It’s been one year since we lost you, Randy. I was crying too hard to speak at your memorial service, so I will use this space instead to say hello and goodbye.
Randy, you were steadily becoming a best friend to me. After the birth of my third son, when I was pretty far removed from social life, you began inviting me to your home for Sunday morning coffee. It takes a lot to get me out of the house, but you were persistent. It became a regular thing. For roughly two years, you provided me with a listening ear, a welcoming smile, and a hot mug.
But our friendship didn’t start there. I had been your daughter’s teacher and you were a regular presence after school in the pick up line on the sidewalk. I would walk out, sometimes grumpy from a tough ending to the day, and you would never fail to meet me with a big grin, handshake, and some light hearted small talk to break me out of my funk.
I don’t know if you never noticed those days I just wanted to stew in my own dark moods, or if you had some wisdom that allowed you to ignore it, knowing that my shell would break with your intervention. Some long days, I just wanted to be left alone and now I look back and laugh at how impervious you were to my moodiness. Along with being a present dad, you took the time and effort to volunteer in my room. Randy, you gave and gave and never asked for anything beyond friendship in return.
The night you passed, I was in the emergency room for a minor operation following our school’s Fall Fest. You had just posted earlier in the day how you’d made it through a heart attack with the help of your son. I received the news in a text from a mutual friend, and went into shock. I barely registered the needle the nurse had to repeatedly use on me under my fingernail (apparently one of the more sensitive places in normal circumstances.) Shortly after that I began weeping on the hospital bed. Several staff members who came in and out seemed a little surprised and thought I must have been in pain- the confusion lending an oddly humorous tint to the awful situation. I think you would have chuckled. I hadn’t wept in five years til that night. It was the first of several times over the course of the ten days that led up to your memorial.
The day after you passed, I went in to our local independent music store and picked up a couple Iron Maiden and Judas Priest CDs. Music was one of the things we loved talking about, along with how much we loved our kids, the school where I teach, football, and how decency should return to politics. We had tentative plans to see Judas Priest when they toured Green Bay in 2018, but both caved to the fact that it was on a workweek night. (To be honest with you, I would’ve taken the day off had it been Maiden.) Those CDs remain right there in my car disc changer. Every time they come on, I think of you.
The day after that, I was scheduled to get a tattoo in honor of my third son. I was in the chair when a Maiden song came on the Pandora station the shop was playing. And then a Priest song. And then at least three or four more Maiden and Priest tracks while I was in the chair over the course of the next hour. I don’t know if you were playing DJ, but I certainly felt your presence.
Randy, you loved your kids more than anything in the world. You were so proud of them- a daughter in the service, a son who was becoming quite an athlete, and a younger daugher who was just a joy for me to have in class. You also talked a great deal about a nephew who was rising to fame on YouTube for his diving adventures. He was about to get up to 5 million subscribers. I just checked and he’s over 11 million now! I know you’d be bursting with pride.
In the months after you passed, I spoked out loud to you several times, on the suggestion of my counselor. I’ve been trying and failing to draw some of that generosity and welcoming attitude you always exuded. I’m going to keep working at that. The way you made me feel- like a welcomed, treasured friend- is something I am going to do my best to pass forward.
Randy, you’ve missed an insane year. 2020 is like nothing we’ve seen before, at least in our lifetimes- the pandemic, huge racial justice protests, and of course the presidential race. Oh- before the pandemic hit, I received a regional award for teaching. You always spoke so highly of me, and I am sure you would have felt some pride. I sure would have loved to hear your perspective on things this year.
Our friendship was unlikely. I’m a Midwestern, bleeding heart, Packer-backing, public school teacher. You were a Cowboys (boo!) and Yankess (boooo!!!) fan from upstate New York, born fifteen Julys ahead of me. You loved NASCAR and had a background in the military and corrections. But, I was really taken with your perspective. I was curious to hear your remarks about your wife’s ghost hunting and the presence you still felt of the dog you’d recently lost. I took heart at the way you talked about how important it was to treat inmates with respect. I took heart at the way you and I agreed that certain politicians were so indecent that they did not belong on the national stage. Even as a non-NASCAR fan I was impressed by your stories and slightly shocked to actually know someone who was present at Dale Earnhardt’s final race.
Randy, I won’t see you again in this world, but I am grateful for the all-too-short time we had as friends, and for those Sunday coffee visits. Thank you for pulling me out of my shell when I needed it most. Thank you for believing in me as a teacher and a father. Your faith lifted me and continues to raise me up. I’ll miss you, friend. To borrow your phrase, I love you like a brother.