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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

From the Beginning: Remembering Timothy Leal(4/24/79-9/4/11)


"Seems like a dream now, it was so long ago"

    These lyrics, taken from "Saturday Night," track 9 on the Eagles' 1973 American Western concept album "Desperado," are an accurate description of how I feel about my three-year long friendship with Tim. 8 months is quite a long time to most people, and when you've not spoken to someone for that extended period of time, it all becomes very much blurred as the time goes on. I've been meaning to write this for a long time, but I was just a bit hard-pressed for words. Tim was one of my best friends, and I've yet to get over his death. In writing this, I still cannot, for the life of me, believe that he is gone. That said, this is how I remember my friendship with him.

    I met him on the political website "Politics1" in September, 2008. We first conversed about some local festivals in my area, but we never talked much. Considering how new I was to the blogosphere, there were some things I'd yet to learn, lines I'd yet to cross, and, overall, I was a considerable pain in the ass. Experience, I hope, has made me better. I offered my views and predictions, but I did so with a somewhat smug and otherwise unpleasant aire of me. We didn't especially get along at first, and he would come to welcome my banning for my antics. I apologized for my antics after I very nearly was banned, and we got along for the remainder of my time on that site. Eventually, I slipped up, and was banned in January, 2009. Even though I was history, I never forgot him, and he never forgot me, either. We occasionally conversed when I got around the IP ban, but over the next 5 months, we didn't talk much.

    In June, 2009, when I acquired an e-mail address, I fired one off telling him how I was doing and wishing him well. Five days later, he found my newly-formed Facebook account and sent me a friend request and a message congratulating me on the "well done" political site I had put together(Conservative State Project, which I closed 14 months later after I got tired of it). I, of course, accepted the friend request, and we were official friends until his death over two years later. We conversed on occasion, sometimes for hours, about random things which largely pertained to our one area of mutual interest: politics. During these first chats, one of his favourite sayings was that God loved me and that God was pro-life. One can't deny this, regardless of whether or not one has faith.

    On November 15, 2009, after a long day out in Dawsonville, GA, I plopped down on a rocking chair and chatted with Tim through the Facebook Chat mechanism. It wasn't long before he regaled me with a story about something he'd noticed while out on the town. His telling me the story changed the nature of our friendship for good. He stated that, while at a used record store, he saw the LP that featured the album cover that I used as my profile photo on Facebook("Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd"-Lynyrd Skynyrd), and was wondering how interested I was in having it. I was about as shocked as they came. All I had done for him at that point was sit around and listen to him and respond where my voice couldn't have hurt. We discussed it for a short time. After I while, I stated my interest. Had I known his financial situation, I might not at all have been inclined to say yes. At once, I thought of what I might do for him.

    Over a week later, I thought of something I could do for him. I had a Pink Floyd CD("Momentary Lapse of Reason") that I had no use for. Tim had once stated that he liked Pink Floyd, so I floated the idea with him. He was fine with it, and I immediately started scouting out shops that sold the packaging materials needed to mail it. After some looking, I found some bubble-wrap packages at various Dollar Tree's around my area. I soon got to arranging the package and its contents. I also enclosed within it a Christmas card wishing him well and thanking him for befriending me in spite of my earlier antics. It was sent back to me once due to my not putting the right amount of postage on it. I mailed it out a day or so later. He got it about a week later, and was about as elated as they came.

    We spent months planning out when we might meet up for him to exchange what he had gotten me. He had planned to incorporate his meeting me into his plan to drive out to Tuscon, AZ, to beat up a guy who had done him a great deal of wrong and ruined his life. I understood why he wanted to do this, but I didn't fully understand his willingness to risk his life for it. He ended up breaking his trigger-finger prying apart frozen hot dogs, which put an end to the idea of the Tuscon trip, thank God.

