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