There are very few moments in my life where I have been literally left at a loss of words. No matter how much I try to think and decipher some explanation of why things happen the way they do, nothing comes out. Two weeks ago, during what seemed to be just an ordinary Saturday spent at the bar with a couple friends, that feeling snuck up and smacked me like a 2×4 to the face. It was on that that first day in March, when we learned that our great friend, a friend who we considered our brother, Jordan Webber, was taken from us.
I sat for hours trying to put words onto paper, but all I could do was look at a blank screen. I just couldn’t find any sort of clarity in this situation. I even ran 9 miles in the pouring rain in an attempt to clear my mind, but no matter what or how hard I tried, nothing seemed to work. I was in utter shock and disbelief that he was gone, just like that.
How was I supposed to find some understanding in all of this? It was supposed to be another typical Saturday night, where I had just finished working on a silly blog post about my screenplay I had finally completed, and was on my way to celebrate my friend’s birthday. Even coming home from work that afternoon, a thought passed through my mind. “What if I just got smacked by a car and that was it for me?” It was a thought I quickly dismissed as highly improbable. Jay passing away however, that was one of the furthest things from my mind.
That next week was a bit of a struggle for me, as I’m sure was the case for many others, especially as I tried to find the correct words to write so I could properly pay tribute to our fallen comrade. The meaning of life was on my mind constantly, what Jay’s life meant to us, and what I was meant to do with mine, let alone trying to wrap my head around the fact that I would never be able to see him ever again. The following weekend however, after spending a week in Boise with some close friends of his, it started to become apparent what his time on this Earth represented, and what I would write.
It was the summer of 2002 when I had my first encounter with Jay. We were part of a church group on our way to Whitefish, Montana to help a local Presbyterian Church lead a vacation bible school program, one of which my pastor had pressured me into volunteering. I was pretty sore about the whole thing, for Pastor Tom was very adamant about me coming along, giving me the impression that I would be going to hell if I didn’t. Therefore, I reluctantly agreed and prepared myself for a week of pure torture and agony.
It was about an hour into the trip, and I was just sitting by myself near the front of the 16-passenger Congo-Pres church van minding my own business, probably listening to one of my many burned mix CD’s. I was thinking about the usual mid-day pit stop in Kellogg, Idaho, looking forward to the moment when I could indulge myself in the ecstasy of devouring a Quarter Pounder with Cheese when I heard the sound of chuckling coming from the back. I turned around to find out what the commotion was; a group of young teenagers by the names of Collin, Nate, Nick and Tay were fixated on this 14-year-old kid with wavy blond hair. They huddled around, totally drawn into a story being told with expert precision, which included a signature brush of the hair and explosive hand motions. This kid was a natural, knowing the correct times to pause, when to emphasize, and how to use simple body gestures to propel the story into new and exciting directions. I resisted at first, but it didn’t take me long until I became intrigued as well.
“My dad took a puff of the Cuban and handed it right over to me, ‘POOF’ (he was never shy about using sound effects, a common Jay storytelling trademark) and said ‘This is disgusting, here you go Jordan.’”
“Who the hell is this kid?” I thought to myself. “Is he really talking about smoking a cigar on a church trip, while Pastor Tom is driving, sitting next to his kids? Let alone a Cuban!” I could just see Pastor Tom stopping each of us individually later into the trip to have that uncomfortable conversation; the one where they have to tell you they’re concerned about you spending time with your friend that’s a trouble maker and what you’re supposed to do if they start acting up (the correct answer was always tattle), such as throwing around some swears or dabbling in some hard drugs. In fact, I was dreading it horribly, for it was the same type of lecture I’d get from my mother whenever I’d spend the night at Austin Moody’s house. What can I say? I get a little anxious about confrontational situations. I really do.
I nervously looked back to see if I could get a glance at Pastor Tom’s demeanor through my peripherals. I slowly positioned my head where I could look at him without it looking like I was looking at him, if that makes sense. Looking through the rearview mirror of the car, I saw a slightly tilted profile view of Pastor Tom chuckling in his seat with a huge smile on his face. I was in total disbelief! I could never get away with anything like that, and even if I did, my parents would find out somehow or another, resulting in one of those “I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed,” types of talks. I quickly dismissed the thought as he continued with the story, for within a minute, he had the whole van gut-rolling as he went forth into a wild tangent.
