By: Sadie Portman
As I look at my job references, it is an odd feeling knowing one has to be deleted. I highlight his name, his phone number, his email and cannot quite give myself the permission to hit the backspace. It is a definitive action, a final goodbye to my dear friend. I am not ready for the screen to go black on him.
At 22, Bryan Gerber came into my life. Big smile complete with deep dimples, his love for everyone around him was contagious. From January to July we spent countless hours together. He personally chose me to be his intern at The Greenjackets, a minor league baseball team in Augusta, Georgia. We discussed our future goals, our family and our shared background as Ohio natives.
In the box office, night after night, we greeted fans and waited for my roommate, one of my best friend’s Melissa, to sneak us McDonald’s milkshakes. One-by-one she slipped them through the circular opening in the window. She knew our orders by heart. Bryan always requested chocolate, me, strawberry. We spent the first half of summer together beating the heat between sips of our shakes all while watching the sunset over Lake Olmstead. It was hard not to crush on a man who is magnetic in every way.
When the rain poured, it was the interns’ job to entertain the masses by dancing exposed to the elements atop the dugouts. He sheltered me in the box office for as long as possible. The head of marketing, Jonathan called for me on the radio, and Bryan made excuses on why he needed me at that very moment. The charade came to an end when Jonathan opened the box office door and saw us laughing and practically twiddling our thumbs to keep ourselves occupied during the game’s delay.
“Sorry Sadie, I tried,” Bryan would retort as I prepared myself for the unavoidable drops that were about to pound down upon me.
Poolside BBQ, nights of hockey, South Park and parties with our all too close coworkers dotted into the off days. Lots of stories are jammed into my memory bank, nights of clubbing, seeing The Hangover for the first time, and even some sad times of heartbreak. Halfway through the season, Bryan decided to further his education in graduate school. He prepared for his trip back up north, so he could study in Toledo, Ohio. The last night I saw Bryan, was the evening before his move. We had a few drinks at the bar, closed down the joint. We walked back to his place and opened the door to boxes piling up in a near empty living room. He looked at me to declare he was hungry beyond belief.
Well, there were a few solutions. One, just forget the 2 a.m. hunger pains and go to bed. Two, order delivery, or three, rummage through his barren apartment for the last remanence of food, and throw some unknown concoction together. With our less than sober minds, we discovered pasta, ranch dressing, ketchup and a few tablespoons of Alfredo sauce. Alongside the last of his onions, carrots and tomatoes, we whipped together the best drunken pasta dish ever created by man. At least, that is what he would have told you. I would say in my coherent mind, it was adequate.
All smiles, all dimples, we scarfed down our inventive late night snack. I cannot remember exactly what was discussed in between bites, but I do know we both uttered the phrase, “I’m really going to miss you.”
As the sun began to rise, he tucked me in on his couch and told me to wake him before I left. I didn’t. I had to leave early and thought it would be rude to disturb his sleep before the long journey home.
It is odd how people who once meant so much to you begin to fade into life’s background. I would occasionally send him a text and we would catch up. The last time I spoke to him, I was planning my move to New York over two years ago. I texted him asking if this was still his number, and if he would allow me to continue using him as a reference.
He replied confirming the number and gave me his blessing as a reference. We talked about life and I told him to please visit me in the city when he got a chance. He said if he found himself there he would look me up.
Life is not fair. It breaks apart even the strongest among us. This past August, I received a text from Melissa asking if I had heard about Bryan. I immediately had images of an engagement, perhaps a baby on the way, a new home, all good and happy thoughts. Then I saw his twin brother’s social media post. I hit a wall as I read of his struggle and ultimate death due to mental illness.
This could not be how the man whose chuckle still resonates in my ear ends. I was completely dumbfounded to read of his fight against depression. The weird thing was the week before, I kept thinking about him. I thought about sending a message and catching up. Instead of following that instinct, I simply Facebook stalked him. I browsed photos of his family’s 4th of July party. I saw the happy dimples not realizing the pain he was hiding. I read about thoughts of his high school football days, and satisfied as none the wiser, I closed the window on my phone.
I wish I could have kept him hidden from the storm, and sent him a message of hope. Of course my message may not have changed anything. He might have still taken his own life. But he might not have. I will never know because factor X is gone. We cannot dwell on the unknown or live in the past. We can only move forward.
Although as I look at his name highlighted on my screen, I cannot bear the thought of saying goodbye to my dimpled, loving friend. I can only hope during his last seconds on this earth, he felt an abundance of energy fill him. I hope this energy was a confirmation of the overwhelming love we all had for him and still do. The love is felt in the tremble of my finger as I hover above that backspace. It is in the memories of box office milkshakes and early morning tarp pulls. It is hiding with him from the rain, and it is knowing I will forever live with his mantra, “Everybody love everybody” beating in the back of mind.
Perhaps this love can be showered and transferred to those around me dealing with their own inner demons. All I can say now is, rest in peace Bryan Gerber. I close this chapter of my life with a soft prayer, “Into paradise may the angels lead you.”