Lately, seems like everybody I know is dead.
A month or so back, I got a Facebook friend request from the ex-girlfriend of my best friend in high school. I hadn’t seen or heard from her in twenty years, and hadn’t heard from Rickey in almost as long.
Rickey and I were asshole buddies from my sophomore year in high school on, even though we went to different high schools 100 miles apart. We chased girls and drank beer and did all the things teenage boys do, and when we graduated high school, we found an apartment in LaPlace, Louisiana, within easy staggering distance of the local watering holes.
We worked our jobs during the day, partied like mad every night, and sowed every single wild oat that *I* had. In 1986, I was bringing home close to $600 a week, and still I moved back to Monroe close to two years later, broke and with $8,000 of credit card debt.
Rickey, on the other hand, still had plenty of wild oats left to sow. We lost touch with each other, and the last I heard, he had moved to Florida some time in 1989.
Over the years, I tried several times to track him down, but it seemed that he had dropped off the face of the Earth. Last year, I found a few self-published books of his on Lulu. I bought and read them, and gleaned that he’d had some substance abuse problems after we lost touch, and spent a few years in the Louisiana prison system.
Seems he was driving drunk, and killed a pregnant woman. Spent eight years in some very nasty places, doing time for two counts of vehicular homicide. He lost his wife, his three kids, basically everything.
After he got out, he tried to put his life back together, tried to atone for what he’d done, tried to reconcile with his children and become the father he’d wanted to be before he succumbed to drug addiction.
From reading his books, he didn’t have much success at that.
But from reading his poetry and prose, amidst all the pain and remorse, I could still see more than a glimmer of the man he once was. He was vibrant, and talented, and a great friend. Prison had knocked him down, but it hadn’t broken him. He was clawing his way back.
I dropped him an e-mail at the contact address on his Lulu page, but never heard from him. Then, several months later, his ex-girlfriend messaged me, and with a little searching, we discovered his obituary. He died in 2008, apparently by his own hand.
We also discovered his son.
He looks a lot like Rickey did. And he’ll never know the man his Dad was before addiction changed him into something else. Neither will his sisters.
Then, today, I just learned that another friend and former co-worker died a few hours ago. He was my age, perhaps a bit younger. We’d always worried about his weight; he was far larger than I, and hypertension ran in his family. I took care of his father when he had his stroke. But the size of his body was more than matched by the size of his heart. A kinder and more giving man, I have never known.
Yesterday, Thomas had a heart attack at the wheel of his car. He left behind a wife and his first child, barely a month old. She will never know what a wonderful man her father was, save for tales from her mother and his friends.
Requiescat in pacem, Rickey Haltom and Thomas Kaheiki III. You will not be forgotten.