The Cuban Cigar incident was only the tip of the iceberg, for that trip was filled with many more episodes that included rockin’ out to Styx with Pastor Tom, exploring Glacier National Park and seeing a grizzly bear (Which Pastor Tom was so excited about, he based his next sermon off of), and this stupid Organ with a pre-recorded track that him, Tay and Nate Jasper kept turning on full blast when the rest of us were trying to take a nap. I remember four times in a row, I was on the verge of taking that plunge into a perfect sleep, when a “BUM, BA DA DUM DUM” would ring through the room over and over again followed by a bunch of giggling and thumps from the three of them running away. God that pissed me off.
Sometime near the end of that trip however, Jay turned to us all and said, “You know, I wouldn’t mind staying another week.” I believe he said it during an excursion through town, sometime between the incident where we tricked Tay into using the bathroom of this local bar to confirm a rumor that it was plastered with pictures of naked girls (it was) and going into a store where we bought fireworks from this girl with hairy pits, nearly making Jay throw up in his mouth. No matter the time he said it though, the important thing is that we unanimously agreed. That Whitefish trip actually turned about to be one of the best trips I’d ever gone on, despite my initial doubts, and little did I know that a measly story about a kid smoking a Cuban with his pops would spark a friendship with one of the most fun and good-natured people I’d ever meet, and in turn spur more tales equally as epic as the ones we had just created in Whitefish. I lost count of how many times Whitefish got brought up during a conversation over a drink at the bar, on a drive from Lewiston to Moscow, or while we were hanging out at his apartment. Maybe Pastor Tom had this grand plan set in motion all along for me to meet and befriend Jay? He always had the tendency of plottin’ and schemin’ on the low like that.
A few years later he started to attend the University of Idaho, where it didn’t take long for Jay’s presence to be known throughout the campus. Between the years of 2006 and 2011, you were bound to have an encounter with Jay, whether it was between class, at his job at the Kibbie Dome, at the bar, or a house party, for better or worse. It was here where his personality fully blossomed, and when the weekend arrived, we would gather around with delight whenever he’d walk through the door. After joining in a boisterous song and dance to get pumped up for the night (usually to classic groups such as “Men at Work),” innocent bystanders were warned by our waning voices traveling about the town, your night would not be dull.
I always got a kick out of how many people he could convince that he was a heroin addict after he showed them a punctured skin mark on his arm from a recent trip to the blood donation center. “I just shot up a few hours ago, stuck the needle right in my arm, ‘POOF,’ Pulp Fiction style!” A wide-eyed look mixed with a wringing sensation of fear was the typical natural response.
There was even a string of months where he started rocking a necklace with a cross and convinced a quarter of the student population that he was a member of the Irish Republican Army. “I just set up a couple of car bombs next to the SUB,” which was followed by a few laughs from the poor souls he was telling. “I’m not laughin’,” he would then say with a straight face. That got them shuttin’ up real quick. I think he told that story so much that he eventually convinced himself that he actually was a member, but it could’ve been that he simply enjoyed the combination of Guinness, Irish Whiskey and Bailey’s instead.
And then there was the infamous Cinco, Bill, Tay and Jay’s apartment located on Taylor Street next to a big field that separated the street from U of I’s Greek Row. How do you describe a place like Cinco, and how do you serve its justice for the people who lived there and helped create the legendary establishment? The answer is, you can’t, but I’m going to try anyway.
Every weekend, we would all converge to that vortex of calamity where Jay would invite us into his home. There we would plan our strategy to attack the town, usually with the help of our two favorite weapons, Keystone Light and Montego Bay at our arsenal. It seemed like it was at least twice a month we would find some new way to piss off his downstairs neighbor, the one who apparently “ran” the city of Moscow while living in his piece of crap apartment. If something broke, Jay would run over and break it some more, leaving the culprit at ease of his crime. If someone was too loud, Jay would become louder so they wouldn’t get the blame. And one way or another, after we blanketed the citizenry of Moscow with shear terror, we always found ourselves back where we started. Cinco.