    Ultimately, when it got down to planning, I gave him directions to my place. Problem here was that I was operating behind my parents' backs. Needless to say, on my side at least, I completely and totally bungled the whole thing. Now that we had a plan set in stone, the only question was when we'd meet. The major problem was that our schedules never seemed to coincide. He'd message me, wait, fall asleep, and wake up later to read my response. This happened several times over a span of 2 1/2 months.

    In the late morning of April 9, 2010, he messaged me about troubles he was having at work(somebody was trying to steal a map, which was his business' property), and I reassured him that these things happen a lot. He then asked if it was a good time for him to come out and meet me. I said yes. Immediately, the plan started to crystallize. At 3:30 PM, he told me he was on his way out. It would be a quarter of four hours before I met him, but those hours were pretty nerve racking and tense on my end, as I had to break the news to my parents. Somehow, I made it out alive, and at 7:15 in the evening, he arrived. As soon as I saw his car, I quickly donned my hat and leaped out the door. He circled around the cul-de-sac and asked if my address was the right one. The answer was affirmative, so he pulled into the driveway and hopped out of his infamously psychedelic spray-painted car. He greeted me, and I was virtually speechless.

    This was the guy I'd given problems on Politics1, and now we were these great friends. After greeting my parents, he rummaged through his back seat and presented me with the LP, plus "The Man Who Was Thursday" by GK Chesterton(Tim always said that book described how we came to be) and a ball-jar of sweet tea. We conversed for a few minutes, and then he bade us farewell and departed. As far as I knew, I would never speak to him again, as I was still under the assumption he was going to Tuscon. In those five minutes or so, I saw a guy that epitomized everything I liked in a person. Kind, generous, cool, etc. To think I'd never see him again almost brought me to my knees.

    In the years I knew him, I gleaned many facts about him which painted a rather unsavory picture of his life. He's said all this in public venues before, so I'm not saying anything that hasn't already been said before. He was born with Marfan's syndrome(which left him with a distended aorta), was frequently beaten by his father as a child, was sexually assaulted twice(in his twenties), raped(Also in his twenties. Was what he was going to Tuscon for.), suffered a stroke at 28, among other things I'm sure I'm forgetting. He used many forms of drugs to escape the pain he was feeling. He was a picky drinker, preferring only the most kosher beer(he also chided me for calling wine a 'girls drink.'). He was also a chain-smoker(He once told me he was 'in the trenches for big tobacco'). That said, he always advised me not to do what he was doing.

    I had never fully comprehended what a rough life he had led until I was telling someone about it. When I mentioned his being raped, it struck me. I barely made it out before I broke down. "How could somebody do that to him," I wondered to myself. To say the least, I felt really badly for him. I've always maintained that it was not he who failed society, it was society who failed him. I went to Facebook that night and thanked him for being such a good friend. For the first time ever, he punched 'like' on a Facebook comment. Meeting him was such a heartwarming experience.

    Days later, I asked if I could send him a birthday card(his 31st was 10 days away). He acquiesced, and asked me to keep him company, as there was another commenter on Politics1 that made him feel down(same fellow, by the way, who said my parents should be arrested for child abuse for letting me near Tim). In that same message, he linked to Queen's "You're My Best Friend." For once in my life, I felt useful. I felt I was providing a good man with some much needed friendship in his time of need. I sent the card to him days later, and he thanked me from the bottom of his heart.

    People always had the bad tendency of blurting out things around him. He was something of a legend wherever he went, based solely upon the fact that people perceived him as rather odd in appearance. Apparently, these people were into blurting out things about me when he was around. Someone even said something about me being raped(I wasn't), and Tim wondered if "it was time to get the pickup truck out of retirement and plow down whoever raped my lil buddy Jack." I reassured him that he didn't need to do that, as such actions against me have never transpired. He has also related stories of being called 'gay' while at Church. He ascribed to the old definition of gay(bright and merry), and since he said he was rarely ever such, he was forced to conclude that it was the other, more modern definition.

