoided most of it as you might imagine. I’m living it. No need to read it. But I’ve received requests for pictures, stories, interviews. I will say that all of the media requests I have received have been very respectful, and importantly, through email and not on the phone. People Magazine. NBC. The Associated Press. All very cordial. Some I have responded to. Honestly it was good to have something to do. I was already looking at pictures of him. I’m not going to do an interview.
But one interview request was asking what he was like. It’s not an unreasonable question, but hours after you lose somebody you love so much the question becomes troubling. You start thinking about him and you get a crushing panic that you don’t know how to answer the question. Oh god, what was he like? Can I remember what he was like? Can I remember his personality well enough? Dammit. I’ve never had to do that before. I’d always just call him up. Met him for dinner. I’ve never not had him. What if I can’t answer a question like “What was he like?” The question is brand new.
But of course I can answer. That’s a panic I’ve had and still have, my thoughts are in there, my memory of him will get better as my head gets clearer. Maybe as I write. How about the basics.
He was a goof. He was an ass, like all good little brothers. He was always playful with his unique and offbeat sense of humor. He loved his nephew more than anybody in the world. He was a brother. A very good brother. I am going to miss you so much Jeremy.
He was an oddball. He loved his comedy random. I have so many memories, as you do when you live 28 of your years with somebody as close as a brother. But my mind is so tired that even my favorite stories are hard to cohesively form. Memories. They’re coming in segments. Vague thoughts and funny times are coming at me like somebody took a hundred scenes from a hundred different movies and jumbled them up and threw them at me randomly.
I stole his shoe once. We were little. If I was 10, Jeremy must have been 7. We were going to go play outside, and in order to play outside, you put on your shoes. That’s what normal people do. But when you’re 10, you find opportunities to goad your little brother as they come. So I got my shoes on, stole one of his shoes and ran straight out the door. Jeremy was screaming for his shoe and tore out the door after me. Throughout our childhood Jeremy was always faster than me, but I had a shoe on him and a head start. He was wailing and lord was he furious. I smiled. I laughed. Perfectly executed brotherly asshattery. Then a damn hatchet flew by my head. He had ran into the garage, grabbed a rusty old cast iron 100 year old hatchet, and flung it at me. He missed, and I watched the hatchet tumble in the yard and the ancient hickory handle, the one that my great grandfather used, slip off the business end. It stopped me in my tracks and he was by my side at the next moment, shoe taken from my hand. He stared at me deadpan, right in my eyes, and said “Don’t take my shoe.” I ran inside to the arbiters and screamed “Jeremy threw a hatchet at me!” My dad wanted to know what I did, and I gave him the truth. “He threw a hatchet at you for nothing?” Well, I took his shoe, which is nothing, right dad? “You probably shouldn’t take his shoe.” For the next 20 years, I would reach for his shoe. It would freeze him in his tracks and he’d give me the same stare, just daring me to take it. And then we would laugh and I would call him crazy. It was probably our best inside joke. Instant ice breaker. I’d introduce him to my friends with “Hi Eli. This is my brother Jeremy. Don’t take his shoe.”
His best gig was to scream randomly. He loved to get me in trouble and he was very good at it. We would be sitting in the living room, eating cereal and watching cartoons, and Jeremy would grab his arm and fall over wailing and through his sobs “Josh…. Hit… M…m…meee!” and both my parents would come give me a stern lecture about being nice to my brother and that I shouldn’t hit him. Punishment might be doled out. Cartoons might be over. I might have to go to my room. I protested vehemently. But I didn’t hit him! Great. Now I’m in trouble for lying. All the while, Jeremy would hide behind the doorway, peer in, dramatically and silently giggle, while pointing and grinning from ear to ear. I begged my parents to turn around and catch him. He got away with it every time. Though he did get caught fork-handed carving the word “JOSH” into the kitchen table.
His favorite movie was The Lion King. Nants ingonyama bagithi Baba. Every single day. For about a year and a half. I’d walk into the room just long enough to see the VCR spool up and hear NAAAAANTS INGONYYYYYYYYYAAAA… And the first hundred times or so were fine buddy, but god I was tired of The Lion King. I think he knew that. That might be why he liked it. It’s Charlie’s favorite movie now.