And they never complained once about me passing out on the couch after a night on the town, which I took advantage of many a time. Once on a cold and dreary day in October after everyone had retired to their chambers from a typical Saturday night, Jimmy Dawson and I were left in the living room between a couch, a TV, and a newly acquired Xbox 360. “Let’s play a couple rounds of Halo before we hit the hay,” I suggested, in which he foolishly agreed. A few rounds turned into a few more and a few more, at least I think. I mean, it was a bit of a blur after we started playing. What I do remember however, was at some point during the night, Jay came out of his room to grab some water and bumped the trashcan over, sending its contents scattered across the floor. He ignored it and went back inside his room, but not before tipping over a mini-fridge in the process. Now that I think about it, he may have pushed it over, or even thrown it, I can’t quite recall exactly, but the important thing is, it ended up on the ground. By the end of that night, the floor was totally covered in clothes, trash, beer cans, and bits and pieces of leftover food; and when I say covered, I mean every square inch of carpet. That floor could not be seen with the naked eye. Only a few seconds was awarded from us to observe the wreckage.
Suddenly, a jolt of energy rushed through Jimmy’s nervous system. He jumped out of his seat, for a pivotal revelation had just struck him. “Dude, it’s 6 in the morning, we better stop playing and go to bed!” Man that kid can be a buzz kill sometimes, but I guess he had a point. We started to shut it down, and then it hit me.
“Wait… it’s daylight savings time. We still have another hour to play!”
4 hours later, Bill came out of his bedroom, totally petrified at the madness that was laid out before him. “Oh. My. God…” were the only words that he could muster as he stared at two zombies, skin pale as a vampire’s with bloodshot eyes looking back at him in an apartment that mimicked a war zone. He slowly retreated back into his room. No sudden movements. That was the last time we saw Bill that weekend.
And that was just one meager sliver of the stories that came out of that place. There are literally thousands of other stories that are on the same level or above, such as the time where Kim Hoppe was locked in the bathroom, sick and scared out of her mind, until Jay and Jess Sanden busted down the door into a thousand pieces just to save her. Or when Collin Morlock accidently pushed a chair over the balcony and onto his downstairs neighbor’s car, the same one who “ran” the city of Moscow. I don’t know how Jay talked himself out of that one. Ask any one of us that were around during that period of time, and each of us would have our own unique story that would equal the one told by our peers. That place will always have a soft spot deep in our hearts, no matter how disgusting it became. I hope that sinkhole in the middle of the living room will remain for generations, as a monument for Cinco’s existence.
The day after a hard night of partying on the town, when our minds were clear from the toxins we had consumed and our stomachs (somewhat) settled, Jay and I somehow always found ourselves at Wheatberries, the local Moscow bakery trying to piece together what exactly happened the night before, the trouble we narrowly averted, and which person Mike threatened to beat the crap out of. After a while, it seemed as if walking to Wheatberries and discussing the events of the night prior (or at least the parts we remembered) became our unofficial weekend tradition.
And whenever I think about Jay, the very first thought that pops in my head is sharing a Panini at brunch while conversing over a range of topics, sometimes getting rather deep with our knowledge and thoughts on life. It’s funny how I look back and realize a favorite memory of somebody doesn’t have to be an outrageous stunt they pulled, but rather a simple and unscripted moment of companionship that brought a little contentment into our lives. It was during those times when our friendship really developed and we got to know each other on a personal level, and I found out first hand how down to Earth, witty, and honest Jay really was, and how lucky I was to call him my friend.
There was even one time where Brian Gill and I joined him for brunch at Casa de Lopez, the popular Moscow Mexican joint smack dab in the middle of Main Street. The waitress came out, took one look at us, and immediately turned back inside. A minute later, she showed up with three full 64-ounce pitchers in her hands for each of us. No words needed to be said. It was that kind of night.
