Fare Thee Well, Ward.
Got a call that one of my best friends from college passed away in a motorcycle accident in Puerto Rico. It was hard to hear but I knew it before I answered the call. John calls me every year on my birthday and for thirty-four years has never once failed to call me on my birthday and wish me a good day. So when he called two days ahead of schedule...I knew something was off.
I was in spotty cell service, so I didn’t try to answer. I didn’t even know that he had left a message. When he called again the next day, I knew that it was not birthday wishes early...it was bad news. I was right...unfortunately.
When I went to college at 17, John and Ward were my two best friends pretty much from day one. They were my constants, my guys that I could talk to about anything. John was dating my roommate and best friend, so Ward and I spent a lot of time together and became super close. So close that at the close of our freshman year, Ward declared in typical Ward form, that he was in love with me. It killed me. I loved him too but not in a romantic way. I loved him like a brother or a best friend. He was my constant companion, one year we dressed up like each other for Halloween. It was pretty fucking hilarious. Especially when it took everyone no time at all to guess who we were...
Unfortunately, Ward’s declaration of love was pretty much the death knell of our friendship. I transferred schools, he did too. He got engaged and married. I moved on through my life. After his divorce, we briefly reconnected but there was just too much history for there to ever be a present for us.
I didn’t see him again until many years later when John got married. He looked good. He was sober and in love. I was happy for him and his life looked promising. However, that was not to be a forever state.
He was with that woman for a few years, had two kids and kind of disappeared from my life. I would hear from time to time about him through other friends, mostly of his drinking and jet set life he was living. I was shocked to see how the handsome guy at John’s wedding faded in front of my eyes on Instagram year after year. Each photo of him looking more swollen and puffy as the alcohol took over.
He called me a few months ago. A very weird blast from the past. My phone jangled one afternoon and his name came up on my caller ID. I answered, of course. We had a good talk. I will skip the details because right now they are too painful to recount. At the end of the call, he told me that he had been in love with me for more than half of his life. It was an honest truth that he shared for no other reason than he felt it and wanted me to know. I told him that I loved him too - what else can one really say when one bares their heart? And I do love him, I always have.
He wanted to come for a visit and catch up. I knew he wouldn’t. I knew that his “lifestyle” clashed with mine and that coming to my sober house for a visit would not be something he could do. We texted a few times and he made more overtures at an actual reconnection, but then he faded back into the life that eventually claimed him.
He died last Saturday night. Riding his motorcycle home on wet streets of Puerto Rico going 100 miles per hour while his girlfriend trailed behind, luckily way, way behind.
When John called me, I was shocked only that I knew already what he was about to say. I knew Ward was gone. I felt it.
Those we have loved deeply etch a permanence upon on our souls. Their presence near or far, matters not at all. The connection, the love, spans decades of life but never wanes. The love remains, regardless of life circumstances.
I am left with a mix of emotions: sadness and grief but also I remember his laugh and his easy, carefreeness that in the end took him too soon. He was never conventional. He was never a fit in the mold kind of guy. He pushed the limits and in the end, the limits took him.
The world got a little darker with him gone. I am grateful that he is now at peace no longer chased by the demon drink. I am grateful that he called me that day and that I picked up. I am grateful to have known him, loved him and been given the chance to have him as a friend for all the years I did.
To know Ward was to love him. I will never forget spending two weeks, drawing on his eyebrow after a drunken prank. I will never forget him helping move me into my first apartment and the accompanying drive from DC to FLA. I will never forget his stalwart shoulder that I cried on way too many times to count over men that were really not tear worthy at all. I will never forget his pose in the photo I post here. It was a signature Ward move. Shrugging his shoulders to convention, to judgment, to those who would not understand. A quiet admission that he could not live between the lines and instead had to push it, always. He was not an in your face kind of guy, he was quiet and pensive and felt things deeply. He was a brilliant mind, a kind heart and a passionate liver. I will miss him and his love for all things water. I will miss his drive and determination to prove that life is in fact a party...even if it ended up being a party of one.
I think he might have sensed his own demise. I think that might have been what the call was about. A final touching in to let me know that he loved me still. A final check in before he checked out. I am not saying that he wanted this to be his ending, but just that perhaps he might have sensed that his life of drink was coming to an end. I will never know, but I am grateful that I got to hear his laugh and voice one last time. That I can always remember him in this pose...an awkward apology that really wasn’t an apology at all. Instead it was a shrugging off of whatever he thought you thought and a reclamation of himself...
Fare thee well handsome friend. I loved you true and you will always hold a place in my heart.