Sometimes, you have moments where life just stops you in your tracks, and I had one today.
Recently, I’ve been worrying and fretting and just being a fearful, nervous wreck about so much – school, the show, dancing, my self-image – that I just lost sight of reality, the here-and-now. This morning, I got out of bed at 11 AM, finding every excuse I could to not do anything but stay in my warm cocoon of blankets.
When I did get up, I went over to my computer, logged on Facebook, to be met with some unfortunate news; the death of my friend and fraternity brother, Brendan Conway.
I normally don’t give out real first and last names of people in my life here on That’s So Jacob, but I feel like I must salute this friend and gentleman. A strong Irishman from Dorchester, Massachusetts who could drink you under the table, he had beaten cancer once, and we all thought he’d beat it again. I knew he was in trouble, however, when he posted on Facebook a few weeks ago that he was back in the hospital, at Beth Israel Medical Center in Boston, and the doctors were saying “we’re trying to make you as comfortable as possible.” That is never a good sign. And then late last night, it happened; his 32 years on this Earth came to an end. I only hope it was truly peaceful, as peaceful as is humanly possible for an individual with debilitating cancer.
My first instinct was to call Dan. Dan, my grandbig, was Brendan’s big when he pledged APO, and I knew that the two of them were close. After a rapid fire texting session while I was on my way to Modern Indian Theatre class, I told him to call anytime to talk, and he said he would later on tonight. When he called I was in dance class, but as soon as class let out I grabbed my sweatshirt and phone, and we talked for over an hour, mostly about Brendan and all the good times we had with him. It’s always sad when something like this is what makes people crawl out of the woodwork and reconnect with one another, but at least we had plenty of happy memories to laugh about, which made the fact that he is no longer with us seem more palatable, and in a way, almost made it seem like he still was with us. Someone who was as boisterous and opinionated and upfront as Brendan never really dies, I suppose; his body and soul are no longer with us, but his spirit certainly is. He told it like it was, but for a big guy, he had a big heart, a servant’s heart, one that was loyal and true and really cared deeply about his friends, more than he cared about himself.
I talked about one aspect of my undergrad APO experience awhile back, one that was not the most positive memory, but talking with Dan made me realize something about Brendan, about friendship, and about people in general. A lot of the people who gave me a hard time also gave Brendan a hard time, and some of the more “Popular Patty” types in the chapter were less than kind to him because was unique and he did things or said things that were very honest and not always the best choices, and they didn’t even attempt to get close to him or even give him the time of day. For those of us who got to know him – we loved the guy. Honestly. Once you got to know him and understand his sense of humor, he was the perfect big brother/frat bro/drinking buddy who was always up for a party and a beer but was very compassionate, reverent, and gentle in private. For those in the chapter who didn’t get to experience those sides of Brendan, they missed out. And I’m talking about a big time missed opportunity, an opportunity to really get to experience a different kind of friendship. A Brendan Conway doesn’t come along every day. I wouldn’t say that I feel sorry for them, because I don’t, that was their choice. But if anyone asks, they just really missed out, and now his true friends and brothers, like me and Dan, get to laugh and revel in the happy and fond memories while they…well, they don’t.
So they’re really the losers here.
I like that.
But back to Brendan. One of the things I liked about him the most (and I took advantage of the most) was his game face. Being 100% Irish Catholic, he never backed down from a dare. It’s like it was coded in his DNA or something; just a complete inability to say no, no matter how ridiculous. Whenever a bunch of us from the chapter would go out to eat, I would find the grossest sounding item on the menu and dare Brendan to order it. And to my surprise, he always, always did. One time, at Panda East in Amherst, I found “sushi nachos” on the menu. I said the magic words, “I dare you,” and he actually followed through. When the waitress brought over a roll of mushy fish slathered with orange cheese, I couldn’t do anything but laugh and feel sorry for making Brendan order this failed fusion that barely qualified as food. He didn’t have to take the dare, but he’s Brendan, so no harm, no foul, all in good fun. He never backed down from any dare or any challenge in life, and I can say with confidence that he went down fighting with all he had.
This song’s for you, Brendan Conway (6/22/1982 – 3/23/2015).
Miss ya like a brotha.