Compass

Brad Graham

With a drink in hand and a smile on his face and a campy t-shirt. I like to remember him like that.

The first time I met Brad Graham was, appropriately, in a drinking establishment.

This must have been around 2001 or 2002. (I could go back into my journal archives and check, but that would take so long and I would inevitably get sidetracked by reading other entries and I don’t have time for that particular memory lane at the moment.) His friend Mike, whose blog I read, was in town visiting, and we arranged to meet for drinks and dinner at Dressel’s. Actually, I think they were already planning to eat there, and Mike just said, “Come along!” Not one to pass up an opportunity to eat homemade chips, I went.

OK, so I actually opened up my old journal files and looked. For some reason, I didn’t write down anything about that first meeting, which is odd because that was a time when I was a pretty consistent journaler. In a way it makes sense, though. Meeting him for the first time is more like catching up with an old friend you haven’t seen in a while. He instantly made you feel welcome, at ease, essential, even. I, of course, had read Brad’s blog—who hadn’t? (He invented the word “blogosphere,” didn’t he?) I was writing one at the time as well, with a total readership of about three at the time, for which I am now thankful. (It was awful stuff of the “I’m eating soup” variety.) We discovered we worked literally across the street from each other and soon became friends. He shared my love of Star Trek, cute boys, good beers, and darts, and he became a supporter of my writing pursuit.

When I was feeling the worst I ever felt, in 2003 when I herniated a disc in my back and got my heart a little stomped (looking back, it seems foolishly minor now, but at the time the depression was crushing), Brad was the guy who propped me up. Given the number of times I cried on his shoulder, I should have covered his dry cleaning bill for a month. (Fortunately, Brad was a wash-and-wear kind of guy.) I have never felt as lost as I did that year, and Brad, bless his heart, helped me find my way: He gave me a compass. “Keep your eye on the next good thing, Jeff,” he wrote to me. “A dream, a dance, a destination, whatever it is. And if you need to, go somewhere quiet and hold on to that compass. It’s the closest I can come this week to putting my hand in yours.”

I still have that compass, even though it went through the wash once and eventually became waterlogged. It still works.

I didn’t see him much in the past year, which is sadder to me now because we live only a few blocks from each other. Life intervened—new job, third draft, and if you know him at all, he is constantly working. We couldn’t make it to his birthday (dba the feast of Bradvent) or his holiday party this past year. Would have, could have, clearly should have. I’m sure that if we had, he would have made Mike and me feel as if we’d just seen him a few days earlier, he would have given us both a kiss, a “Hello, darlin’!” and pressed a drink into our hands.

OK, I really need to stop thinking about that, because though laughter through tears is my favorite emotion, it gets the keyboard damp.

There are so many good things to remember about him, and many of them take the form of stories. At heart, he was a storyteller, I think. My favorite was the one he told me (which he also blogged) about what he said at his father’s funeral when people came up to him and said “I’m so sorry:”

“Don’t be sorry,” I’d say. “After all, you didn’t kill him.”

Pretending not to see the somewhat stricken look that invariably followed, I’d pause for a beat or two, then lean in and inquire with an air of dark conspiracy, “Did you?”

Among many things, I’ll remember that sense of humor best.

Find condolences and remembrances of him here:

4 thoughts on “Compass

  1. While I didn’t know Brad as well as you did, my sentiments are similar. He was always welcoming, with an open arm, a hug, and a drink your hand. If you look up jovial, I’m sure his picture would soon appear. The world is worse off for his passing, and I only wish to have had more time to spend with him. Sharp wit, clever mind, broad smile, affectionate to all … a good man, really.

  2. I’m sorry that you lost a friend. I’m actually more sorry for me because I didn’t know him or his writing, which clearly, were both beautiful. Hugs to you Jeffrey, and to all who loved Brad.

  3. hey Jeffrey, thanks for posting a note on my blog and, more importantly, for posting this. I held it together pretty well ’til I got to your perfect description of Brad as “a wash-and-wear kind of guy.” He was one of the most easygoing people I know and you captured it well. A pleasure to meet you.

    (BTW notice you link to Peace Love Lunges– sweet. Sam’s a close friend and I occasionally guest post over there.)

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