15 December 2016

In Pace...

by Brian Thornton

How's this for an interesting literary character:

Half-Japanese, Half-American, born on Pearl Harbor Day. The result of a one-night stand between a married Japanese diplomat and an American naval officer. Adopted by American citizens teaching in Japan, moves to Washington state when he was three.

Blind in his left eye from the age of one, as a result of cancer discovered and removed from his optic nerve at that time. As a result, like David Bowie, has "two-tone" eyes: one brown, the other light green. Always self-conscious about it.

Full height in adulthood: 5 feet, 1 inches. Weight: 125 lbs. Resulting "Little Man, Big Gun" complex is a direct contributing factor to his eventual death. Being short, he is determined not to be "small" and is a gym rat for his entire young adult and adult life. Held several of his high-school's weight-lifting records for his weight class for decades after graduation. Bears a striking resemblance to the rockstar Prince, if Prince were three inches shorter and more muscular.

Gets saddled with the nickname "Flippy" because of his penchant for doing backflips at the drop of a hat (usually at parties, usually with girls present.).

Gives himself the nick-name "The Magician" in late elementary school. Incredibly imaginative: starts writing first fantasy novel in 6th grade, shortly after finishing "The Hobbit." Not surprisingly, this first novel closely resembles "The Hobbit." Goes on to be the most obsessive "Star Trek" fan in his immediate circle of friends. While these personality traits bode well for his prowess at all-night sessions playing "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons," they do little to help him with the opposite sex.

The irony? This is a shorter, more muscular Prince. Women LOVE him. He never really gets over being shy around them, unless they're dating his friends.

Kicked out of junior high school during his eighth grade year for telling his principal to "take a flying f*ck at the moon." The context: he had shown up at school drunk on beer consumed on the way to school, smoked pot with a couple of friends before first period, then went about his educational day, obviously both hammered and stoned. Gets grounded for a year by his parents (and they make it stick). Moves schools and never gets in trouble (at school) again.

In high school plays both sax and tuba in the band. Imagine a five foot tall tuba player in your marching band. Picture that. Also sings BASS in the choir (picture that!) and appears in several theatrical productions.

Favorite album: Pink Floyd's "The Wall," because "It's so nice and depressing."

Graduates high school at 19 (that lost eighth grade year, you know).

In college does all of the following:

Changes his major six times.

At a party held at a friend's lake cabin drinks so much that he demonstrates alcohol-induced psychosis, ranting about his remorse at killing a non-existent childhood friend "Raymond". When pressed as to why he'd done it, claims it was because his father, Satan, told him to do it. All this much to the amusement of friends in attendance at said party.

Hosts a party at his parents' place while they're out of town. Drinks so much that he passes out. Wakes up the next morning rolled up in a carpet (those friends, again), with a note taped to one of the beer bottles he'd emptied the night before, sitting right in front of his face, so the first thing he sees when he wakes up is the sentence: "Let this be a lesson to you: never pass out at your own party."

Bonds immediately and permanently with every child, dog or cat he ever meets.

Works at the public library stocking shelves for years while trying to figure what to major in. Eventually gives high education up for trade school, finds a job as a machinist, moves to the Portland, Oregon area to take it.

Almost immediately regrets his decision. Quits his job within the year. In a move laden with irony, takes a job as a custodian at a middle school. LOVES it. Sets in motion the process by which he changes his residency so he can go back to school, this time majoring in education.

This from the guy, a son of two teachers, who swears up and down that he will never, ever become a teacher.

Doesn't get the chance.

In June of his thirty-eighth year, goes target shooting with a friend. Afterward, while they're cleaning their guns, the friend warns him to watch where he's pointing his pistol. He laughs, tells his friend not to worry, puts the gun to his temple, says, "See? Not loaded."

Then, he pulls the trigger.

The bullet tears through his brain.

He dies later that day.

Okay, I have a confession to make. This isn't some made-up character. This was my friend Jeff.  This post was originally intended for publication on December 8th, the day after his birthday.

He died sixteen years ago. There isn't a day goes by that I don't think of him and attempt to honor his friendship and his memory. To this day, I still miss him, and regret that my wife and my son will never get to experience his sunny bonhomie, his loyalty, his endearing wit, and his occasional bouts of charming awkwardness.

One of the ways in which we bonded as teenagers (aside from Dungeons & Dragons- yep, I didn't date much in high school, either!) was over our mutual love of literature; especially Shakespeare. So let me end with the same quote from Hamlet that I delivered at his funeral:

"He was a man. Take him for all in all. I shall not look upon his like again."

In pace requiescat, old friend.


  1. A terrific, touching piece. You have done your friend proud

  2. Wow. What a great tribute.
    Losing a friend puts a hole in your life that never quite heals up.

  3. This is a very moving tribute, Brian. If you've thought about basing a fictional character on your friend, I think it might be a way of honoring his memory and of giving him a new sort of life.

  4. Beautiful tribute & I am sorry for your loss.

  5. I was expecting something– maybe a real person– but I did not see that coming. Damn, lots of pepper stinging the eyes.


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