It would be fucking fantastic if my friends would stop dying around me. I have now had to deal with losing a friend twice within a year and almost a year to the day apart. Last year, it was Claire and her beautiful smile. This year, one of my oldest and closest friends, Oliver, took his own life for who the fuck knows why.
Whenever a phone call begins with, “Hey, are you sitting down?” you know it’s not going to go well. This is how the phone call I received yesterday morning began. I received a call from one of my other oldest friends and he informed me that our friend Oliver had taken his life the night before in the darkness of our country’s birthday. It was a jolt to my being. I had known Oliver since I was in 7th or 8th grade. He and I had grown up together as much as Sean, Chris, and I had. While I know Oliver had his share of issues, there was nothing in his life - to me - that would’ve led be to believe he’d end it all.
When I first met Oliver, it was through Sean and his cousin Devin. A group of us went to Citywalk up at Universal Studios because that’s what you did then. You went to eat, people watch, and try to get girl’s numbers. Why? Who knows. None of us were going to do anything overly sexual with the girls so looking back it makes no sense. Perhaps we were just honing our craft. Anyway, this was the first time I’d met Oliver and his other friends. This was also another moment where I was the only non-black guy in the group. That meant I had to go do something to prove I belonged. If I remember, I ended up getting this girl’s number while walking through some store with Oliver and one other guy. It impressed them enough that Oliver still remembered it years later and we’d laugh about it. I always think about the Dave Chappelle skit where says if you see a group of black guys and one white guy, the white guy is the most dangerous guy in the group. You have no idea what he had to do in order to be accepted so you watch out for him more than anyone else. It still makes me laugh.
At the end of the day, Oliver and I ended up being great friends. He liked all of the girls I got serious with from 18-30 and really pushed me to pick one and stick with her. I’m stubborn and never listened but that’s OK, things have worked out well for everyone that had been involved. One of my favorite things about Oliver was listening to him tell me that the girls he dated were better looking than those I did. Sorry bud, but, my worst is still better than your best…it wasn’t even a competition. In fact, one of my worst was about average for you, so… I laugh to this day whenever I think of those conversations.
His sense of worth on the football field was another great point of entertainment. To hear him tell it, he was Adrian Peterson, Marshall Faulk, and Walter Payton all rolled into one. In reality, he was probably more Blair Thomas and Ki-Jana Carter. In fact, in the one game we actually played in together in high school, he took his one hand-off from me, cut right, slipped, and fumbled the ball. The d-end wasn’t even near him and Oliver said he slipped in mud. Athlete! This is on video in case you think I’m making it up. We busted his balls like all teenagers do and it was all in fun, but, man, the disparity in his stories and reality could be measured in light years. Really, some of my favorite stories in my life include Oliver so that has to tell you something about the guy. We once took him to Mexico where he had one beer and a shot and promptly fell asleep in the booth.
As the years passed in our twenties, Oliver ended up doing a handful of random jobs, including being a trucker. I have a thing for having friends that are the (jokingly) ‘first black guy to…’ and we were all convinced he was the first black trucker in the US. It actually wasn’t a bad gig for him as it paid well and if he’d have stuck with it, he could’ve set himself up nicely with some money. But, he admitted he spent it all on clothes and shoes and when he quit, he was at square one. From there, he meandered more than I wanted him to. We talked all the time about what he was doing. He somehow convinced himself that having a higher education wasn’t necessary to do what he wanted but he never did tell me what that was. I never pushed him to get back to school after that.
He ended up moving to Texas and had a kid, or maybe vice versa, I don’t remember. Bryce was a great little boy. He brought him over to the apartment a few times and Oliver loved the little guy. Well, “little” is relative, the kid was huge. If he doesn’t end up a d-tackle at a D1 school, I’m going to be shocked. Still, I could tell that Oliver had realized there was a purpose for his life at that moment. He genuinely seemed to want to get things completely in order. Kids do that to you. In Texas, he got incredibly ‘Bible-y’ seemingly out of nowhere. It’s funny, I was editing my book just this week and got to the entry where I’d reprinted a multi-email conversation about god and religion and all of it. Of course, he thinks he won the argument, I think I smoked him (I did) but it was all good and all fun. We argued and may have disagreed about things but it was never anything that would’ve jeopardized the friendship.
Still, as he went deeper into it all, we just grew apart. Whenever we hung out, it was like we’d been hanging out the week before, nothing had changed. But, I hadn’t actually talked to him for a year or so when I’d heard the news yesterday. Last time I had, he seemed to be doing fine and living in Fontana. He and his baby’s mom weren’t together (they hadn’t been) but he was seeing Bryce often and raising him as best he could. Beyond that, I couldn’t tell you what he was doing with himself. Part of it is me just not bothering to call him. I guess I haven’t learned my lesson and do not fully realize that everyone is not going to be there day after day just because they have been so far.
I’m not here to canonize the guy or rewrite his story to make him flawless. He was flawed and had problems just as we all do. In the end, he was a good man who did what he could. He always had our back as friends. He genuinely loved his son. I have no idea what drove him to put a gun in his mouth as fireworks went off all around him in Texas the other night and nobody ever will. It’s a reminder that no matter what someone may tell you in person, whatever asinine pointlessness they post on social sites, you have absolutely no idea what is going on in a person’s head. You never, ever will either. I’m not going to speculate about why he did what he did because I’ll just end up writing some fictional narrative that I end up believing is the truth when it likely isn’t. In the end, Bryce is the one that is going to suffer more than anyone else. He’s not a child growing up without a father and with a mother that wasn’t very prepared to have him in the first place. I can only hope that there is someone there to fill in the void left by Oliver’s absence.
Oliver, you’re a total dick for doing this, but perhaps if I’d reached out more recently, something could’ve turned out differently. Maybe you felt abandoned by your friends. Maybe the pressure of life was just too much. I don’t know. I do know that I’ll miss you, that I’ll remember you fondly for as long as my memory doesn’t fail me because you were a good dude and you always had my back, as well as Sean and Chris’. I’m not going to be too sad about this all. I choose to celebrate people when they’re gone and that’s not going to change now. I hope that whatever was bothering you is doing so no longer and that you’re no longer in any pain. And, hey, you can haunt me now and tell me which one of us were right about the whole god thing!