    Later on in the Summertime, some fellow posing as a friend of mine relayed information, through Facebook Direct Messaging, about me that I'd never intended to make public. Something about my name not being Jack(my real-life name) and how I was autistic. Tim, for the most part, disregarded the former. Regarding the latter, he stated his belief that I was misdiagnosed so that I could have medication forced on me. The fellow then pumped himself up in front of Tim by talking about how he'd always dreamed of going into the military. Tim, an anti-war crusader, urged him to reconsider, recommending the job of a firefighter to him. It didn't matter that the fellow was a bully for trying to influence Tim's view of me, Tim was nice to him just as he was to most others.

    Tim was also a good man to confide in. I remember back in May, 2010, I was talking to him about a girl I had taken an interest in, and he gave me many pieces of advice and regaled me with his own personal stories of love and lust. He said that candy was always a good ice-breaker, the most attractive girls often make almost everyone too shy to approach them, and that girls are often aware of a male's feelings. He talked of his shyness toward a girl, stating that, in order to mellow out, he would smoke profusely. It ended in mysterious, to say the very least, circumstances. While I have not yet used the advice I was given, I did appreciate it very much. He was also a very quotable person when giving his advice/views. On life: "For every table scrap WE beg for there is a steak WE never get to see." On the importance of venting: "Never be afraid to express your self in language. People usually are wrong when they try to GUESS what you are feeling." He's said much, much more that's quotable. An interesting person, no doubt.

    I had a pretty bad habit of thinking I saw him in local public venues, when I really hadn't. His appearance almost entirely escaped me, as his visit now seemed like a dream to both of us. On June 27, 2010, I thought I saw him at Lake Winfield Scott in Suches, GA. The fellow in question had brown, curly hair and had donned a brown shirt and light yellow trunks. I asked him about this later, and he said he'd never even heard of the place, adding he'd been to Anderson, SC, that morning, and in Greenville, SC, that afternoon. He also added that he was happy that I was giving him the thought that I was, noting that he believed I was perhaps the only friend he had left. I found that claim to be flabbergasting, but as time moved on, I found it to be simply sad. In January, 2011, I thought I saw him at an Ingles in Cleveland, GA. The fellow was a tall, thin guy with brown, curly hair and decked out in a green coat. I asked Tim, and he denied it was him. I only got his appearance firmly entrenched in my mind when I saw a picture of him posted after his death. The picture had been taken back in 2007, before we'd met. It is, to date, the only picture I've ever seen of him.

    Our routine internet conversions continued for months. In September, 2010, I decided to start sending him postcards, which were to describe what I was up to as of late. I asked his permission to send them, of course. He obliged me the opportunity, and my postcard arrived at his place in early October. I sent him another in November, and one final one in March, 2011. I was preparing to write another postcard in August, 2011, but because of my recuperating from wisdom teeth removal surgery, it completely slipped my mind. It was one of the last chances I ever got to talk to him. Even though I thought they were half-hearted, droning, boring rambles, he appreciated them very much, just as he did everything else I did for him. I told him shortly after the first one arrived that I considered him my best friend ever, and thanked him. He was quick to remind me that my family were also friends. I disagreed, but accepted his point of view.

    Though he always told me he wasn't the smartest person in the world(he actually used the words 'borderline retarded'), I did learn a couple of interesting historical facts from him. Two examples come to my mind. One day, we got onto the subject of Slavery, and he told me something he learned from the movie "Roots." Slaves apparently sold each other out so that they could avoid harsh treatment dealt by their masters. So much for blacks being a band of brothers. Another time, we were talking about Quebec's failed attempt at sovereignty. I said something to the effect of the United Nations being the ones who quashed the attempts. He corrected me, saying that it was voted down in Quebec on the state and federal levels. A lot of knowledge to be had for someone who was, by his own admission, not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

    By Fall, 2010, I was already contemplating what to buy Tim for Christmas. I thought the stock market was heading down the toilet, so I figured it to be prudent to buy the stuff now rather than later. I asked him through Facebook Direct Messaging whether he preferred Boston or Judas Priest, stating that I was already planning on buying up things for Christmas. He said Boston, but told me to surprise him. I did. On October 21, 2010, I bought him a Judas Priest compilation in Dahlonega, GA, and on December 4, 2010, I bought him Boston's debut album in Gainesville, GA.

