Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Eulogy for Handsome Jack


On the bus downtown one cold morning, passing the cancer care center, I sat fogging up the rattling window, watching the world go by, and I saw him. This had to be late 2011, maybe early 2012.


A beanie covered his bare head, and he had on that black leather jacket he always wore. Headphones, probably. Climbing a staircase to the street, he appeared to be heading out for one of his walks.

My first thought was: "Holy shit, it's Jack!"
Second thought: "Looks like I'm playing hooky today!"

But the bus was an express, no stops. I reached for the cord, but then remembered, this bus didn't stop for anybody, not even my buddy Jack.

It was almost like a dream. Yelling or pounding on the glass wouldn't work, I waved but it didn't catch his eye. I could only watch as he walked along the sidewalk. The bus passed him and kept going. I was helpless to stop it and craned my neck to watch him get smaller and smaller and then disappear when the bus rounded the bend.

Cancer didn't change Jack. In some ways, that is a sad and terrible thing. In other ways, the ways that matter now, he stayed true to himself.
He was the same stubborn, sweet,  bright, adventurous, insecure, talented, infuriating goofball as he ever was. When he shaved his bushy beard at the end of 2009 and discovered the lumps, until the day he died, he was the same. I miss him. I miss my friend.

He died in June, Friday the 13th, in the same hospital where he was born. Totally metal, totally Renton.

Cancer took everything from Jack, and then it took his life. The last four years were filled with loss. He couldn't ride bikes, he couldn't walk any distance, and finally he lost control of his fingers and couldn't play guitar.

There is another way to look at those four years, though. He had remissions, and good times, but something else happened to him. He might not have changed, but he grew. 

Jack fell in love with a woman, Amicia, and her son, Tristan. He got the chance to be a part of a family, something he treasured. He developed a spiritual side, and instead of just blowing money on LPs, he blew money on books about Gnosticism. He connected with friends old and new, and got closer to his family, and in his own contradictory way, unique to Jack, and despite the fear and pain, he accepted what he could not deny.

Forever the bull-headed loner, he checked himself out of the hospital before the doctors said he should, hastening the inevitable. Cancer made it inevitable, but Jack picked the time he would go.

Jack was very sick, and had close calls before. It was inevitable, and Jack knew it. Those who loved him knew it. But there is a staleness to the inevitable. It gets old, and you get used to the way things are and make that classically human error of thinking the way things are is the way things will always be. 

Jack wasn't able to do the things we used to do, the walks, the bike rides, but he was still there. You could talk to him, make him laugh, get bullshitted with one if his patented Jack Hanson Guaran-Fucking-Tees, or listen to him hold forth on his favorite thing in the world, rock and roll.

He was still there. Maybe at Aaron's or with Vern, at Manda's, maybe at his parent's, maybe at Nick's, or Kaj's, or Jerry's or Amicia's, or at the home of one of his sweet family members, who were always there for him. You would see him again. I hadn't seen him in at least a month, and was planning to track him down when I got back to town. When I arrived I learned that he was in a coma.

Looking back, almost two months later, I think of the time on the bus, watching him walk on a cold, gray morning, and wanting to disembark so I could surprise him and play hooky with him downtown. I was helpless to do anything but wave, knowing that he wouldn't see me. 
The inevitable had grown stale, and when he died I realized I hadn't realized how little time he had left, or else tried not to.

Even knowing it was inevitable, it's impossible to say everything that needs to be said. But it's important now to realize, despite the loss, what he left behind, what the cancer couldn't take, is what matters. And really, is there any other option than to be grateful for what we have? 

For me, one thing, is bikes. Another thing is Black Sabbath. He was also, always, one of my biggest fans, always supportive of me, always eager to read anything I wrote, no matter how god awful. The guy had terrible taste in writers, bless his heart.

Whatever it is, however much or little it is, I encourage you to explore the things he gave to you, the way he left his mark, as Liz put it.

Those are the things that matter now. They are precious, they will last a whole lifetime, and nothing can ever take them away.

On Saturday, Jack's loved ones spread his ashes in the American River at the Pleasant Valley campground on Highway 410 in the Wenatchee National Forest. The sun was shining, but not long afterward the skies turned gray and hail stones the size of molars pinged off our skulls. But even then, off in the corner of the sky, the sun shined. 

We were among our own people, everyone linked together by love for Jack. His family was welcoming and gracious. We brought Rainiers and good weed, fritos and twinkies, and rock and roll blasted from Vern's van.

The next morning I barfed into a party bucket. That's another thing I'm grateful for. Jack, wherever you are, we partied our asses off. It was awesome. Thanks. 

1 comment:

  1. Jack was an amazing friend, so sad he had to QFAS.
    Thank you for. . . Everything.

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