In the past we’ve built little alters in our house, complete with marigolds, photos, hand cut decorations & veladoras (candles) in honor of Dia de los Muertos. For various reasons, I did not get around to constructing one this year, but I’ve been thinking a lot on all the souls who have journeyed to the other side. Especially those who have had a considerable impact on my life.
One of those people is someone I met in passing, a very long time ago while I was in community college. We knew each other only for a few semesters. He was older than me, about to transfer to Fresno State University where he planned to pursue journalism. I was 21 with my head full of dreams, but no solid direction yet. We were friendly rivals in our statistics class, both of us vying for the top spot. He mentioned he was impressed with my knack for stats, and my overall enthusiasm for learning. I liked to hear him talk. He had this ease about him when he was caught up in animated conversation. A refreshing self-assuredness. Almost cocky, but not in an obnoxious way. He was just very certain about his stance and position on the topics he was passionate about, & it showed in every interaction I observed him in.
The thing I loved most about him was his overall positive outlook on everything, life included. He radiated good energy. When the class would get frustrated with an assignment, or stumped on a new concept, Glenn was our cheerleader. He was the entertainer. The one time he was absent from class, we all remarked on how we missed his spontaneous laughter breaking up the monotony of the class content.
I won’t go into the ways we grew apart. I’ll only say that he wrote me a letter, cautioning me about some of the careless ways in which I handled my friendships and relationships. I read that letter until the paper was soft from folding and refolding. I eventually tossed it out. It was difficult for me to read, because he called attention to my habit of posturing. At first, I was defensive. But as the months separated me from the initial sting of his words, I realized he had been reaching out to me as a friend, and that he was entirely correct in much of the advice he gave me. I’d like to say I adjusted accordingly. But it took some years for me to absorb meaning of that letter, and several more before I began to change some of the habits he had called out so poignantly.
After my second son was born, and I had gone on to study at the university, I picked up the newspaper one morning in between classes and saw Glenn’s obituary. It shocked me how incredibly hard that hit me. I went to work later that day, and quietly wept in the silence of the staff lounge.
A few days later, I wrote a note to Glenn’s parents, and sent it to the address listed in the newspaper. The one given publicly so that people could send flowers and condolences. I told them that Glenn made an impact on me in the short time that I’d known him. I recalled how he always made us laugh. I carefully penned the address, and sent the message off.
I received a short response from his mother not long after. She thanked me, and said that his family remembered him much like his classmates did; Upbeat, full of jokes, ever friendly. She said it was a comfort to know that his spirit will live on in memory. She said he had been her light & her laughter.
Every time I hear the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s Scar Tissue, I think of Glenn whistling the tune as he unpacked his book bag. (With the birds I share this lonely view…) When I pass a Circle K, I think about the time he bought me coffee there, because I’d mentioned how I had wanted to try their hyper-caffeinated blend. There is an acoustic guitar melody on an old Narada CD I still own that brings me back to the day I found out he’d passed.
Someday, I’ll rediscover the card his mother wrote to me. I saved it, I’m just not sure where. But when it reappears, I’ll add it to my alter, among the flowers and other offerings. It’s the only concrete memory I have of Glenn. The rest come to me every now and then in fragments, but still very poignant.
The one I wish you could see is the image of his smile. It remains, to this day, one of the most contagious, mischievous grins I’ve ever seen.
Rest in Paradise, Friend.