    I asked him in November if he had much pertaining to the Confederate Flag(he was big into the Southern Pride thing), and he said he did have both a Bedford and an Irish Brigade Confederate Flag, so I abstained from buying him the Confederate Flag sun-catcher which I saw at a glass-blowing shop in Helen, GA. But I wanted to do something nice on that front, so I took out my coloured pencils and sketching paper and drew him one. I drew one for me first so that I could get the general feel of how to draw it. I, as a finishing touch, added chocolate gold coins(he told me that he always got them when he was at Cracker Barrel) to the package of gifts.

    When I told him I was going to mail it out soon, he thanked me and told me how nice I was. It was heartwarming to know I'd done something nice for him. I sent it out in mid-December, and it arrived several days later, but not without difficulty. I had not weighed the package, and, as a result, put too little postage on it. He ended up footing the difference for my slipshod work. Embarrassed though I was, we managed. He simply loved the package and its contents. He later told me that the hand-drawn Confederate Flag was the best part of the whole thing. This was the last Christmas I ever got to send him anything.

    Around this time, he regaled me with his plans for what he was going to do for a female friend of his for Christmas. He said he wanted to buy her a car(a pink one, to be exact). I ribbed him a little for the choice of the colour pink and then added that I didn't know that he had the money for such a transaction. He then told me that he was pretty much a poor man, which made his generosity toward her much more of a surprise. Days later, in response to my cousins playing sick again, I asked If he ever had any siblings that he looked forward to seeing at Christmastime as a child. He said that he enjoyed seeing his brother, Daniel, at that particular time of year, but that seeing his brother was always cool, regardless of the Julian Calendar.

    2010 became 2011, and the year started out very badly on my end. On the evening of January 7, I watched an episode in the middle of the sixth season of "ER" where a female cast member I cared for was murdered, which left a significant, to say the least, impact on me. For the first time in my life, I was dealing with depression. I was fully depressed for over two months, until I stopped watching the show after Dr. Romano was killed. I remember the day after I saw the episode where Medical Student Lucy Knight was killed, I was conversing with Tim through Facebook mobile, and for the first time, I was genuinely happy. Throughout that time, Tim was the one man who kept me from losing my mind. I remained in an off and on state of depression over that particular matter until the day he died.

    It was during this time that I started making claims which genuinely concerned him, claims driven by my newfound paranoia. Concerned, he found my cell phone number on my Facebook profile and called. We spoke for less than a minute, but I reassured him that everything was fine on my end of the line. We ended the conversation, and later conversed through Facebook chat. He talked about how euphoric the experience of calling me was, and sort of apologized for not noticing my number before. I accepted, as I never expected him to have use for it in the first place. We conversed a lot in those weeks after I saw the episode, which really kept me from going off the deep end. I mentioned the episode once, and while he didn't respond to it, I felt that he had at least read it and understood it.

    It was during one of these conversations that we discovered, to our mutual elation, that we had both watched "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" as youths. I immediately sent him a clip of my favourite moment from the series, which was where Uncle Phil punched out the father of the girl who was bullying Ashley. He also mentioned once that he was happy to see me link to "Tuesday's Gone" by Lynyrd Skynyrd, from the LP he'd gotten me, on my Facebook profile. Ahh, fun times. He would call me later that month, asking me if I was interested in joining him for the May 5 SC GOP Presidential Primary Debate. I missed the call, but contacted him through Facebook the following day. I declined the invitation, citing the fact that I'd probably not be able to obtain the permission of my parents.

    Winter became Spring, and with that, another good friend of mine came back home after vacationing in FL for three months. On March 15, 1011, I voiced my belief that that particular day seemed like the kind of day he'd be coming back. I also voiced my concern that Cody, the fellow who I later learned had sent Tim the aforementioned messages about me, would feed said friend lines of crap about me in an effort to get me cut off. Tim then engaged me in the discussion, and along the way, he got lost in that labyrinth of a conversation.

