August 11, 2011 3:54 PM
Jay and I met my freshmen year of college, and I told him his name “shoulda been Carlos.”
“You look like a Carlos, man. It’s uncanny. Your parents fucked up.”
Any other dude would have written me off as the asshole I was, but Jay, having a sense of humor and also probably just as eager to meet new friends his freshmen year, played along.
“Carlos, huh?” He said.
“Yeah,” I said, “Carlos.”
“Yeah, Carlos looks good on me.”
From that moment on, we were pals. We went on to run up and down the Chicago dorm building’s 18 floors, visiting every one from the sixth up, knocking on doors and giggling away like little boys. When caught by one of the few residents quick enough to swing their door open after we’d knocked, I tried to play it off, calling out in a serious voice, “Hey, we’re chasin’ down the guy who knocked your door and ran off! Stay here where it’s safe!”
“Yeah,” Jay stepped in, “that guy stole my Will Smith CD!”
So, Jay’s life became a legend before he even died. Afterwards, on the night we found out, my roommates and I sat in our apartment as a host of friends trafficked in and out to speak with the counselors provided us by our school, as well as to share memories. One girl remarked at some point, without any mocking in her voice, but instead confusion, that, “It doesn’t make sense that Jay’s dead. He always been like just a cartoon character.”
“But think about it,” my roommate said wisely, “Jay Polhill has entered into the great beyond. That ‘cartoon character’ is only one of us who knows what comes after.”
I think I probably shook my head in awe. Jay Polhill, the man who oftentimes referred to himself and his body as “the Diesel Beast” was gone. It didn’t make any sense. Never again would I hear the door to our apartment dorm kicked open and the inevitable “OHH!!” that he’d yell to announce his arrival. All of the comical wisdom and absurd catch phrases he’d given us would now be reserved to memory. Among these stand immortal teachings that you may someday pass on to your grandchildren, forgetting where it was you first heard them:
“No fatties are allowed in the Palace of Wisdom.” Jay often said, lowering a pair of down turned wrists along his body in a ‘behold gesture.’
Or, when speaking on his preference for redheaded girls:
“Only redheads. And no faux reds allowed. I only deal in natural reds with real pasty white skin.”
And of course, the most practical advice yet, something that would go on to be tattooed across the feet and wrists of my grieving friends, the simple phrase, “Don’t worry about it.” It was a joke we used to say to anyone who asked a question that we couldn’t answer. Or maybe didn’t want to.
“How old is that milk you’re drinking?”
“Don’t worry about it.”
This was the standard formula for our interactions with, well, anyone. But Jay took the phrase and made it famous. The way history takes the reigns of originally anonymous aphorisms and tacks one well-deserved master speaker of the phrase beneath it. The words “don’t worry about it” will always belong to Jay Polhill within our group of friends. Jay never allowed the comic origins of the phrase slip away, but he began to use the thing I once thought a joke as actual advice. And well, it came out of his mouth sounding not only funny, but wise, intelligent, and the only natural course in which to pursue. The phrase, “Don’t worry about it,” is, after all, a calming and thoughtful piece of advice. And a hard one to follow, too.
After Jay died, my friends and I went through a lot together. We spent the first night completely awake, trading stories, drifting into private lulls and drinking cup after cup of coffee. When the sunrise started up, we all threw jackets on and walked to the Chicago landmark in Millennium Park known commonly as the Bean. It had been a tradition with Jay and a few others and I to take drunken treks from our dorm room in the South Loop to that gigantic, metallic legume as the sun put an end to whatever unusual night we’d spent together. Usually, it was in the winter and the sunrises were lousy. This time, however, was like Jay was making up for every rainy, dreary sunrise we’d seen together. It even had enough colors for me to ask a painter friend of ours, “What do you call a shade like that? The shade of yellow in the center, and that tangerine, burning orange shade?”
“I just mix colors together. I don’t call them anything,” she said.
In other words, just look at it. Just take it in. This is the most beautiful gift our friend could have ever given us this morning.
Afterwards we walked back and ate a disgustingly greasy fast food breakfast just as we would had Jay been there. Then, I went to sleep, the strangest sleep of my life, and dreamt that my little sister had passed away.
Perfect, not quite coincidental sunrises and horrifying dreams define the rest of that spring for me. The aftermath of his passing swung from one extreme to the other. I battled with the memory of arguments Jay and I had. At times I was actually blissful at the fact that misfortune had befallen my boring, pointless life. I met girls, embarked on flings powered by the ecstasies of my own grief. I drank heavily. Cried only in private. The inability of my personality to ever truly connect with his haunted me. It still does. We didn’t always get along, and often found basic, regular conversation and agreement on many certain issues difficult to achieve. Near the time of his death, we were drifting apart. I’m not sure how close we would be right now, had he lived past the day he did. But we were friends, we were roommates, and these things, if they still continue to battle themselves out in my head, are at least laid to rest in his. Not that I believe for a second that someone as strong as him ever bothered to stress over something as simple as friendship.
Now that he is gone, and I am the one that is left, writing and remembering in his place, I can only ask that whomever it was that took him away from us will someday learn exactly who Jay Polhill was. And that he, or anyone with information on what happened on March 2, 2010 or the days preceding, would come forward. The answers to these questions are irretrievably important to his family, friends, everyone who knew him. The surreal qualities of grief for the loss of someone as invincible, as irreplaceable as Jay was in our lives, might only begin to lift, if there are answers to why he died.
I know that there are plenty of unfinished cases out there, each one of them just as important as my friend’s. The fact that Jay’s case has been reopened, on account of his determined family, is the simple proof that answers do exist. I don’t know what Jay would want to happen now that his case has been reopened. But I know he loved his mom and respected his dad more than anyone on this earth, and I know that he would never want to see his family lost without him. Answers are deserved.
If there is anyone here reading this that feels this way, please, search for the answers that exist out there in hiding. Search because the ones lost deserve justice. The strange mystery of our grief should not hang within our hearts forever. Only the memories of weird Alaskan sex moves should. Only the wonderfully strange, hilarious and hard to accept memories should. These memories, what now exist of our passed friends and our roommates, our brothers, our sons or our nephews should be our gifts. To live with unquestioned grief would be a disservice to them. So, please, don’t let the mysteries we all share on this Internet blog to go unquestioned. They may not ever be answered, but at least the question mark will stay alive for them.
Copyright ©August 2011 Ryan Buell and Footprints at the River’s Edge. All rights reserved.