The irony of life is death. No matter what we do in this existence of ours, all roads lead to the same place. One may think that it should be easier to handle then… knowing this as fact. But the reality is that life is more complex than that. Relationships, family and experience all act as blissful distraction from here to the finish line. This poignant truth is something that I learned a long time ago. I have lived a life of loss. In many ways, I think we all have. After all, we are in this race together, aren’t we…?
Yesterday evening, I received a weighted phone call. The voice on the other end of the line came from a friend. A friend who is more akin to brother. His voice carried a slow timbre. He brought news of the fallen—the reaper had taken one of our own. I sat and listened with mouth agape, jaw slowly falling to the floor. It was beaten by only a tear. A warm, salted stream trundled down my cheek. I learned that a dear friend, a brother and a partner had died by way of suicide. The demons of a medic’s mind had claimed another.
As he continued to speak, his voice became ever harder to hear and understand. My ears began to ring with memory. A haze of the past, playing out in ghostly echoes of remembrance. I heard Chris, my now fallen brother. His distinct intonation, a drawl like a surfer from the movies. I heard him say “we gotta stick together.” The memory pulled at my resolve. Tugged at my soul to the point where I would hang up on my friend and drop to the couch in a seated and deflated posture. Beside me… on the couch… the ghost of a friend—Chris. I could see his features ethereally etch themselves in-front of me. I heard myself say… “I’m sorry I wasn’t there… we gotta stick together… Chris.”
I cried for a few minutes into cupped hands. Sobs of anguish filled the spaces of my apartment before bouncing back at me. But then something happened… something… unexpected—I laughed! A snotty chortle, followed by another. After a few meaningful chuckles, I removed myself from the couch and went outside to stand on my balcony. What had tickled me at this inopportune time was a fleeting thought of Chris and I. I worked with him on the ambulance for a time. We manned the same station in a rural town festooned by thick brush and oversized pick-up trucks. I thought back to a moment shared between he and I…
It would have been sometime in 2008—the fall, I believe. Chris and I were at the station working a boundless nightshift. My introduction to Chris had come a few months back, during the Summer. I had just gotten hired on and was settling into one of the crew quarters when another medic offered to help me with learning the lay of the land. I said sure, nervously and left my stuff on one of the empty cots. After a tour of the place and some obligatory meet and greets, I walked back to the room where I had stowed my stuff. I turned to head back in and get squared away and to my perplexity my stuff was gone. Figuring this to be a new guy “fuck fuck” game, I smiled and left the room in search of my things. I skulked down the hallway, peering into other quarters, hoping to see my belongings… and I did. Tucked away in one of the other rooms was a tall, sandy blonde man, gently placing my bags onto an already made bed. He must have felt me standing there, dripping with obfuscation and rookie trepidation, because he turned his head and looked over his shoulder at me.
“Hey, new guy… Henny, right?”
“uh… yeah… Heneghan, yeah.”
“Yeah… that’s what I said… Henny!”
“Chris… nice to meet ya.”
“Brought your stuff in here, with me… we gotta stick together… us military boys, right?”
“Hell yeah! You served?”
“Nah. Cadets… but my dad was in for a long time. I know what it’s all about.”
That simple, uninvited gesture was enough to bring a modicum of comfort to me. That was Chris; making ya feel like a million bucks without even trying.
Fast forward a few months, and we found ourselves working together. Chris was a gamer and as such had brought his console with him. As he brought the entangled heap of plastic and sloughing wires into the T.V. room he said:
“Henny… you play?”
“Uh… yeah… a bit.”
“Sweet… Imma own you in Call of Duty… bitch!”
My face twisted awkwardly, “probably, yeah.”
“Shut up… pussy… let’s play.”
Chris spent the next few minutes setting up the machine and trash talking me between connections. We would play for a good hour before our first call. A standard transfer from one of the senior living facilities to the hospital, then back to the station for some more pixelated warfare. He was right, he was kicking my ass and loving every minute of it.
“Holy shit, Henny… if you got any worse at this game, I’d almost feel bad for you… almost!” Followed by his throaty chuckle.