If one of us were in trouble, or had screwed the pooch big time, Jay would be one of the first one’s there to take care of us, whether we were in the right or wrong. If a friend went to jail, he’d be waiting there, money in hand to bail them out (That actually happened once, not to me, but no need to get into details at this time). If there were signs of hooliganism that could potentially lead to a hefty citation, he’d show up the next day ready to cover up the evidence. There was never any hesitation inside of him when the opportunity came about to help a friend. Once, during a classic Northwest snowstorm, he climbed halfway out of the car window and spent almost an hour brushing off the oncoming snow from the windshield so Mike Gibson could have a few more angles of visibility while driving across Snowqualmie pass; and all so they could meet me for a Seahawks game the next day (Mike Holmgren’s last home game to be exact). It was just after 2 AM when they finally reached my house, when nearly 2 feet of snow had been dumped on the city of Seattle. They were the second to last car to make it across the pass that night before the Washington Department of Transportation shut it down.
This last summer, what seemed to be out of nowhere, a thought popped into my head. “Hey, I need to go visit Mike and Jay in Boise for the 4th of July.” I may never know exactly what supernatural powers were at work that compelled me to go, but it had been ages since I’d seen them, and it would be my first time ever visiting Boise after 20 years of living just west of the Idaho border. Now that I look back, I’m so glad that I was able to make that trip, even if I didn’t fully appreciate or understand it at the time. I mean, being reacquainted with that signature 110-degree Idaho summer heat wasn’t exactly the best first impression of Boise (and to think I missed that about Idaho?). Sleeping out in Mike and Jay’s shed that evening turned out not to be a very good idea either. They both felt pretty bad the next morning when I left the hotbox looking as if I had just taken a dip in the lake. Jay immediately sacrificed his bed for the rest of my stay so that I could sleep in comfort and wouldn’t let me change his mind otherwise, no matter how much I protested.
A couple of days later, the 4th of July had arrived, and the night before, in our typical fashion, Mike and I had stayed up a little too late, reuniting with old friends, meeting some new ones, and sharing stories of the past, Jay’s antics being the main theme for most of them. And during that time, we might have had a couple of drinks, but whatever. I woke up that day a little dazed, but ready to do my patriotic duty and celebrate our nation’s birthday. Mike on the other hand was a different story. He was totally passed out, with little hope of ever regaining consciousness.
Now anybody who knows Mike understands how much he likes to take advantage of his sleep, but it was now 4 in the afternoon, and Mike was still sound asleep, with no sign of waking up, not even for the end of the world! Now me, I don’t like to disturb somebody while they’re deep in a slumber, let alone barge into their room when the door’s closed. But this was the 4th of July of Christ Sakes, and there was over $150 of primetime fireworks bundled up in that room! Something had to be done. I was not going to let a bunch of illegal fireworks along with my favorite holiday go to waste.
Jay first scouted out the situation, providing me a thorough brief of the fireworks’ location inside the fortress that was Mike’s room. It was up to me now to complete the rest of the mission without disturbing Mike of his much needed rest. I cracked the door open to scope out the area myself. All that was visible was Mike sprawled out on top of the bed in nothing but his underpants. I barely lasted a second before I shut the door and retreated to my post.
“Jay, I’m scared, I don’t want to do this,” I pleaded with him. “What if I wake him up? He’s gonna kill me!”
“Those are your fireworks, man. Go get em’,” he said back. He had a point. This was my task, and mine alone to see through. I needed to man up, walk in that room, claim what was rightfully mine, and then simply walk out. Easy.
Attempt number two: I opened the door and took a step. I tried to ignore Mike and shoot straight for the fireworks… I turned my head. I couldn’t take my eyes off him… I froze. Visions of Mike ripping me apart clouded my head. Waking up with a cold dead stare straight through my trembling skull, fuming with a raging fury right before the kill. I panicked, and fled the scene, yet again.
“I can’t do it Jay, I just can’t do it! The fireworks are gone. Forever!”
“Don’t be such a sissy!” he shot back. “Walk in there, get your damn fireworks, and walk right out. That’s all you need to do.” This was my final shot, or it was so long 4th of July. So I regained my composure, took a deep breath and creaked the door open, stepping back inside enemy territory to reclaim my prize.
I tiptoed through his room, careful not to make a single noise. My heart raced, beating faster than a cheetah, every slight rustle intensifying the state of terror, but I pressed forward. My eyes were locked into the target. Nothing could stop me now.