    Confused, Tim rang me up, and we talked for a total of 69 minutes. It was a wide-spanning discussion. We started off talking about the aforementioned topics. Shortly thereafter, he mentioned what Cody had told him about me. We then moved off into music, where he stated that he, unlike Cody and his pals, had no problem with my being into Jim Morrison's music. He reflected on his interest in groups like Pink Floyd(adding that he'd listened to "The Wall" back-to-back many times) and Queen(adding that he had their burgundy-coloured compilation album). He also talked about having posters of rock groups draped over his walls when he was younger, mentioning that one could have fun decorating his room with them and that one could get a decent one for $15(to which I replied that I'd seen some of them go for $8).

    We talked about Church, which led to my asking if the churches in Upstate SC were really the size of mini-malls, as I'd heard they were. He said they were pretty big. He also stated that he had gone to church on occasion, adding that he wanted to find out about religion from people who knew. He reminisced about his various experiences in various churches. I then asked if he'd ever gone to a Mormon Church. The answer was affirmative, and he voiced a misgiving over one of their policies. The policy in question was their separating the men from the women during church groups. I added that I thought that may be a shade sexist. I don't remember his response. He mentioned the weather, which led me to mentioned that I had tripped and fallen several times walking up and down my hill. He asked if I had something to keep that from happening, to which I replied that I had in my possession a walking stick, which he recommended vociferously that I use.

    Shortly thereafter, he branched off to something that he believed was a sign of the secessionist movement, of which he was a proud member, gaining steam. He said that, in a commercial that he had watched, the corporation, instead of showing the USA as one nation, separated the states and listed contact information for those individual states. I responded something to the effect of "uh huh." It was all I could do to keep from telling him that this was one of the craziest things I'd ever heard in my then 16 1/2 years of existence. We then went off into his favourite subject, politics.

    It was during this discussion that he made an admission that pretty much summed him up politically: That he, in 2010, had written his name in in every race except for Coroner. He said that he only wrote his name in after asking himself, "Well, what if I did somehow win?" As someone said of him when memorializing him after his death, he was colourful and all over the place. He also made an observation that would later become the official theme surrounding the GOP Presidential Primary: That a lot of people were coming and going. He mentioned Herman Cain, Mitch Daniels, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, and perhaps some others.

    I also gave him some news he'd not heard before: That the IL Elections Board had misspelled 2010 Green Party Gubernatorial candidate Rich Whitney's name in several poor neighbourhoods, spelling it 'Rich Whitey.' Not like he was gonna win, anyway! Tim had not heard about this, even though it was 4-5 months old, and looked into it after our phone conversation ended. Shortly after I mentioned the Whitney debacle, our phone conversation winded down. He told me to use my walking stick when I was going up and down the hill, wished me peace, and bade me farewell. It was the last time I ever talked to him over the phone.

    In April, I asked him if it was all right to send him a birthday card, as his 32nd was weeks away. He acquiesced, and received it in the mail about one week before his birthday. It was the last time I ever mailed him anything. On April 9, we both shared recollections of our meeting one year earlier. During these short conversions, I learned that he'd gotten lost 8 times on that trip(3 times on the way over and 5 times on the way back). Seems like a lot to go through just to meet someone, but it all turned out for the best. Days later, he addressed to me his concern that someone might be after him. Didn't find it in my inbox for weeks. I, after finding it, asked why he thought that way. He said that he'd made a lot of adversaries in life.

    On May 12, Tim and I conversed about the GOP Presidential debate, which had been held the previous night. I recalled that I only got to see Herman Cain, Ron Paul, and Rick Santorum speak. Only remembered Gary Johnson after Tim mentioned him. I mentioned that I'd still wanted to see Donald Trump jump in and get the nomination. Tim responded that he thought Trump would be a strong candidate, while stating that this was different from wanting to see him win. He then told me about how he'd made the following day his personal holiday. I asked what he'd planned to do. He said he was going to smoke and don a green hat(as a nod to me, as I once told him about the idea of a green cowboy hat). I had planned a camping trip from May 23-27, so I was going to be away for a while.

