When I was a freshman in college I was lucky enough to take part in a production of Children Of Eden. I had begged my professor to be a part of it because they had held the auditions the year before, when I was still in high school.
The big world of college was just opening up to me and I was still finding out who I was and why I was and all that existential foolishness. I remember walking through the Cove building and stopping to listen outside the closed door of one of the practice rooms. Someone was singing so beautifully, so delicately yet with real strength. His voice was rich and powerful one moment, tender and controlled the next. Eventually there were several of us standing there, listening, scattering when the door opened.
The next time I heard the voice was on the stage, during rehearsals. He was playing the role of God. He sang to Adam and he sang to Noah and he sang to encompass all of the love that God has for his children, and everyone wept, every night.
That next summer I was working at a church camp in Upstate New York when he came through for a couple of weeks. He was leading a small group of singing college kids. He was always so dapper, so put together. His hair was always perfect. His clothes were always Gap. I remember walking at dusk with a group of friends and talking about him. We said some hurtful things, as children do. I remember looking back for some reason and realizing that he had been sitting off to the side of the road in the shadow of a tree. I knew he heard us, heard me.
The next year he was leading a small group that I was a part of. He never let on that he had heard me before, but I know he did. He was too proud. I hope he forgave me. My favorite moments with him that summer was when he was driving us around in that huge van, singing. That voice, my God.
We faded into and out of each other’s lives for a couple of years. He had graduated and was working in admissions, I was busy building who I was into some semblance of personality. We still hung out on occasion, with our small group of friends, but not all the time.
I really connected with him after I graduated. He invited me to join a group at his apartment in Boston for a New Years Eve party. We hung out, listened to music, ate bad food and drank terrible drinks and just loved being together. All of us. We went downtown for New Years and practically froze. We were young and happy.
After that visit he and I started talking almost every day. We found out that we had so much more in common than we ever thought. We confided in each other. We racked up phone bills. We became close. He had started a new relationship and was falling in love. He seemed happy to share his stories with me.
And then one night he didn’t call when he was supposed to. I figured that he was busy, or out, and thought nothing of it. His roommate called me later. He had been trying to reach everyone my friend knew. He found my number on the phone bill.
My friend had died that day, from a senseless stupid random disease. In a matter of hours, he went from feeling fine to feeling a little sick to falling into a coma to dying.
None of us were prepared. How do you say goodbye to a friend that young? What about all of the plans that he had? What about the happiness he had so recently found? Why would this be allowed to happen?
And his friends came together. We talked about him. We shared our individual stories. We found out that he was special to each of us, in different ways. His gift was making us all feel that we meant something special to him.
With joy, I remember.
Dexter Scantlebury, 2-15-1998.