I Had Such a Friend: A Letter for Jesse

In May, a dear friend of ours passed away. Our Monday and Thursday posts will be dedicated to him. I’ve chosen to write my dear friend a letter.

“Think where man’s glory begins and ends/ And say my glory was I had such friends.”–from William Butler Yeats, “The Municipal Gallery Revisited”

Buckroe Beach at Sunset. Photo by Michael Anderson, © 2013

Buckroe Beach (VA) at Sunset, site of Jesse’s memorial. Photo by Michael Anderson, © 2013

Dear Jesse,

You were my colleague, friend, and brother. I love you, and I miss you.

It’s hard to believe that it was only eight years ago when we met. I feel like I’ve known you my whole life. I met you and the Da Hype 1 at the the same time, and I liked you both right away. It is not often that I’ve met people with whom I immediately feel at home, but that’s how it was with us. We were like a nerdy “Treacherous Three”–making fun of others and ourselves, watching bad movies just to laugh, and discussing good books. We shared family stories, both hurtful and happy. We talked on the phone for long periods of time like teenagers and found that we were quite similar in some ways.

You were a brilliant, quirky, curmudgeonly, “crunchy,” generous, absolutely hilarious, witty, wonderful six-foot-three teddy bear. You had a prickly exterior, perhaps because you didn’t want people to get too close. But your bark was worse than your bite, and people loved you anyway. You showed such concern and tenderness when I was in an accident on campus. I called you, and you came to the scene. And when my mother was in the hospital, you drove over two hours to come and visit her, even though you hated hospitals.

One of the last texts we shared was about acceptance. I told you that my mother still talks about meeting you. She thought you were “good people,” but she was fascinated by one of your quirky habits–eating corn-on-the cob with a fork. I had shared many meals with you, especially at our favorite barbeque spot, and had never thought twice about it. I guess it didn’t seem odd to me. And you responded, “That’s b/c y’all took a brother as he is.” Perhaps only someone with such eccentricities could understand me with all of mine.

Although you had been ill for some time, I was shocked at your death. I suppose I knew it was a possibility, but for once I did not engage those pessimistic thoughts. So, I hoped and I prayed. You never liked to talk about your illness, and I respected that. You wanted conversations with your friends to be the way they had always been–fun and funny. Case and point: You sent out a picture of yourself being put into an ambulance and quipped about the vampire-like EMTs.

Jesse & Da Hype 1. Standing in front of W. E. B. Du Bois statue at Fisk University

Jesse & Da Realist 1, in front of W. E. B. Du Bois statue at Fisk University

I hoped that I would get to see you again and shake your hand. It was our ritual. Both of us were uncomfortable with public displays of affection, so rather than hug each other, we gave a hearty handshake when we said goodbye, until next time. . . It all seems so silly now. If I had the chance I’d give you a big bear hug, whether you liked it or not. I’d tell you how much I value your friendship and that I am grateful to have known you.

Even now, as I think about you, tears are streaming down my face. I know that you were tired of being in the hospital, tired of being ill, tired of being in pain. Now you are free from all of that. Rest in peace, Jesse.

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4 thoughts on “I Had Such a Friend: A Letter for Jesse

  1. This is a beautiful letter! I can’t imagine a better way to describe Jesse, through the eyes of a very dear friend.

  2. Well done, my friend. As the one more-likely-to-hug between the three of us, I love looking at that picture of you and Jesse shaking hands. It really represents what I love about our relationship with him, how we could so easily be ourselves without judgment (or even slight pause). I miss him so much. It was just the other day that I thought about calling him. I bet he is somewhere saying, “Christie Lee, I feel you, but I can’t reach you.”

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