He LOVED lobster. I don’t know if he started loving lobster because of the taste or because it was the most expensive thing on the menu. He loved to do that. Pissed my dad off so much. Jeremy do you even look at the left side of the menu before you order? I would jokingly order for him at a restaurant. “I want the most expensive thing on the menu stuffed with the second most expensive thing on the menu.” He’d respond, “You want lobster stuffed with tacos?” He was always good for a Simpsons reference. But he did love Lobster. He would make it at home. I’m usually the chef in the family, but he made a good lobster. It was a whole production, and he loved every bit of it. He would go to Publix and pick out the lobster. Then he would bring it home and promptly name it Frank. Then he would play with Frank as the water boiled and he would make a Mr. Bill “Oh Noooo!” as he put the lobster in the water. He had an oddball sense of humor, and no matter how odd he got, he had a way of letting you in on the joke. His favorite food was a joke. A bit of long form comedy. It was perfectly fitting.
If you didn’t laugh at his jokes, he would make himself the joke. Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the other side! And he would open his arms and put on an ear-to-ear, open mouth smile, freeze in space, and stare at you until you cracked. And if you didn’t, penis.
He did not like school. Well, that’s not true. He did not like classes. He loved school because school was where his friends were. He was not particularly interested in sitting through lectures. He did well in the classes where he got to do something interactive, but he was not somebody to sit in a chair and be yammered at. As such, he didn’t do that well at Georgia State. But the program at Clayton State interested him. Almost exactly one year ago, I helped him clean up his transcript from Georgia State to get his best foot forward going into Clayton State. He made it in. He was so damn proud of himself, and I was proud of him too. He was actually excited about school for the first time… gee… that I can remember. Oh god buddy. Last week we were talking about what laptop you should get for classes. Your Alienware was a little too old.
He wanted to do “Computers”. I laughed at him. Jeremy, “Computers” is a large field. He knew that, of course. He was a very good artist. He would do amazing pencil sketches and he wanted to learn graphics design. He didn’t know if he wanted to specialize in marketing, publications, drafting, web design, UI, UX, or just become a Photoshop whiz, but he knew he wanted to do something graphics related. Something creative. Interactive. But he knew he could get me by playing the fool and saying he wanted to do “Computers”. He found a shtick that worked. If anything, Jeremy was committed to a joke.
He told me that the best thing that has ever happened to him was becoming an uncle. He was so proud. He loved Charlie. Every time Jeremy saw him, he would tell Charlie that he was his favorite person. The first time he met Charlie he was so afraid that he would drop him. Charlie was only a few hours old when he met Unka Jer-my. We had Jeremy sit down on the couch in the hospital and just hold him. He just stared at his nephew and cried a bit and smiled. I don’t remember seeing him that happy, ever. For the rest of his life (what a terrible statement. I hate it.) Charlie would light up Jeremy’s face. Charlie would run to him with his arms stretched out yelling Unka Jer-my!!! and Jeremy would pick him up and give him a huge hug. Jeremy would squeeze back. He would smile.
In a post on Facebook yesterday, I told everybody one of my favorite bits. When I would drive him around, every time we stopped at a stoplight he would crank up whatever song was on — could be some Outkast, could be a Honda Car Land commercial — and rock out to it staring at the guy driving in the next car. Wouldn’t break eye contact, he’d commit. He’d go nuts. Arms flailing, head banging, car bouncing, throwing up his fist and going for it. It would always bring out a huge smile and a laugh. Bonus points if the kids in the back seat saw it first.
And then I told everybody that if you want to remember Jeremy, do something ridiculous to make a random somebody laugh. Dance for no reason other than getting someone you don’t know to smile. Make a ridiculous face to a baby that’s looking at you over their parents’ shoulder. Seize opportunities to bring happiness, at the grocery store, at a stoplight, in a crowd waiting to go into class. Be the reason that somebody goes home and says “Guess what silly thing I saw today.”
So here’s a present for you buddy. Yesterday we went to Pike’s Nursery to pick out a tree for you. We didn’t pick the ugly False Cypress that you “wanted”. I know you would have hated it if we actually bought it. I know you’ll have much more fun bitching that we didn’t buy your “favorite” tree. We got you a Cherry Blossom tree. It’s the exact same kind of tree you and I were going to pick out to give mom and dad to celebrate their new house and their wedding anniversary. Now it’s yours. Nobody had an appropriate vehicle, but I had infinite headroom. So I wedged it in the passenger seat and drove it home. I got nods of encouragement and understanding from other Porsche drivers, and I got very confused looks from mini vans. I got a lot of laughs on the drive home. Dad joked that I picked the crappiest Christmas Tree in the lot. I told him that the tree had a lot more needles on it when I picked it up. I felt like you were with us the whole trip, and you made us smile.
I love you. Josh.