I heard the last words I would ever hear from Tim Gray when he jumped out of the passenger side of my Ford Truck last Summer, a jump that was a seamless, quick, effortless motion he had maneuvered many times before, so many times that he made it seem like magic. He then said, 'Buddy, be careful....I love ya.' I have agonized over those few words since I got the call from Scott, his oldest brother, telling me Tim, my life long friend, that friend closer than a brother, forty-five-years-old, had died earlier that day.
To say I grew up with Tim and and his brothers is to grossly understate our childhood to manhood experience. We essentially lived the same life from the time I recollect having memories to the days we went our separate ways after high school.
With him, I always felt like a guide, a sidekick, someone who was there only to make sure the super human magnetic charisma that drove him helplessly through this life, this world, was not knocked too far off path. I stayed out of the way. Tim had a 'bigger than life' personality. It was mesmerizing and it pulled in everyone near him and wrapped them around all his fingers. It wasn't a trick he called on, .....very much the opposite. It was a rare goodness, the kind of good that's so real people have a hard time seeing it.
Many will read this, roll their eyes and believe this is bull****, that its just more fairy tale stuff we say about dead people to make us feel better. Not this time. Tim Gray did some bad things, a bunch of bad things. We all have. 'Bigger than life' is a cliche we generally use to describe the better parts of some one's personality. The dynamic, endearing side of his personality was big and powerful. So, necessarily, his dark side, the side we all have that no one ever sees, only seemed worse than most because of the raw power that made him who he was.
He also saw into the people around him and most of all deep into his own soul, and tried to express it, to get it out the best he could. The tragedy is that he had no way, no words to write on paper, no art to create, no engine to repair. He worked out in the gym and it wasn't enough.
Tim also understood that he was different and in many ways he believed people saw him as an unsympathetic, threatening monster...and, in the final years, to almost everyone he met, he did feel like a stranger. Yea, he worked it to his advantage. It's not what he wanted; he was surviving. The isolation eventually permeated his public personality, his humor, his insights into friends and family and their motives. Everybody grew up, Tim stayed the same, and it wasn't cool, he wasn't cool anymore. The complex and fragile emotional webs that friends, family and wives weave were more of a prison to him than Parchman.
His release, and I believe his only joy, in the last several years came only during the brief time he spent with his son, Price. That's when I saw him happy, and even that was fleeting. He never really thought he was a good dad. But, what most people don't know, not even Tim I think, is that he made a decision, and it must have been heartbreaking, to make sure he stayed clear of Price when he knew the demons that chased him so long, were finally gaining ground on him.
So what was my dear friend telling me when he said, 'buddy, be careful...I love ya.' Careful with the women? I was coming out of a two year divorce, certainly not making the best decisions concerning the opposite sex. Was he telling me to stay clear and free of the vise grip of alcohol and drug addiction? I don't know, ....I don't know. I do know there was something different about the way he spoke to me that day. His tone reminded me of my father. He was deliberate and oddly peaceful. I also know I expected to see him again. My gut tells me people don't see death coming. That's a notion Hollywood taught us. The hard brick fact is I don't know what he was thinking, what he knew...if anything about what lay ahead of him. There's no clever or romantic ending here. I said, 'I love you, too,' and he said goodbye.