Eventually, the tides of virtual war had turned… I was beginning to make a comeback. First, one kill—a sniper shot from across the map. Then, a second… a third and then a fourth. Before either of us knew it, I had caught up. Chris’ bravado had evaporated into predatory concentration. I can’t lie… a slight smirk had birthed itself to the corner of my lips. Time was running out; one more kill and the game would be sealed. Chris rounded the corner of one of the rooms and had neglected to see a claymore that I had placed down in the entryway… BOOM! Instant kill—victory!
“Woooo!” I chirped. “Good game bu…”
In one fluid motion, Chris slammed the controller to the table, causing an eruption of plastic and rubber seals to fly hurriedly about the room. A controller explosion. I froze. There was a brief second of muted air. Chris turned his head and looked at me…
“Fuck… good game, Henny!” The smile had returned, as had his unmistakable laugh. Confused, but trying to keep things light, I grabbed the broken shell of a controller and placed it onto the table and used my fingers to simulate CPR while exclaiming:
“C’mon… c’mon… live, damnit, LIVE!” Chris and I disintegrated into shared hysterics. In the midst of hearty laughter, Chris’ face tightened…
“Oh…! You know what? I got an idea…” He said while leaving the room in a rush.
“What is it?” I called out. Chris returned with a 9-iron gulf club, held in his hand like a knight wields a sword. He gaped downward at the mortally wounded gaming controller and spoke maniacally.
“Wanna lose me the game, eh…? Well… fucker… I’ll show you now!” He picked the controller up and looked back at me. I could tell his demonic demeanour was of a comedic variety. He began walking through the station and out a side door and onto the cement ramp of the station. I was bound by curiosity to follow. He placed the controller down to the paved surface and then stepped back just a hair.
He was now standing in full golfer’s pose.
“Check this out, Henny… somethin’ real special about to happen here…!” Chris wiggled the club near to the controller turned golf ball. One gentle swing back, then another and then… full windup golfers swing. The club sang a windy tune as it rapidly arced downward toward the helpless hunk of plastic and buttons. In one triumphant sound of metal careening through plastic, the controller sailed through the air and pieces broke off, sailing in a multitude of directions, violently cascading through the night sky. We watched as the once functional gaming pad hurtled end over end, upward and beyond. He had connected with such alarming accuracy that the fucking thing flew straighter than most pro-golf shots! It sailed clear over the light pole that stood immovable out-front of the station.
“Holy shit… you see that?! Fuckin’ over the pole!” Chris remarked.
“I saw it, buddy… I saw it.” Now that the controller was irreparably dealt with, I pondered what to say to Chris. I felt somewhat bad for setting him off, even though he appeared to be having fun with this. And I think he was… for me. Looking back on it, I think Chris knew how nervous I was about everything. So, he took it upon himself (and a helpless gaming controller) to help me feel less burdened by my new guy rank. It worked. I was howling in laughter. So was he.
This laughter only increased when he withdrew his phone and called his then girlfriend.
“Hey, baby. How are you? Look… Imma need you to bring me a new controller out here, okay? What happened…? The other one broke. How…? I hit it. With a golf club. Yes, I know, I know… can you just bring me one, please, sexy? Babe? Baby…?” The phone went dead. She was gone…
Chris was a unique guy. Funny. Some people liked him. Some people did not… I loved him.
We once went to a call where there was a dead guy at home, found on his couch. We were called to assess and treat this person. He was beyond what we could do. As we left the residence, Chris tapped me on the shoulder and said:
“Henny… you see that couch in there?” Throwing a thumb back toward the door.
“Yeah… what about it?”
“How long do you think it’ll be before it’s up online?”
“What…?! It’s a nice fucking couch!” More laughter.
There was a charm about Chris that was uniquely his own. He was a good man. A good friend. I am beyond sad to learn of his death. Though we hadn’t spoken in a while, his absence is deeply felt.
I have many more Chris stories… stories I cannot possibly share on this medium. I can however tell you that the world has lost a good one. That somewhere, up among that glittering expanse of our night sky, a medic rests. He’s probably breaking controllers, but he rests.
Chris… brother… I am sorry, man. I’m sorry you hurt so bad. Thank you for showing me how to laugh in a job often stricken by sad. Thank you for always being kind to me. Thank you for your loyalty and comradery. Thank you for being you, and for allowing me the opportunity to know the man we will now sorely miss.
Forever my brother, always in my thoughts,
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