    Unbeknownst to me, while I was away camping, Tim suffered a massive health relapse which left him in the ICU for 3 days and in the hospital for a total of 6. This was the beginning of the end of Timothy Leal. He had suffered an aortic aneurysm, which stemmed from the genetic disease "Marfans Syndrome." During his hospital stay, he was denied Medicaid for the third time in his life. The doctors had put off surgery, as it was a complex procedure and Tim did not have the money to pay for it. He started taking things very gingerly, as the aneurysm was deemed at high risk for rupturing. He told me that he felt as though he had the body of a late 60 year old. Even though it sounded grim, I was always confident he'd pull through. We talked regularly for the next 2 months. When he vanished in July, I kept a hawks eye on Greenville, SC, area obituaries, thinking that it was possible he could have died.

    In August, I turned 17. Of all the birthday wishes I received, Tim's was the one which stuck out the most, 'cos I knew he was without a doubt the most sincere about it. During this month, however, my paranoia had taken to an all new level. I felt as though I was at war with the world and that most everyone was conspiring against me(except for good old Tim). August 7 featured us talking about music. He asked what I was up to, and I told him I was listening to "Machine Head" by Deep Purple. He asked if it was done in a studio or live setting. I said studio, and he stated his preference for the studio versions.

    Days later, we talked about the Iowa GOP Presidential debates. He had a thing politically for Huntsman, whom he once said he thought he met at Boy Scout camp. He also believed that Huntsman would be a great threat to the overall method of attack by Obama. I had thought Huntsman and Tim Pawlenty flopped at that debate. Tim said Huntsman didn't flop, but that he didn't care for how he pointed his finger at the crowd.

    On August 11, after 4 months of vacation, I started going out on the town with my other friend again. It was around this time that my friendship with Tim seemed to be getting a little tired. Everyone always said he was crazy, but I actually thought of his views as kind of endearing. At this point, however, it seemed as if it all was more pronounced than ever. I decided to take a similar kind of vacation from my friendship with Tim. After all, it had worked so well with the other guy. How could it fail here? Tim was always gonna be there, right? It turned out to be the best medicine for my other friendship, so that was why I decided to take it.

    In retrospect, this was by and far the worst mistake of my entire life. I was taking time off in what turned out to be the final 2-3 weeks of Tim's life. Our conversions were sparse from then on out. I went in for wisdom teeth surgery on August 26, so I would ultimately spend some time recovering from that. But still...

    The following Sunday, August 28, I went through Tim's profile and read a comment he posted 9 days earlier(August 19). He was telling his sister he was not doing well. Instead of believing he'd pull through as I usually did, I found myself coming to the truly horrifying realization that Tim was, indeed, reaching the end of the line. I asked him what was going on. He never answered, and such was the last comment I would ever make to him. I quickly put the thought out of my mind, which made the events that transpired exactly one week later all the more shocking.

    Tim's last comment to me came the following day, on Monday, August 29, 2011, when he informed me that South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson had endorsed Jon Huntsman Jr. for the GOP Presidential nomination. This was the last chance I had to talk to him, but I couldn't think of an adequate way to respond, so I left it at that.

    September, 2011, began on some of the happiest notes of the entire year. On Friday, September 2, after recovering from mouth surgery, I went up to Blue Ridge, GA, with my other friend. I bought a Jethro Tull t-shirt, a Sammy Hagar LP, and numerous jigsaw puzzles. I also scouted out stores looking for prospective Christmas gifts for Tim, who I was warming up to again. I had figured I'd buy him Boston's 4th studio release("Walk On") and some Pink Floyd and Beatles related items.

