His freshman year, Luke cemented a place in my heart by encouraging and financially providing (never take your college meal plan for granted) a steady diet of mozzarella sticks. Okay, and queso to dip them in.
Last night, two of his brothers met us (me, Derrick, Zac) at the house. Since they are of the same breed as Luke, they brought me two grocery bags full of snacks and chocolate from their gas station stop on the drive over. These goods did not even compare to their deep hugs. Together, we went where we had not been for days.
His room felt as it always had, except completely different without him. A Bruce Springsteen disc laid in his open record player, needle set. Books of Charles Bukowski’s poems sat stacked on the table beside. Wood paneling on the walls and an in-room kitchen with three bar stools lined along the counter, a thrifted couch with a 7-foot-tall teddy bear as cushioning, warm-colored rug, cozy paintings and a warmth that still smelled of him. We soaked in it. We lounged scattered, comfortable – his bedroom had always really been our living room. What was his was ours.
We told stories about him and laughed together for hours until our yawns and drooping eyelids told us to try for sleep.
“What a goofball,” his brothers kept saying. “He was such a goofball.”
Luke was a goofball of immense proportions. He hurdled into our hearts holding a mug of wine, always laughing.
I was fortunate enough to attend his older brother’s wedding as his date last summer. Upon finally meeting each of his seven older siblings, I felt I came to understand him a bit more. Luke was a puzzle, taking extraordinary little traits from each of the seven and shaping these quirks into one beautiful person. This person was loud laughter, sensitive writing, soft snores halfway through movies, whirlwind romances, unending patience for children, footballs flying through fall weather, love without limits and poop jokes.
He was the ideal little brother, which made him the ideal friend. Accustomed to the sequence from years of taking the last turn at new games or toys and… everything else, he always put others first. A little brother is trained to tag along and expected to cooperate without complaint. He was content watching, preferred to listen. He was always a solid addition to a team, no matter the adventure. You always just wanted him to be there. And he was.
It became routine for all of us to ask him his opinion at least three times before accepting an answer. “Do you want to do this?” we’d ask. “Is it cool if I borrow this?” we’d inquire. “Can you do this for me?” we’d request. His first answer was always “yes.” Then came our “Are you sure?” and our “But do you actually want to?” with glances daring him to put his own self before us. Only sometimes after probing could you get the honest “no.” Upon refusal to admit a “no” after a few chances, we’d accept the common “yes” and dragged him along on every excursion.
And if nothing else, he’d definitely make us food. Luke was in his element when cooking. I once told him to make me potatoes however he wanted; he told me he’d been waiting his whole life to hear those words. Quietly he’d create masterpieces and set them before us after a long day, during homework time.
I cry for the people he loved and the people who loved him. I cry for the students he taught and the friends he fed. I cry for the students he will never teach and the friends he’d never fed. I cry for the people who never got to love him.
He seemed always happy to others, but he was not always happy. Luke was a puzzle, sharing different pieces with everyone. Usually, he’d tell me that he was in an “Eeyore mood.” I don’t know why he didn’t tell me that day.
And you know what? Luke hated being in an Eeyore mood. As we mourn, I’d like to encourage us all to try to move past our Eeyore days and instead, in the words of Luke himself, “play a record and read some poems and live a happy life.”