A friend without a voice

 

Last week was one for the history books. It was all in once filled with joy, celebration, tears & heartache. The week began with my team and I preparing for screening our movie “Brennan” for the very first time, which was a very vulnerable experience. The first time we screened my last movie, I was sitting between two wonderful women. My beautiful wife Amy Lynn Schultz, and my sweet cousin Anna Hocker Evans. And, I suppose I’m one for traditions or superstitions…but deeper than that…as I was surrounded with an practically filled movie theater on a studio lot, filled with cast, crew, friends, and strangers…I picked a seat in which I would feel the most safe…a seat surrounded by my family. So for this movie I chose the same seat. And directly behind me, my best friend in LA, Bj Bales. It’s comforting having, hands down the funniest comedian on the planet laugh at your jokes. While my nerves were sky rocketing, and my hands were sweating..I felt protected. The night ended with hugs, pictures, memories, drinks, and celebrating. I got home and ended the night perfectly, falling asleep on the couch talking with my wife…she’s my rock. I love that no matter if it’s a good day, or a bad day…it is always a good day when I get to go home to her and my blue eyed bundle of joy, my daughter Lucy. I fell asleep around 4AM once the adrenaline subsided, and my alarm went off 2 hours later.

Much like a zombie, I sleep-walked my way to the shower, grabbed my bag, and without much of a memory I found myself standing in the TSA security line at LAX. I remember sitting next to my gate waiting to board my plane, and just sitting in silence. It was loud on the outside, and quiet in my soul. Nothing can prepare you for going to visit a dying friend.

I landed in Indianapolis, and got my rental car and next thing I know I found myself on 465 circling the city, making my way to Kyle’s house. I’m directionally impaired and I don’t know how I lived without a smart phone always able to access a GPS type app. But in going to Kyle’s house, what guided me there was a muscle memory knowing exactly where to go. Kyle only lived a few exits away from my childhood home on the circular interstate. When I got to his street, I passed it. I told myself I was hungry, which I was not having eaten that day, but I was more than hungry I wasn’t ready. I was frightened. I was scared that this visit would and will be my last with Kyle. I not only wasn’t ready for it to end, I wasn’t ready for it to begin.

I know that feeling well.

It was the spring of 2009 when I got the call that simply said, “If you would like to see your Grandpa before he dies, you should go now.” Much like this past week, I got a flight, and a rental car…and just spent time with my Grandpa. I heard about his time serving in WW2, devoured old family photo albums, heard about his wielding business, and how much he loved his family. I always filled my time with him about asking questions about Judaism, and our family lineage. He was a towering, strong and gentle giant. Even in his frail state wisdom and strength poured from his eyes, and compassion from his smile. I remember the day I left. I walked out his door in a retirement community in New Jersey, and I knew in my gut it would be the last time I would see him. I turned to him, not knowing what to say, but just knowing I didn’t want this moment to be our last…he grabbed me by the shoulders, and comforted me saying…”Don’t worry I’m going to beat it.” We both knew he was lying, but it was like my Grandpa to think of others before himself. In in the last moment I had with him, he was simply being a loving Grandpa to his grandson, loving him well.

I walked to my rental car, and watched him wave goodbye. That would be the last time I would ever see my Grandpa Charlie.

I knew the bittersweet pain of that moment, and it was one I was looking to avoid going back to my hoosier roots to see Kyle.

I scarfed down my favorite meal from Steak-N-Shake, and stood in the parking lot only a minute drive from Kyle’s house. I smoked a cigarette, and with each inhale, I also tried to breathe in courage. I don’t think I ever did, but with not wanting to waste another second trapped in fear, i got in the car and drove to his home.

I pulled in his driveway, and pulled in a small graveled patch between the house, and the road…that I had always labeled the “cool parking spot”…growing up it was typically a battle who got to park there…Kyle, or his older brother. And today, the spot was mine. The joy was quickly deflated with the reminder that because of their debilitating disease, neither of them drive anymore, or will again.

I walked in their house, that now is labeled with white printer paper instructing the caretakers which doors to enter, and which not to.