After an agonizing minute of sneaking around, I had finally reached the fireworks. Grab them too quick, and you run the risk of making too much noise. Too slow, and your hands start to get sweaty, causing the bag to fall from your hand, making even more noise. I had to wait for the opportune moment to make my move. Another sound of rustling echoed through the room. This was it; now or never.
I snatched the stash from his floor. Due to the sheer number of fireworks in my possession, carrying them out with precision turned out to be quite difficult, especially when you’re trying to avoid waking a sleeping giant. But nevertheless, I already began my task. No turning back now.
I was half way out of the room, my palms becoming more and more clammy with each step I took, but still doing everything I could to retreat from the room with ease. A bag started to slip from my hand. I repositioned my grip, but not before a bag smacked against the bed frame. Violent shifting came from the bed, and I held my breath not to make another sound. Pressure was building throughout my body, my face turning beat red. I was almost out of there, but I couldn’t quite hold it in. It was too intense. I had to release… I… I…
“WHAT THE $@&#!!!!” That scream bellowed through the house as I booked it out of there like a bat out of Hell. I bolted passed Jay and Meredith. Mike followed closely in hot pursuit in nothing but his undies. This was a life and death situation, or at least I was in danger of a severe ass beating.
I reached the front door, fireworks in hand before dropping into the fetal position while giggling my brains out, somehow finding humor in the fact that I was going to get the crap kicked out of me. I assumed the position to receive the pounding, for it didn’t much matter to me at this point. He cocked back for a massive blow, the first of many of its kind. But then he took a good look at me, sitting there, completely helpless and innocent looking. A sudden wave of compassion miraculously struck through his enraged body. There was no way he could knock my lights out, at least not here, not now. He came down with his right with maximum velocity, but stopped short of my shoulder. He gave me a love tap and shook his head, with a little bit of a chuckle afterwards. I’ll remember that day for years to come, and praise God for sparing me of a brutal clobbering.
I left Mike and Jay that summer thankful for the time I got to spend with them, but also with the knowledge that it may be a long time before we ever get to see each other again. As we grow older, we often have to leave our comfort zones and embark on our own journeys. For many of us, that meant leaving Moscow, away from our friends and family to live our lives as we were called upon, breaking away from the flock that had steered us for so many years. But a few months after the firework incident on a pleasantly cool mid-November evening in the Lewis-Clark valley, after what may have been years since some of us left that stretch of land in Idaho commonly known as the panhandle, we all reunited under one roof to celebrate the marriage of our friends Jill and Brian Gill. And celebrate we did. We laughed and danced (quite foolishly at times) the night away as we congratulated Jill and Brian on their newly formed union. Although it had been years since some of us had seen each other, it seemed like it had only been yesterday since we were in each other’s presence.
That night really sticks out to me, especially after having one of my many conversations with Mike after Jay’s passing. He mentioned how Jay was much more than a friend to us, that he was our brother, who we had laughed, fought, cried, celebrated, and grew close with throughout our lives and especially our careers as college students. At a time where we struggle to find our independence, identity, and grasp of adulthood, having people like Jay in our lives proved to be essential in making it out in one piece. That’s what made that night so special, and that group of people gathered together so remarkable. Over the last six years, we had grown up together, had experienced so much and shared so many different emotions, that we were more than just a group of friends who knew how to have a good time. We were a family. One of which was so unique and unbelievably amazing, that no matter how far and wide you traveled, it would be impossible to find a group of people that could replicate, or even come close to what we had in that small town of Idaho, where I consider it both a blessing and a miracle that we all happened to converge on that part of the world during that short window of time; a window of time that I would never trade anything in the world, a sentiment that all of us would not hesitate to share.
Jay was central to that, and without him, I don’t think we would have had the same experience and built the same relationships as we did during those years in Moscow. Jill and Brian’s wedding was the last time most of us got to see him, but perhaps the first that we saw him as a mature adult, grown into a man with purpose and resolve. In a way, that evening summarized the last six years we spent together, the end of an era, one that Jay was instrumental in creating, and one that I will forever be grateful that I could be a part of.
