Brothers

There’s an old saying about friendship. “Friends help you move. Good friends help you move bodies.”

And then there are the ones who will go out with you in the middle of the night with a gun and a shovel. 

My friend Harvie is one of those guys. He’s my best friend, has been since we were twelve. We met in homeroom on our first day of seventh grade. We were seated alphabetically, right next to each other, and he started talking to me. Within a few days, he’d gotten my birthday out of me, and he was elated to find out that our birthdays were three days apart. Remember when wristwatches that were also games were a big deal in junior high? He gave me one of those on my birthday. Pretty soon we were inseparable.

Harvie’s family life was pretty rotten. He never knew his father, and his mother had all kinds of health and mental issues. He grew up in East Nashville when it wasn’t cool to live in East Nashville. He started spending the night at my house, and a Friday night sleepover almost always turned into a full weekend. He even spent Christmas Eve with my family because we got “snowed in”. My mom and stepdad went out that afternoon and bought him presents so he’d have something under the tree and not feel left out. He was made to feel welcome always in our home.

He never forgot that. Any of it. By the time I graduated high school, Harvie was calling my mom “Mom” too. I can count on one hand the number of Christmas Eves he hasn’t been at my mom’s house, and only one of those was because I wasn’t in town. I’m an only child, but I’ve got a couple brothers, and Harvie is the first.

He was a born scrapper. He called me late one night when we were sixteen to tell me he’d just gotten into a fight at Shelby Bottoms because someone had called him telling him that I had been hurt and to come meet me there. After college, a fight broke out at a party I threw, and I tried to stop the two guys from going at each other. I got stuck in the middle, and without hesitation, Harvie jumped in to pull one of them off of me. If he was ever afraid, it never showed. He was tough, and I always admired that about him. 

He was also VERY good at pissing people off. Harvie was used to rejection, and he had developed a tough skin. He tended to respond aggressively to anyone who threatened him, and he managed to push a lot of people away. But I never judged him when we were kids, and that stuck with him. It got under his skin, and under there was a pretty safe place to be. Harvie’s heart was huge, vulnerable, and full. 

We had times when we didn’t talk, mainly because I had my head up my ass. I got depressed and selfish because I was going thru a rough time, and I alienated him for a while. He gave me the opportunity to walk away from our friendship instead of hurting him, and that snapped me back. We’ve been tight ever since. I know I’ve gotten sidetracked a little along the way with things that happen, because things happen, but I always knew that my brother would come running if I called. If I had ever asked, I know without any doubt that he would have been at my door with his gun and his shovel. I never had the opportunity, and sometimes I wish I had. 

As hard as his life had been, Harvie had turned it around. He grew up with nothing, and he was angry a lot of the time. In the last handful of years, all of that had started to fade. He was becoming successful, he had a beautiful house, he had been married for almost ten years (to a woman who could take his shit and turn it back on him – perfect fit for him), and he smiled a lot more than he used to. Harvie’s 40th birthday is December 1st, three days after mine, and he had been planning to come out to California to visit me and another good friend of his as a birthday trip. It was a big deal. We used to always try to celebrate our birthdays together, because they were so close. My younger brother by three days.

And now I don’t get to see him anymore. 

This weekend, Harvie was on his annual Man Trip with his regular crew of guys on Percy Priest Lake. Yesterday, around noon, he and four of his crew were either leaving or entering Four Points Marina on their small deck boat, and they collided with a much larger cabin cruiser. I still don’t know most of the details, but I’m sure the driver of the cruiser couldn’t see the tiny little boat low in the water, and boats don’t have brakes. All five passengers on the smaller boat went into the water. Harvie is the only one who didn’t come out. 

This just got a lot harder to write. 

His wife called me a little while ago to tell me he had been found, and I’ve been composing the first part of this in my own head since yesterday. I didn’t want to start going down this road until I was sure what had happened. And now it’s hard to find words to say that don’t sound trite, or cold, or meaningless. I even had to try to explain all of this to my son yesterday when he asked why we were so sad. In the gentlest possible terms I could find, I tried to tell him that Uncle Harvie was gone. My son, an optimist of the highest order, kept presenting options as to how he might be found. He even reminded me that he is Superman. I wish with all my heart that that were true right now. 

