On December 20, 2008, my brother left his home in Santa Ana, California early to drive to work. The route he usually took was blocked off by police and ambulance, so he went a different way that morning.
There was no way he could know his best friend lay there, dead.
Gilbert Vasquez would have been 26 just three days later.
The adventures he and my brother had over the years were plenty and usually involved drinking. Gilbert showed remarkable resiliency: chastising my brother for joining the military and planning to marry a total stranger; forgiving him repeatedly despite my brother’s drunken rages that several times brought the police to his doorstep and one year even got him physically thrown through a Christmas tree against the wall as reward for patting out a fire my brother set to his shirt after passing out with a lit cigarette in his mouth. But these incidences are the type of things you tolerate with people you love, and Gilbert was family.
One of the last times I saw Gilbert was at my brother’s wedding – which was not a wedding at all, but rather a gathering of him, his new wife, my mother, grandmother, the best man Gil, and I outside the courthouse steps. Nonetheless, Gilbert was so happy, it is impossible to erase the memory of his giant smile as he wrapped his arms around me for pictures.
I moved to Tennessee shortly after, where I lived for over three years before returning to California just a year ago. I am grateful to say I visited home and insisted on getting to see him just two months before he died. My brother and I walked to his house and spent most of the night there, talking and drinking.
Gilbert was one of the nicest people you ever met. My mom and grandma loved him and would forgive him anything. He was one of the few people allowed in my mom’s house despite her problems with hoarding, and he genuinely didn’t mind or at least never said so. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to hear him speak negatively about pretty much anyone! He always saw the good in people. And he wasn’t just my brother’s best friend – he was pretty much the only one left after getting married and putting family before partying.
No one seems to know for certain why Gilbert was out walking at 5:30 in the morning. What we do know is that a man hit something in the crosswalk near his home and got out of his car to see it was a person. He called an ambulance and desperately tried to resuscitate Gilbert with CPR. He couldn’t understand why the young man had been lying in the road. Later that day, the first man to hit Gilbert and drive away would confess his guilt to family members who would turn the hit-and-run incident in. But regardless of which driver actually killed Gilbert, the fact remains that over an hour after being struck, he was pronounced dead.
It was a rainy day in Tennessee when I got the phone call. My mom advised in her hysteria that I call my brother for support, because he’d most likely rather hear from me. I collected myself and called him. Although he initially answered hello, there was silence on both ends of the line for several minutes as I tried to find my breath. He finally said, as softly as a person could, “I guess you heard about Gilbert.” I was not the strong big sister I would have liked to have been at that time, because I promptly burst into tears.
A few days later, my mom was headed to work when she saw a site on the side of the road and stopped to take pictures and send them to my phone. The curb Gilbert had stepped off of into the sidewalk where he would be killed was covered in flowers, candles, teddy bears, and signs lovingly wrapped in plastic to protect the paper from potential rain damage. Some of the balloons said Happy Birthday. Some said Merry Christmas.
Christmas, in another state. I went to a movie, can’t even remember what. When I got out I was literally dragged into a truck I’d never seen that was so covered in mud I couldn’t see in the windows and two of my friends managed to identify themselves before getting seriously injured. They went mudding – a curious event we don’t really do in California – with me in the back; we had dinner and wine. I found myself sneaking out into the cool night air and yet, passed my house about a block away and kept walking. I had no destination, I was simply lost in music.
Coming up on a curb, I saw Gilbert. He was in the driver’s seat of a car about to execute a turn out of a driveway. I blinked and saw that not only was it not Gilbert, but the guy looked nothing like him and was blond. He was leaving the bar. I couldn’t help but think that, if Gilbert were alive, the bar would be a great place to be on Christmas! (He was estranged from his own family.)
So that night, I saw more of my friends, celebrated my pal Curtis’ Birthday, and met the man I would fall in love with who would break my heart and lead me back home where I could spend time with my brother in the silent and constant memory of the love of his friend. But when December is getting near, there are nights I think about the fact that some of us die young.
Oh, how we miss you.
Posted with WordPress for BlackBerry.