I suppose that, in and of itself, doesn’t make me much different than a large portion of people on this planet. And, at 35, it’s certainly not the first time I have dealt with death. But this feels different. Maybe the shock hasn’t worn off yet. Maybe it never will.
Otis, for several years of my life, was like a brother to me. We hung out at family barbecues, we cracked jokes and wasted away days, we chased girls at the mall and drank St. Ides Special Brew at graduation parties. We knew each other in middle school, became friends in high school, and then were half of a strong crew of friends through our college years. No two members of that foursome went to the same school after high school, mind you. But we didn’t even consider the thought of not kicking it with each other when two or more of us were home for a weekend or a holiday.
We worked on music together. E and Chris were masterful emcees with brilliant flows. I was the apprentice of sorts; skillful with a pen and a pad, but still raw when it came to making it all sound right on a mic. O, though, was probably the most naturally gifted of all of us. The brother’s pipes were legit, and he could stop a room with one note. He even sang at our high school graduation, something I had somehow forgotten until talking to my mother on the phone today.
Life happens, of course. You can try to fight it, but time eventually pulls each of you in a different direction. Guys get jobs, guys get girlfriends and wives, guys move. In the last ten years or so I hadn’t seen Otis—not in person. I hadn’t talked to him frequently, though the odd Facebook conversation, often centering around one or both of our birthdays (mine fell just two weeks after his on the calendar) was known to happen. Maybe we weren’t still brothers, but the mutual love never wavered. Maybe we were still brothers.
I was there when O brought home his first car, a used ‘97 Mitsubishi Gallant in pristine condition. He was there when Shanti ended my first summer romance. And he was there when subsequent summer romances with Jen and Julie came and went. I wasn’t there when he finally came out to someone in our crew, though. It was something that ate at me. I knew it was up to him to do it when he was ready, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say it hurt just a twinge that I wasn’t one of the first people he confided in about it. But no matter what, that love between us was never in jeopardy. We were brothers.
Otis never really liked it in Pittsburgh. None of us professed to, though the rest of us are still here. But O got out, having moved to Florida not long after college. Talking to him after that felt like talking to a new man.
He grew up in a deeply Christian family and background, and I can only guess that it contributed to him feeling at odds with who he truly was. We tend not to think of our world as a very tolerant one today for gay men and women because more than half the states in America won’t let them marry. But when you compare that to what things were like just 15 years ago, when a young man had to pretend he was something he wasn’t simply out of fear that his closest friends and family would disown him, it gives you hope. Florida seemed to give O hope. He was free from the burden he’d lived with for most of his life in Pennsylvania, and was ready to embrace his new life in the Sunshine State.
For reasons I’ll never understand, that new life ended at 35.
People, especially those speaking in Christian rhetoric, talk about loving everyone. Loving your neighbor and your common man, even loving your enemies. Otis had one of those rare souls that was truly full of love. Love for everything and everyone. I’m not a religious man, and have often found it naïve at best when hearing those who practice the Christian faith speak of this blind love for all that surrounds you. But Otis was the light that stopped me from totally shutting the door on that philosophy.
Even if he didn’t like you, he didn’t truly hate you. And if he did like you, he showed you no mercy when jokes started flying. He cut up with the best of us, and wouldn’t hesitate to clown you when an opportunity presented itself. But somehow he was always laughing with you and not at you, his eyes shut tight and two big rows of teeth flashing as he convulsed with laughter. There was always laughter.
I had a
The laughter, though? That will always live on. Rest in peace, homie. Be there with pound and a hug when I join you.