A few weeks ago someone who I thought the world of succumbed to darkness and took his own life. The aftermath of this act has left a wide, dark hole in place of the near saintly existence that once stood in the same place. Naturally, this leaves only the question of “why?” In my case, I knew him for about 4 years. I worked as a freelance writer for him and enjoyed the experience immensely. We had a professional relationship, but given the subject matter we were writing it led to great conversation back and forth making sure we got it right. I don’t know how he felt, especially now, but I respected him about as much as anyone I have ever come in contact with. His opinion mattered to me.
This was not a man anyone could have guessed this was coming. Far from it. He was the polar opposite of any type of suicide watch stereotype one could fathom up. In short, he was the very ideal of a man any parent would be proud to give his daughter away to. Left behind is a beautiful young widow and three precious young children. Any logical explanation will not be forthcoming to why this occurred. The only thing that came before his devotion to his family and work was his seemingly unshakeable faith in his savior, Jesus Christ. Trust me when I say that I am not blowing smoke up your backside…this guy was cream of the crop. Just a few months ago during a Facebook exchange with him, he jokingly asked if he could “borrow my cape?” To me, that was a mind-blowing remark. My faults and shortcomings are pretty much out there for the world to absorb. There will be no sainthood for me. I’m ok with that because I live my life in that way. Thanks be to God that by His Son my sins are washed clean and I humbly accept the gift of salvation provided me. That said, it was he who wore the cape. Superman if there ever were one. Even though joking, he meant it when he said that to me and at the time I took it as one of the many nice things he said to me over the years. I now look back at it in a different light. One of the very few clues left to scour over as to what was lurking in his mind and heart that he kept so well tucked away. In that moment, I immediately thought of a favorite song of mine by the musical artist Bobby Bare Jr. I made a quick YouTube vid for him and posted it on his wall to his great appreciation. This is that song.
During the years we worked together I saved all the emails we exchanged because I never knew when I would need to go back to them for something I may have missed. I never thought in a million years what I was missing was an inner darkness embedded so deep it would wind up in a tragedy such as this. I spent about six hours researching those old emails. It was like having a conversation with him all over again. There were great quips such as this one in reference to an article I was writing about balancing work and family in which he stated, “I have my Blackberry and 5 month old son in a Baby Bjorn carrying him, so I literally am balancing work and family.” Or just his sense of humor when he told me “actually, I cashed your paycheck and am spending the day at the Hard Rock Hotel” There were slightly insightful jokes such as this regarding a quiz I wrote for the website to determine if you are a romantic husband that read…”Accepted! Thanks for making me feel like a bum!”
I am not a guy used to a great deal of praise, but he showered me in it on a regular basis, and I have to admit, I liked that a lot. I am a highly self-critical person so it was nice to get validation from a person I held in such high regard. He would say things to me like “Gary, this is one of my favorites. You have outdone yourself.” “Loved, loved, loved it!!!” “Accepted with a smile on my face. Thank you!” “Man, you are getting better and better. Another outstanding one. Thank you!” “Thanks for being a great content guru.” It goes on and on. Even now it makes me bask in the glow of how nice it felt to read. I do not in any way post these as boastful, but merely to show the type of person he was. My personal favorite was a comment after approving one of the last things I wrote for him just weeks before he died where I had boldly stated that he was not allowed to edit out a reference I made to the Warner Brothers character Marvin the Martian. “Accepted! And yes, I left Marvin the Martian in!” Normally, he did not like me taking liberties like that because it was serious business, and over the years he edited out all kinds of things I would slip in. It meant a lot to me that he allowed me that.