I think it had to be the weekend after his death, with many of his close friends together paying our respects, when I really started to realize what Jay’s life meant to us. For hours, we gathered around his kitchen and shared are favorite stories of Jay, each one just as funny and outrageous as the last. We couldn’t stop. Throughout that whole weekend, Jay stories kept popping up, and even as emotional as that weekend was, Jay was still making us laugh, as if his spirit was still present and working through each of us to bring us comfort in a time of suffering.
And for the very first time, it became abundantly clear to me how one person’s simple presence can be such a tremendous influence on one’s life. Whether we were out and about on a Friday, or sitting down having a heart to heart, Jay’s presence always brought us joy, and the fact that we could share so many heartfelt memories of him and not even scratch the surface of what is the massive mountain of Jay stories alone brings testament of how incredibly special that man really was. Not only to us as a whole, but to each of us individually. He loved all of us like we were his brother, and touched us all in his own distinct way. Ways that we could never forget and will positively impact us for as long as we live.
And if we stop and think every now and then, we realize that we all have people like Jay in our lives. People whose presence makes life worth living. It could be a family member, a significant other, kids, a spiritual leader, or a great friend; just them being in our lives motivates us to get up and make an impact on the world. Even the amazing people I have met during my life that I rarely get to see, or may never see ever again, the fact that they exist, fighting the good fight for what they believe brings me inspiration. Those are the type of people that mean the world to us, and make it a livable place. With each word I write, every important choice I make, I will think of think of them and whether they would be proud, whether they would be honored, and whether it would bring me a step closer to being the great person Jay was, so maybe someday I can make a difference in people’s lives the same way he made that difference in ours.
It’s times like these, as we mourn for the loss of one of our brothers, we need to be surrounded by those types of people, and become that type of person when the duty calls. We feel hopeless during these occasions when tragedy strikes us, especially when it creeps up on us so unfairly. And most of the time, I, as I’m sure is the case with many of us, don’t ever have the words to explain. We have trouble finding the right thing to say that will bring consolation to such a dire situation, or haven’t the slightest idea of how to respond to grief. But by merely being that loving presence in each other’s lives sends a stronger message than any combination of words could ever deliver.
The simplest of actions, a hug, visit, or just being present so a close friend can look you in the eye can make a world of difference. It gives them a mutual understanding that you’re in this together. That you will struggle, cry on each other’s shoulders, and grieve as you try to find the answers of why things are the way they are. But in the end, for as long as it takes, you will be by their side, through the good times and the bad, to pick them up when they’re down, to stand by them when it seems the whole world is against them, to be that special presence in their life that makes life worth living. To be the type of person that Jay was to us.
For a long time, I will struggle with the reasons why Jay was taken from us at such an early age. I may never know that reason, but I will be always grateful for having the privilege of calling Jay my friend, for the type of person he was, the lessons we learned together, and the wonderful memories he has engrained in our minds. Memories that bring warmth to our hearts, such as the times he would yell “GO HOME, GO TO BED,” to the intoxicated hooligans causing a ruckus around the U of I campus, or having a deep conversation while listening to a good jam in the car, ranging from critically acclaimed artists like the Notorious B.I.G., the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s, or Weezer’s “My Name is Jonas” (A song we practiced extensively and mastered on guitar hero), so that whenever I think of him, I begin to laugh instead of cry. His presence in this world and the mark he left on it will forever be remembered and celebrated, especially through the hearts of his friends. His spirit will survive through each one of us, and we will do our best to keep that spirit alive, to bring his excitement and joy to all the new faces we will encounter in our lifetime. The way Jay would want us to.
It breaks my heart that we have to say goodbye, but I have this strong feeling that this is not the end, that there will be a day that you will greet me once more with a giant hug and a celebratory shot, the same exact way you did whenever I’d step through the door at Cinco after a long and arduous week of anticipation. We may have to wait a little longer this time, but when that time comes, we will party harder than we ever could have imagined during our prime in Moscow… We’ll throw the ultimate Boy’s Club Prom.
Until we are reunited once again, may your soul be at peace, and may you watch over us until the time has come where we are together once again.
I will see you again, Jordan. Our friend. Our brother.
But not yet…
Jay + Friends. One of my favorite pictures with him.