when i moved to phoenix in the summer of 2000, i didn't know anybody. well, that's not true. i had met the three guys i would be working with, but i didn't really know them. besides, one of them would soon move out of state, and another would be travelling so much i wouldn't really see him much. the third guy, though, became my big brother. i mean, i only had one person to hang out with, so it's a good thing he was fun. he introduced me to people he knew, customers who were fun, and eventually my little circle grew. later that summer we added one more person to our little team, my buddy bryan. the three of us were the whole of lutron arizona. we worked together, played together, made fun of each other, and generally had a damn great time. jay was my mentor and taught me everything he knew (which was endless) about the products, the customers, the company. but he was also my friend.
jay introduced me to both hockey ("the company" had great season tickets) and sushi, which i still think is funny being that we were in the middle of the desert. he took me along to play golf with customers even though he knew i sucked - there was always entertainment value to be had. we went out all the time - every now and then dancing (he of the white-boy-head-bob), but mostly sitting at a bar chatting up each other and whoever else would join in. we discovered that you can ogle all you want when you're with someone of the opposite sex, and nobody will really notice. so he would pick out cute guys for me, i would pick out cute girls for him, and we would rate them and then rag on each other for not getting off the barstool and making a move. at one point he decided that the bartender at our favorite bar (jilly's in scottsdale - oh yeah) needed to be my new boyfriend. so he'd invite the poor guy along every time we went anywhere. brandon would humor him and reciprocate by having the perfect long island iced tea waiting for jay as soon as he walked in the bar. "clear." yuck. but it made jay happy, and that was always fun to watch. this guy was in his late 30's but got carded more than anyone else i know. i even saw a waitress argue with him because he looked like he was 18, so his i.d. must have been fake. he just grinned. he was always grinning. smiling and laughing that maniacal laugh so you knew he was up to something. and you knew you were in for a good time.
and we always had a good time. the boys would pick on me for my eating habits ("i know you want my cookie"), and i would harass them for being general pains in the ass. if it was a nice weekend, we could usually all be found lounging in jay's pool. one winter jay got the crazy idea to turn his swimming pool heater up as high as it would go so we could have a giant hot tub waiting after a night of bar hopping. we'd all head back to jay's house, and in the backyard would be a huge glowing steam cloud. that was a damn fun month, with me spending many nights curled up on the futon just inside the pool door. too bad the giant hot tub came with a giant electricity bill, so that was relatively short-lived. but that was how jay operated. if it's fun, do it. and do it with fervor! he took up scuba diving (again, in the middle of arizona), even taking his gear out into the lake, which we all found pretty hilarious. but he loved it and was determined. he also found a way to go skiing on a regular basis, whether it was in the piddly northern arizona snow or up to colorado and utah. he had been with the company so long, he had a zillion weeks of vacation. i don't think he let any of those days go to waste -- he was always doing something fun. this guy had his priorities in order.
a couple of years into my stint in phoenix, i had racked up an impressive portfolio of so-bad-they're-true dates, mostly with random guys i'd met in bars. jay always got a kick out of my stories, but after a particularly horrible outing (dude argued with me the whole time but refused to cut the date short because maybe we might start to hit it off after the third hour?) he told me he absolutely would not listen to any more of my pitiful stories until i tried online dating. now keep in mind that this was 2002, and match.com was pretty much full of fatties and crazies at that point. or so i thought. turns out jay had been having some luck with it, and he was excited about one particular girl he'd met. he'd met someone on match, and they discovered that while they really cracked each other up, there just wasn't any spark when they met in person. so she decided to set him up with her best friend, kim. that was going well (and kim turned out to be pretty cool), so i gave in to jay's *relentless* badgering after a few months and finally signed up myself.
well i met a guy. that got pretty serious, jay and kim were going strong, and the jilly's era was over. we would meet up every once in a while for a beer, but it wasn't like the raucous drunk-fests of old. i was travelling a lot for work, and we were both wrapped up on our s.o.'s network of friends. i ended up moving back to atlanta in 2004, and he and i kept in touch occasionally by email and text message on the major holidays. the few times i did see him at corporate, he was the same, grinning ear to ear. always a hug and some smartass comment, and we would be on our separate ways again. i'd been meaning to call him around christmas time, just to see what was going on in his world, and i just didn't get around to it.
and then i saw this crazy article about a bus crash in utah near the arizona border. i have this inane way of thinking that i know everybody in the whole state of arizona (harks back to the days when it really did seem like i knew everybody, somehow, in college, i guess), so my first thought was, "i wonder if anybody i know was on that bus." but the first reports sounded like it was full of high school students, and i don't know anybody with high-school-aged kids out there, so i put it out of my mind.
and then i got the call.
jay, kim, and kim's mom were on their way back from a ski trip to telluride. kim and her mom were hurt pretty badly. jay didn't make it.
what the fuck?
this is a guy who is so full of life, so fun and funny and YOUNG. this *kid* (because no matter his age, that's what he always seemed like, and i'll be damned if he doesn't still look 18). that's the only thing i can think over and over again. so full of life. there's NO. WAY. he can be gone. hell, i've still got his phone number memorized. want me to call it? i'm sure it was some other guy. there's just no way.
i hate that it had been so long since i'd talked to him. i hate that i'll never see his big goofy grin again. and i hate that the world has been deprived of such a fun, amazing, caring, wonderful person. words cannot express.
i read the obituary and still couldn't accept that it was him. i read the articles about crash victims where a friend from the dive shop talked about his fantastic smile and still refused to accept it. it wasn't until our mutual friends started posting on the obit's online guest book. one person i know, must be a fluke. two people, yeah they're confused too. three, four, and then certain people who i know have the same kind of relationship i had with him, the same feelings for him, the same love i had for him. oh, shit. maybe it was my jay after all. oh shit oh shit. he was my mentor. he was my big brother. and i have no words to express how i feel right now.