However, inside all of the positive exchanges and laughs we shared, I found an email from 2010 that I remember well, but once again, no warning went off on my radar screen. He had sent me the video to the Johnny Cash cover of the song “Hurt” and the words read “thinking about running this along with your 10 ways to overcome a hurtful past. What do you think?” First of all, it wasn’t very often he asked me what I thought about what the content should be. That was his job and he was the best at it. I wrote what he wanted me to write. Looking back now at that moment and absorbing the lyrics to this song, I personally feel like this is the closest thing to an explanation we are ever going to get as to why he did what he did. His only words left were that he was in a dark place. If this song meant so much to him that he ran it on a site that he was almost exclusively adamant be positive and geared towards the typical male mindset, I have to believe that he related his own soul into this song. He once told me that I needed to “make all my words count, because men tend not to like to read very much.” Well if they don’t like to read very much, then they sure don’t like to come to a website for fatherly or manly advice and have this big matza ball of doom there waiting for them. It meant something deep to him. Judge for yourself.
If you listened to the song, obviously you know where I get the title of this piece from. Yet, in this case, the standout line to me is the very last lyric. “If I could start again, a million miles away, I would keep myself, I would find a way.” I guess none of us knew who Bryan really was, and it hurt him so badly not to be able to reveal that in the life he had built, that it led to this. That is my best theory. Theory only though it be.
I do know with certainty that he was a good soul. Outside of this final act that left stained black his legacy, there is nothing but love and joy left on every person he encountered. A special, special individual.
The last assignment I was ever given by him was one week before his death. He asked me to write in 500 words (men tend not to like to read very much) what I learned from the death of my father. When I told him that my dad was still very much alive and well, but that my mom had died early at 60, he asked me instead to transfer those feelings into a fictional piece about my dad, and that he needed it in “like a week.” I sent it to him the morning of the day I found out what happened exactly one week later. He never got to read it.
While I sat through his memorial service, hearing the glowing testimonies from friends and family, watching the video of his life, I watched his wife and children. His wife was stoic and surely still in shock. She was the picture of bravery in the face of overwhelming agony. Here is a woman one day living the dream so many girls dream they will be living when they grow up, and like a thunderbolt from the depths is suddenly at the funeral of her 37-year-old husband…and not even able to grasp on to a car crash or a sudden heart attack to blame. Nothing to scream at but the ghost of the man she loved so dearly. It must be unbearable. My heart ached for her then and does now, and tears strolled down my cheek then and do now as I type it. I know the pain this has left in me, and I was just a work partner for a few years with him. I simply can’t imagine how she must feel. So, I will share the last part of what I wrote for him in the 500 word piece about the fictional death of my dad that was really about my mom. I laughed when he gave me that assignment, because my mom was a depressed alcoholic that to say the least left a ‘dynamic’ on me that is layers upon layers deep in my soul, and to put those emotions in 500 words was a joke. Did I mention that she and him had the same birthday? August 18th. Fun fact huh? I say that with biting sarcasm towards the sick twists life will give a person. Nonetheless, as I always tried to do for him, I wanted to end the piece on a positive note with take home value. I skimmed over the details and concentrated on the learning part. The take home value from her death is exactly the same as it should be with his.
“None of us every truly die. We leave behind so much still living inside our children and those we shared life with. As a dad that is still able to shape what those things will be, I take that responsibility as my most sacred duty.”
I waited all morning with excitement to hear what Bryan had to say about the piece I wrote. Then, I got a call. These last few weeks have been hard for a person like me who feels very deeply. I’m angry and sad and all the things one would expect in this situation. The other night the emotions came out strongly while sitting on our porch with my wife of 16 years. I cried, I yelled at God, I at one point attempted to throw our outdoor couch into the pool, but afterwards my wife said I filled up with love. I swore to her with tears coming down my face that I would never do this to her. I would never make her hurt like that and I would never make my daughters hurt like that. I mean what I wrote in the last sentence I ever sent to him. I take the responsiblity as my most sacred duty. I thought Bryan and I shared that feeling. God, forgive him for us please. We all loved him and despite the pain that lived inside of him, he gave us all back ten times more love than he got. He was a good man. A good soul. Relieve us of this pain and help us gain back the memories of his big smile and warm heart. Make him whole once again. Make us whole once again. Your faithful servant.
Gary Wayne Abernathy