    The following day, Saturday, September 3, I went down to Dawsonville, GA, and checked out a since-closed bookstore at the Outlet Malls. I had considered buying Tim "The Reagan Diaries(Tim was a fan of Reagan the man and idea, not so much his policies)," but since it was pretty far from Christmas, I abstained. I sat on a park bench that afternoon, thinking to myself. I thought of Tim and my other friend a lot. Later visited the Antique Mall which sold the Boston CD I was looking for. Again, I abstained, as Christmas was pretty far off. I came home that day tired. I spent some time on the internet and went to sleep around 10 or 11 that evening.

    Sunday, September 4, 2011, is a day I won't ever forget for as long as I'm alive. It started off like any other Sunday. I woke up, got out of bed, showered, and got ready for Church. I arrived shortly before 11 AM. At greeting time, me and my other friend greeted each other and spoke for the last time before he went to Charleston, SC, for a few weeks. Saw a very lovely young girl(few years younger than myself) at church that day. She had long brown-ish hair. Just beautiful.

    I was on my way home when I uncovered this compilation set of my mother's, which featured many songs I liked("Hitchin' a Ride," "Beach Baby," "Draggin' the Line," "I'd Really Love to See You Tonight," "She's Not There," etc.). I took it home and ripped the songs to Windows Media Player. As I was doing so, I thought of myself on-stage singing "Beach Baby" with a band, and Tim cheering in the audience. The day was turning out to be a pretty average day so far. I finished the burning around 3:30 PM, and spoke to my mother about Labor Day plans. She'd wanted to go back down to Dawsonville to return something. I'd considered that, as well as doing schoolwork(I'm Homeschooled). I preliminarily opted for schoolwork.

    At around 6 PM, I was in a state of deep thought about the year. It was that night that I finally made peace with what had happened in that dreadful ER episode(embarrassing as it is, it did take some time for me to get over something that minor). After all that, I fathomed a plan that would surely jump-start my year. I was going to make my way back to Tim, and we were going to be closer than ever. This vacation I had taken appeared to have been the good medicine that I thought it would be.

    By 7:30 PM, I was in a deep contemplative state about what to buy him for Christmas. In addition to Boston, the Beatles, Pink Floyd, and Ronald Reagan related items, I also considered the aforementioned Confederate Flag sun-catcher, a couple of records from my record collection that I hadn't gotten into, t-shirts, CD's, and DVD's. Simply put, I was intending to put a whole lot of money and effort into him for Christmas(though, in fairness, I would have most likely culled the list down to something more reasonable and co-ordinated). In fact, I would have gotten so much that I was contemplating even making a special trip out to SC to deliver them to him in person. It was a grand idea! I could just see the look on his face in my mind. He would have been so happy.

    Unfortunately, by the time I was thinking of all this, Tim was already gone. At around 8 PM, I was pacing the front lawn, thinking about the approaching weather(Tropical Storm Lee was about to make landfall). I immediately started envisioning myself in a scenario where me and Tim were talking, and I was regaling him with old war stories of my weather experiences. I actually felt as though he was listening to me, and he might very well have at that particular moment. I went back inside shortly thereafter and watched TV until a quarter of 11 that evening. I readied for bed and said goodnight, under the assumption that I was doing schoolwork the following day.

    I couldn't get to sleep that night. I thought a lot about Tim and that ER episode. I soon determined myself to go to sleep, telling myself that the sooner I did, the sooner I'd wake up and be able to send Tim a message asking what all he had so I'd know what to get him for Christmas. I almost got to sleep. Almost. At 11:26 PM, my cell phone went off. I'd gotten texts all day about Tropical Storm Lee from the Weather Channel, so I'd just assumed sit on that one. But something felt different about this one. I could feel a nagging sense of urgency about this one. 2 minutes later, my curiosity and paranoia complex ate me alive. I answered this one. It was not the Weather Channel(though I wish it was). It was Facebook. I immediately thought "Oh, hi Tim! How are you doing tonight?" I thought there might be storms in his area, which would have explained his messaging me. It wasn't like that at all.

