6 months ago today my Mom and I were driving home from a Country BBQ & Music Fest in Saratoga when we noticed that the cars going in the opposite direction had come to a complete halt; something had gone horribly wrong. Two Police Officers stood looking out over the ramp that merges 787 South onto I-90 West. There was a motorcycle lying on its side and a lone black sneaker in the middle of the road. I remember my Mom saying we should say a prayer for whoever was hurt because it didn’t look good at all.
It didn’t look good because it wasn’t. I remember the whole thing like it was an hour ago. I remember sitting on my bed and crying over the Chapter I had just finished reading in the Kite Runner when my Best Friend texted me around 11:30pm ; “I think something happened to Johnny!” Sometimes technology can be a really shitty thing. I didn’t even have to move. My FB app was already opened on my phone with a different notification and I went right to the Facebook pages of our mutual friends; people were making comments that didn’t make any sense at all. “I’m really sorry to hear about your friend, please let us know if you need anything”…one said “I’m sorry for your loss”…and someone actually wrote “RIP Colwell!” To say that I was simultaneously confused and panic-stricken and completely heart-broken is an understatement and it seems almost impossible that I was feeling all of these things at once. Confusion: “Something must have happened but he can’t be dead. It hasn’t been that long since we’ve talked…He’s only 24… He’s younger than me…perfectly healthy… dead? He’s full of life, what IS going on.” Panic: I called my Best Friend and as we were piecing together the info we were seeing on FB and mentioning things about our day….I started to tell her about the BBQ, the Country Music, the ride home, the traffic, the accident…Mom saying to say a prayer…”It doesn’t look good.” Heart-break: Everything flooded together in my head at once and I realized I didn’t need any confirmation of what happened to Johnny. It was nauseating to think back and remember that I saw the bike and the lone sneaker. Then I remembered Johnny’s tattoo on his arm and the story he told me about his first motorcycle crash; what it did to his arm and how the bike needed new parts and lots of work. How his Mom told him never to ride again. I knew what happened to Johnny. I had been driving by the very scene. Hoping for the best. Praying for the person who had been involved in whatever happened. Not knowing I was praying for my friend, who was beyond my prayers. Still clinging to the hope that I was wrong, I called/texted Johnny’s two closest friends and there was no sugar-coating the news they had. No way of breaking it gently. Straight to the ugly truth of it…“Johnny passed on” and “Johnny crashed the bike.”
Speed was a factor, and well, motorcycles are dangerous. My Uncle used to be an avid rider and motorcycles have always been my brother’s favorite toy so I’ve seen and heard a number of horror stories. I’m one of those lucky people who aren’t bound by too many fears….like closed places or heights or fast and crazy amusement park rides. But I think recent events have moved motorcycles to the top of my list. The sound of them makes me cringe and I doubt I’ll ever get on one again.
Those of you who know me well enough have probably heard the story about how I first met Johnny one too many times, but I still reallllly like telling it and it’s only fair to share it again, for those who don’t. I met Johnny at an outdoor music concert at Altamont Fair Grounds in the middle of the summer. It had rained a lot the day prior to the festival so the grounds were completely muddy. It was one of those random meetings that happens so often we take them for granted; the simplest encounters are often overlooked. My best friend and I had decided that this concert couldn’t be too bad. Outside in Summertime, with live music, funnel cakes and a Beer Garden. How bad could it be? Not bad at all! Had it not been for the insanely green T-Shirt with the Shamrock on the front of it that he was wearing, we might not have even met Johnny. That and the fact that his friend had started a really weird conversation with me about my flip-flops and muddy feet. Haha I think right about the time I noticed that Johnny appeared to be wearing shoes that I SWORE were bowling shoes, he commented on my shirt. Apparently Pink Plaid was a good decision for me that day…but this was coming from a guy who was wearing bowling shoes….while NOT bowling. Anyway, the day turned out great and despite the muddy grounds the sun was shining and I learned more about One Republic, who happened to be performing their hit song Secrets, LIVE!! We all made friends and exchanged information and agreed to meet up again sometime.
I look back on that day and remember seeing him smiling in the Sun, appearing to not have a care in the world, just enjoying himself….enjoying his friends….enjoying his life. Johnny had the best smile ever and one smile from him told you that he soaked up every minute of every day and truly LIVED it!
It’s hard to believe it’s been 6 months since he passed. I find myself remembering the tiniest things about Johnny…so tiny they seem silly at first. Like how he did in fact wear bowling shoes at the most random times…In public! His love of Boxing. His overuse of the word “DUDE.” How obsessive he was about his closet with shoes neatly lined along the wall on the floor, shirts hung by color, and hats on the top shelf! His amazement when I corrected him and said Scarface was from Cuba, not Italy, only to find he was testing me (Little did he know!).I literally laugh out loud thinking back to when he told me he was a Pipe layer and I thought it was a hysterical but very terrible pick-up line until I realized he did actually work in construction for the Local Union. Haha How he adored his dog Simba. The tattoo of course and the scars it was covering up. I remember his cousin mentioning in the memorial speech that even though we wanted to hate that bike, he was convinced that Johnny is up in heaven on some Holy version of Ebay searching for parts to piece his bike back together! 🙂
Sometime it’s too sad to think that an entire life boils down to the few things you remember most about someone. Now the memories creep up unexpectedly and you’re left with those little unique bits and pieces of what made them the person you cared so much about. Sometimes the memories seem so real I cry…and sometimes they’re so fleeting and simple they make me laugh. But in the end, those simple things are the ones you remember. The ones that stick with you after people are gone. Those small, random, and very simple facts about someone who touched your heart and might not even have known it. Those are the things that make chance encounters so memorable…the substance that makes an experience worthwhile.
Since Johnny passed the song Good Life, by One Republic has carried so much meaning for me. I love it because they were playing when I met him and it makes me happy to think of him on that day; smiling in the Sun and singing along. I have heard that song a million times since that day 6 months ago. And on some of my roughest days I swear it plays just for me…by request. Someone up above is subtly reminding me that even though Johnny had such a short life, he had such a Good Life, and while the future of mine is still yet unwritten, I am lucky to have crosed paths with an Angel even for just a little while. I may have lost a friend but I certainly gained another Angel on my side.
RIP Colwell-Ride with Angels!