Brad Was Always There

My old good friend Brad passed away. He was 34 years old.

I had just gotten to work on Saturday morning when I learned the news via a GoFundMe post dedicated to him on Facebook. I couldn’t believe it at the time, and it’s still hard for me to come to grips with. My brain kept telling me that Brad was the one making the post for someone else. Or that he was the organizer.

I had known Brad since I was about 10 years old, when he and my older brother played on the same winter ball team in Little League. There, I befriended Brad’s younger brother, Trey, who was my age — who went on to become my best friend in high school and well into our 20’s.

I still refer to Trey as my best friend, even though the two of us haven’t really been friends or spoken to one another for the last 3-4 years. The last time I saw Trey and Brad was, incredibly, at their brother Trent’s funeral back in July of 2020. I’m heartbroken for Trey and his sister, Jenny, along with their parents, who have lost two sons in a span of less than two years. It’s a tragedy that they had to go through with it even one time, so I can’t begin to imagine what they are feeling now. I just feel so terrible for all of them.

For the sake of this article I won’t focus on the tragedy that the family is dealing with, since it’s not my place and the pain I feel isn’t in the same universe as theirs. Instead, I want to celebrate Brad’s life, and all that he meant to me. Because it is no exaggeration for me to say that, beyond my own family, on the Mount Rushmore of important people in the 31-plus years I have spent in this world Brad would certainly occupy one of them. He was one of the kindest people I ever met, one of the funniest people I ever met, and one of the most talented artists I ever knew.

I originally befriended Brad through his brother, Trey, but the first serious memories I have of him occurred when I was a senior in high school and he was in my small group of friends who played in a hardcore band called Stand A Chance. Oftentimes we would hang out at our mutual friend Ahsohn’s house where they practiced. When they performed at shows, Brad would lug much of the band equipment in his big ass white truck that I always thought was the coolest thing in the world when I had my small Ford Ranger.

We all graduated high school, I went off to Virginia Tech in the fall, and after I dropped out a year later I was in a totally different place in my life. My girlfriend of about a year broke up with me, and the subsequent depression and angst made me flip out on Trey one night and he and I stopped talking. I was 19 years old and none of the friends I had in high school were really there for me anymore. I kind of just fell out of touch with everyone.

I don’t remember how it happened, exactly, but one night Brad and I went out to Starbucks just to hang out. I assume it was because he didn’t have anything better to do, and I was just starving for some human connection in the midst of my self-centered unhappiness. I ordered a black coffee, and Brad ordered a hot chocolate, and he and I just sat around talking for an hour or two.

It ended up that for the next, I don’t know, three months, or six months, the two of us did that all the fucking time. He would pick me up at my parents house, or I would pick him up at his, and we would go shoot the shit at Starbucks of all places. Sometimes when you look back at things you don’t really know how they got started or why they kept going, you just remember that it happened. Every time I think about being 19 I remember it being the worst year of my life, but one of the main highlights was that Brad was always there for me.

It was around that time that Brad and I began smoking weed together. It sounds so cute and juvenile now, thinking back on the days when marijuana was a taboo thing, but smoking weed was a matter of fact that he and I hid from our parents. Every night — and this is every night — I would drive over to see Brad and the two of us would sneak out in the backyard and smoke together. Usually I would only be there for 10 or 15 minutes, but that goes to tell you how much sneaking we were actually doing. I was 19 or 20 and he was 21 or 22, and we were getting away with something together. It was awesome.

Then we befriended a guy who actually grew the shit, so we spent a lot of our time at his apartment — where we didn’t have to hide anymore. I can’t begin to explain how much weed the two of us smoked together; it was an all-day, every day type of affair over the span of like 12-18 months. Many nights we spent smoking, and drinking, and having an overall great time together. Everything in the world still felt new at that time. We all worked during the day, did what we needed to get by. And when the night came we were generally always hanging out.

Brad got married in October of 2011. By that time Trey and I were back to being best friends again, hanging out, doing what we do, but every month or so I would make the trip out to Upland to see Brad and his wife at the time. Like clockwork, the two of us would hang out in the backyard and smoke, shoot the shit like old times, and it was just great. Whenever I think about Brad, I think of the times when it was just the two of us, talking about nothing really, enjoying each other’s company.

Brad was an artist. He turned me on to all kinds of new music that I wouldn’t have otherwise listened to. He showed me Kendrick Lamar videos on YouTube years before Kendrick was a household name. He played for me various hardcore bands that he really liked, and even though it wasn’t really my genre the fact that Brad liked it always made it cool to me. I think that was Brad in a nutshell: no matter if it was physical art that he did, graffiti, music, or anything else; if Brad was doing it, or if he liked it, that in itself made it awesome.

The lone tattoo Brad performed on me is on my right arm, in three small letters. “Q.E.D.” it reads, or “It Has Been Proven.” Over the years he did hundreds and hundreds of tattoos on all manner of people, ink that will live forever along with the artist who executed it. Back in the days when I made makeshift hip-hop music with my friends on GarageBand, Brad told me that “art makes you immortal.” He said it was true with music, with graffiti, and with what I always liked doing the most: writing.

With every memory of Brad that I come to in my mind releases a multiple of even more memories. From high school to our Starbucks hangouts, to smoking together, to going to the beach, to driving around late nights in Rancho Cucamonga, to Trey’s wedding, to an adult baseball league we briefly played in, and on and on. Being that I haven’t really seen him over the last handful of years I feel guilty in exaggerating the connection that we shared, but each time I am faced by that fact I am reminded by how close we actually were for so long. Spending literally hundreds of nights in the same car, or in the same group of people, is not something I can say about everybody. Aside from my own family, Trey, and a couple girlfriends, Brad is the only person who meets such a stiff criteria.

Brad was just always there, which is a major part of what makes it so hard to accept that he isn’t anymore. I don’t know, at some point over these last few years I kind of imagined that Trey and I would become a part of each other’s lives again, to some degree, and with that snap of a finger Brad would be there again. The last time I saw him, before Trent’s funeral, was at the barbershop. I was there with my ex-girlfriend, and Brad and I got a chance to talk for 10 minutes or so. He had found a new woman in his life, and it was as happy as I had ever seen him. He spoke about what he had going on, he asked me what I had going on, and I went home that day feeling warm about seeing my old friend again.

Brad passed away far too soon, but what he was able to accomplish in his life resonates with everybody who came in contact with him. His morale stayed consistent: if ever you shared the same space, he would light up the room and singlehandedly improve your mood. He had a strong relationship with his family, and showed nothing but love to mine. He is what you look for in a person: kind, genuine, funny, and would knock someone out for you if the time called for it.

He leaves a legacy that will be felt for the rest of my life, as he was one of the most important individuals I was lucky enough to have called a friend. I regret not being able to give him one last handshake, one final hug, and share in one of our classic conversations, just the two of us, so I could let him know how much he meant to me and how much I loved him.

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