The last time I saw Harvie was in June, when we were home for our annual family visit. We saw Man of Steel together, and he spent the morning of Father’s Day with us at Mom’s house. She made breakfast like she used to for us all the time. He was approaching a million dollars in sales as a real estate agent. He played with Ryder and hugged him a lot. He was at the hospital with my family when Ryder was born. 

Harvie is my brother. It doesn’t matter if he’s gone, he will always be my brother. Oldest friend, confidant, the guy on whom I could always count, no matter what. I miss him so much already, and it’s only been a day. 

But I hope that my son has a friend, a brother like that someday. I look forward to meeting him. 

Rest in peace, Harvie. Love you, brother.

Harvie Cecil Butler

December 1, 1973 – September 1, 2013

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He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother

I want to talk about the word “brother” and what it means to me.

I’m an only child. I’m the only child of an only child. As a result, I value my privacy and my alone time. I’m used to having my own space for at least a small part of every day. It’s one of the reasons I’m sitting out on my porch right now as I write this – I appreciate solitude and the opportunity to think, reflect, and let my mind wander. It’s when I get my best writing done. I’m uncomfortable, in fact, writing when there’s even someone else in the room – doesn’t matter what the content of whatever I’m writing may be, I just don’t like anyone looking over my shoulder while I’m doing it. It interrupts my thought process. I become hyper aware of the presence of another and it makes it hard to focus and get the job done.

That being said, I love my friends, and I love their company. I get antsy if I don’t get to spend time with the people I care about, as well. One of the things I miss about my early adulthood was the freedom just to drop in on a friend and hang out, go out, drink, talk, laugh, whatever – no plans, no intention, just dropping in on a whim and being welcomed. Those days are pretty much gone, as adult life takes over and everything has to be planned and scheduled – even spending time with those same people now can take months of coordination to actually occur. Granted, my oldest friends now live two time zones away, so it’s understandably more difficult to just pop by (in fact, not one of them has done it yet!), but even seeing my local friends usually takes a series of emails, texts, and messages thru the Face to get put into iCal and synced onto the phone. Ahh, the good old days….

But friends are important to me. Possibly moreso than some people, and this is due, I feel, to the fact that I’m an only child. My friends are my surrogate family, and I mean that in the most honest sense. I have a handful of men in my life, most of whom I’ve known for more than two decades, whom I call my brothers, and I know full well what that term implies. It means a bond as strong as blood, and in some cases, stronger. I’ve got one friend whom I’ve known longer than anyone else, and he’s my brother.  Not only does he know where the bodies are buried, but he’s the one who brought the shovel. Metaphorically speaking, yeah, but if I needed it for real, he’s the one I would call, and I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that he would come running, shovel in hand. Ray Liotta and Joe Pesci, standing over the trunk of the car in the middle of the night. Brothers, man.

Male bonding is a powerful thing. I’ve been told by various women that they have a more difficult time establishing and maintaining close friendships because they’re raised to be more cautious of one another, that each of them is out for herself, and that it takes a long time for women actually to become solid true friends. I don’t know if this is a generational thing or a specifically cultural phenomenon or what, but I’ve been told this by more than one woman that I’m close to. Men, by contrast, can share a few (okay, several) beers and be fast friends by the time the tab arrives. Or by the time they pass out. I’m oversimplifying, to be honest, but it does seem that it’s a lot easier for men to open up and to trust each other.

The bond of friendship between men is sacred, is holy. Loyalty is one of the things that truly seems to matter to men of all kinds. If a man puts his trust in you, he expects it to be returned, and he can be devastated by betrayal. I know, I’ve had it happen to me. But when a friend is a true friend, it’s an amazing thing. It’s extremely intimate, and for some men, it’s the most intimate they can be with another human being. That’s a subject for another blog, but for some men, it’s true.

It’s left over from the days when men had to rely on each other to survive on a daily basis – it’s the same spirit of camraderie that exists in men who serve together in the military. When you have to depend on the man next to you to keep you alive, you get pretty close. And you tend to remain close, especially if you’ve been thru hell together. It’s a powerful, beautiful thing, and I hope that there’s a female equivalent. I really do.

My son is an only child. He may not remain one forever, but it’s possible. And in either case, I want him to learn how to trust other men and to form these bonds of friendship. They’ll carry him thru hard times and lift him even higher during great times. And it doesn’t matter if the man in whom you would entrust your life has even a shred of the same DNA as you – all that matters is that you get each other, that you’ll be there for each other, you’ll know each other’s secrets, weaknesses, strengths – all that matters is that he’s your brother.