    Tim's Aunt Mary had messaged me. As soon as I recognized the name of the sender, my heart sank. For her to message me, of all people, when she did(late evening), I knew it was bad. I couldn't quite make out the words, as I was pretty hazy-eyed from nearly going to sleep. The text stated that her nephew, Tim Leal, had "left earth" that morning. I'm thinking "Huh? What? Left earth? I...oh my God." Immediately, my mental image of Tim as a child popped into my head. He was playing in the front yard of a vast estate with who I assume were his siblings. James Taylor's "Fire & Rain" was playing in my head, and I was in stunned silence.

    Timothy Peter Leal, my acquaintance of 3 years and friend for 2 years, was dead at the age of 32. I had no clue the circumstances surrounding his death, and thought it to be inappropriate to ask at that time. I knew of his aortic aneurysm, and for days, that was my guess regarding a cause.

    Immediately, I went to turn the routers on so that I could inform the site that Tim and I frequented(Politicaldog101) that he was gone. I told my mother, and it hit me as it was rolling off my tongue. My best friend was dead. I soon got online and informed everyone. I went to bed around 1 AM, after the bulletin I'd posted had been bumped to the front page. I also asked for the day off the following day. It was after I turned out the lights that I simply broke down. Everyone was shocked at his passing, even the bitterest of enemies. The outpouring of support by his friends, family, and blogging community were moving.

    Monday, September 5, was a rainy, dreary day. I was in Dawsonville at a restaurant, and the radio station that was on was playing the Doobie Brothers' "Jesus is Just All Right." More than mildly inappropriate, as that was the last thing I was thinking at that moment. Tropical Storm Lee may have been producing tornadic thunderstorms in Atlanta, moving northward, but I couldn't have given any less of a damn. I remember managing to wade through the limitations and hurdles put in place by my little flip-phone(this was before I got an Android) and reading blog commentors' reactions to news of Tim's death. All very touching, as I sat out in the car in the ensuing downpour. It was perhaps the dreariest day of my entire life.

    September 6 marked 21 years since CCR founder Tom Fogerty had died, so I uploaded a "Who'll Stop the Rain" video. I also dedicated it in memory of Tim, just as the Allman Brothers Band had done with the albums "Eat a Peach" for Duane Allman and "Brothers and Sisters" for Berry Oakley. No song could have been a better choice. It was a dreary song for a dreary time. As I was reflecting on my 3 years with him, the lyrics to "Sad Cafe" by the Eagles made a little more sense to me.

    On Thursday, September 8, I hit rock bottom. As I read the funeral arrangements posted by his brother-in-law, it finally hit me that he was gone. Later that day, I read on his brother's Twitter feed the 'official' cause of death. Tim had, apparently, died of a heart attack at his home in Clemson, SC. At least I had some closure(That said, the term 'heart attack' is very broad-sweeping in nature, so we'll probably never really know what killed him that fateful morning). I, regrettably, couldn't make it to the funeral because I'd received the plans on such short notice. His obituary was posted in the Washington Post on September 9, and he was buried at Fairfax Memorial Park in Fairfax, VA, on September 10.

    When I was depressed over the ER episode and life in general, Tim kept me from going insane. After Tim died, I can't say my sanity has entirely remained intact. That said, this post has been a release of some pent-up emotions and experiences I'd always wanted to relate. My 3 years with Tim were truly a special time in my life. While I may have delved a bit into my own personal matters, I have only done so to put some of Tim's most notable actions and my experiences in context.

He would have turned 33 today. RIP, Timothy Leal! I'll never forget you!

1 comment:

  1. It's sad when someone we know dies but we also know that everyone dies sooner or later. So truly sad would have been his death before your friendship had its chance to bloom.

    Not only are our words and feelings exchanged when we interact with friends, but so do little bits and pieces of our soul. Some of Tim's splashed into yours and now live within you. Sounds like he left you a wonderful gift... good ripples.

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