Monday, May 16, 2011

Of Friends, Deer Heads, Vans and Death

To my shame I can't remember exactly how many years it has been since I knocked on the door of my best friend's ex wife to tell his 8 year old son that his Father was dead.

It wasn't that Josh hadn't seen his Dad nearly dead a dozen times.  He had stepped over his urine soaked, trembling body on the living room floor of his apartment many times.  He had called 911 or me enough times to have him taken to the indigent's detox center.  But this time Josh wasn't with him when he passed out.

Joe worked for me that Friday.  He had been clean for a few weeks again. He was supposed to get a pass and stay at my house with his son for a visit.  I asked him when I should pick him and Josh up.  He said, "I have plans tonight..."

He and a group of his friends had scored some dope and that night they went AWOL from the rehab, bought their alchohols of choice, and rented a motel room.  When Joe passed out no one paid attention.  When someone finally shook him, he was dead.  They left his body in the room and snuck back into the rehab. In the morning one of them anonymously called the police.  They found my phone number on a card in his wallet.

I was on the job Saturday morning working alone.  Joe didn't show up for work. I knew he was probably drunk again.  I got a phone call about ten o'clock.  "This is Sergeant --- from the Phoenix police department.  Do you know a Joe ---?"

It was a short conversation.  I was able to positively ID his body on the phone by his tattoos and scars.  I packed up my tools and drove to his ex's apartment.  His ex answered the door.  I didn't say anything but I guess the look on my face said it all.  She said, "Joe?...."

Josh cried.  His ex said, "That son of a bitch".  Then she cried too.  I couldn't.  I still haven't.  I think by the time it happened I was too ready for it. 

I met Joe on a job.  Our introduction was a practical joke by the general contractor.  I tell the story of his hatred for Jesus and Christians and his conversion HERE .

Over the next few years he did everything he could to destroy himself and I did everything I could to keep him from it. No amount of dysfunctional or functional love could restrain him.  I cannot presume to know what it is like to wrestle with his demons, and they were legion.  I think the best lesson he ever taught me was by his death:  that is, that I am not Jesus Christ.  He died imprisoned, bound and casting himself into the fire, and in the end all I could do was watch because I had run out of ways to love him and prayers.

I presided over his funeral at the rehab center. For years I was angry at the parade of guys who abandoned him in the motel room, who came to the microphone and wept.  They were supposed to eulogize Joe, but it really wasn't about Joe, it was about themselves "See how much I loved him..."  But now I realize they probably loved him like I did, helplessly and cluelessly and eventually angrily because he would not validate our love for him by staying alive and being our friend, Joe.  At the intersection of whatever within me was "real love" and Joe's free will, or his will bound up by the sins perpetrated on him and his own sins trying to loose himself, lies his death that still hurts in places I do not understand.  And perhaps it is best that it remains a mystery and a conviction of my own finiteness and lack of faith and understanding.  For that gift I am still grateful.

Somehow Josh found me on the internet a few months ago and I got an email from him.  He has moved out of state and is doing well.  He asked if I had any pictures of his Dad.  I had two.

This one is a Polaroid of us in front of my 1952 bread truck/work van probably taken around 1990.  My ex didn't like my deer head over our fireplace so I mounted it on the front of my truck.  One Christmas Joe and I decorated it with a wreath, Christmas balls and a red light glued on the nose that lit up when the key was turned on.  The decorations never got taken off.

We were working at an office building one day and one of the office workers complained that she was staring at the deer head out her window and was offended.  The building manager came and told me I was technically in their office parking spaces so I had to move my van.  When I went out to move it, there was a vacant general parking space immediately behind my van and I backed it up 15 feet into it.  The building manager laughed and said, "You're legal."  Yeah, I can be  passive aggressive.

Eventually some kids stole the deer head in the middle of the night and the van broke down irreparably, probably out of grief.
This is another Polaroid that we took with the Easter Bunny when we were working at a Mall one year.  Joe put on his "Easter Joy" face for the picture.

I guess there was no real point to this post except that I had part of the day off and I found the pictures and scanned them and emailed them to his son today.  If any of you who read the blog pray for the departed, please remember Joe for me.  I don't remember him often enough after all these years.  But our friendship is such that he would tell me that he expected that of me and doesn't mind because he would do the same for me if the tables were turned.


Matushka Anna said...

I'm so sorry.

Sometimes all you can do is just not enough. But it still hurts.

Anonymous said...

I will add Joe to my daily prayers. Thank you very much for sharing this.

elizabeth said...

Lord have mercy; thank God we can ask for mercy. What terrible things he went through. Will light a candle tonight for him. Read the podcast transcript; yes, Jesus came for the likes of us, of Joe. Lord forgive us.

Elizabeth @ The Garden Window said...

I'll add Joe to my list for prayers.
Kyrie eleison.

Praying for his family and for you too, s-p

CoderForChrist said...

"I'm not Jesus" seems to be a particularly difficult lesson to learn; it seems like we can never learn it enough for it to finally stick.

Perhaps the temptation is so strong because it appears to come out of love. I love you, so I want to fix you and make you better/happy/whatever it is I think you need.

Yet, at the same time, it seems even God can't fix those who don't want to be fixed. Yes, He can heal the deepest wounds, but he won't force us to be healed. He gives us the freedom to reject healing, because He loves us. Our love would trounce on the freedom of another to "fix" him, yet God's love respects his freedom.

This post also reminds me of Marmeladov's vision of the Last Judgement in Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment (for those who haven't read the book, Marmeladov is an alcoholic who ruins his family (Katarina is his wife) and is finally killed because of drink):

…”And He will judge and will forgive all, the good and the evil, the wise and the meek…And when He has done with all of them, then He will summon us, ‘You too come forth,’ He will say, ‘Come forth, ye drunkards, come forth, ye weak ones, come forth, ye children of shame!’ And we shall all come forth without shame and shall stand before Him. And He will say unto us, ‘Ye are swine, made in the image of the Beast and with his mark; but come ye also!’ And the wise ones and those of understanding will say, ‘O Lord, why dost Thou receive these men?’ And He will say,’This is why I receive them, O ye wise, this is why I receive them, O ye of understanding, that not one of them believed himself to be worthy of this.’ And He will hold out His hands to us and we shall fall down before Him…and we shall weep…and we shall understand all things! Then we shall understand all!…and all will understand, Katerina Ivanovna even…she will understand…Lord, Thy kingdom come!” And he sank down on the bench exhausted and helpless, looking at no one, apparently oblivious of his surroundings and plunged in deep thought. His words had created a certain impression; there was a moment of silence; but soon laughter and oaths were heard again. [quote taken from Glory to God for All Things because I don't have the book on me]

Anonymous said...

I miss Joe too. He was so lovable but couldn't believe it. -Wife

DebD said...

May Joe's memory be eternal!

Anonymous said...

thank you for sharing the story of joe. in todays ever increasing faux was nice to read something genuine and real. i am sorry for you loss and will pray for joe

XOXO Dr. Kay Elizabeth said...

Such a sad and tragic story.

Lvka said...