With a few strangers known as hospice caretakers staring blankly at me as I entered the house with familiarity..I blurted out…”I’m Kyle’s friend”…they led me to the back where Kyle was in a small 10×10 bedroom with a hospital bed reclined. Kyle laid there, asleep, with an iPad playing music, a few of his favorite artistic pictures, and photos of his son covered the practically barren walls. A few words were thrown around between me and his caretakers…as I looked at my friend asleep.

After a few minutes I kissed him on the forehead and I left the house, barely able to breathe as I made my way next door to his mom’s house. I think I was so frozen I barely remember what was said, but we hugged, quickly caught up as we went back to Kyle’s room.

He was a wake. His Mom said, “Kyle look who’s here…” His eyes lit up. A huge smile ran across his face. I already knew he couldn’t speak, and was informed that if he said anything at all it would be nothing more than a whisper.

I went to hug my friend’s nearly lifeless body, and something beautiful happened. A moment that I’ll treasure for all of eternity. With his right arm he hugged me. Which by all account’s in this moment was a miracle. Debbie said they had been working with him to move his hands and arms…and this was the first time in a few weeks that he had ever done that. It was one of those hugs, that you never want to end. But like all things, it eventually did.

After a few minutes, I was left alone with Kyle. And he just looked at me, and dazed off into a trans…and back to looking at me. I didn’t know what to say…but maybe something that can only happen with relationships that have earned the right…it seemed we didn’t need words. It seemed with facial expressions, and merely a look we said all that we needed to say.

But he wasn’t going to get off that easy. I do what I do best…I talked. For a reason I can’t quite remember I started talking about photo’s …I don’t have many non digital photos these days…but the ones I do have…are mostly filled with from memories of high school and college…and Kyle was in most of them. I started describing in detail the memories that were attached to each picture I could remember from my collection.

I eventually moved on from the photo’s and started talking about the good ole times. And without promting or warning…Kyle sat up, and in a loud voice he said…”I HAVE PHOTO’S”….and that was it. He laid back down…smiled…and dazed off again. He was like me most of the time…late. But he showed up. He was always loyal that way.

A few hours later we were joined by our college, and forever friends Bryan Bontrager & Matt Gast. We all sat in a collective silence for a bit…and then we did …what we do best…we made fun of each other. We were astonished that even though Kyle is now filled with what can best be described as “delays”…his comedic timing lay perfectly untouched. When one of us joked, he laughed right after the punch-line. We took time making fun of each of other…and he laughed the hardest when Bryan said…”Dave needs to quit making movies, huh Kyle.”…although I do claim the best series of jokes came from me…when I kept apologizing for Matt being there…and maybe the best joke of the weekend came on Saturday Night…when Bryan Bontrager and I walked into the room…and I leaned in to Kyle and said…”Hey man…I’ve got some good news….Matt didn’t come.” He chuckled and smiled.

I wish I could say that the three days we spent with Kyle were all like the first night…where he seemed alive and joyous..but that was simply the best night. The next one followed with hours of Kyle barely being there at all, even if his eyes were open. While the three of us sat there and sipped on a bottle of Coor’s light…he would gaze into his closet and stare at a coat for endless amounts of time. I, and we all, saw the sadness in his eyes. Even if we didn’t talk about it.

The last night…as Klye dozed off it seemed like it was the right time to leave, but as we did…Kyle woke up. What do you do in a moment like that? We had been there for a few hours…but it seems like there’s never enough time spent no matter how much or little to justify leaving…so we walked back and said our proper goodbyes…and I quickly turned back seeing Kyle wide eye’d and alert calmly looking down.

I tried to tell myself this wouldn’t be the last time I will see kyle.

But who know’s…

I don’t know how to end this blog, much like I don’t know how Kyle’s story will end, at least on this side of eternity.

Bryan and I sat and prayed for kyle..at one point we were even praying for him to die…to be out of pain…praying through the tears of anger and frustration of seeing our friend wither away. I’m a bit of a spiritual romantic…and i think I pray for a swift beginning to his new life in eternity, or a miraculous healing as a testament to the presence of the living God…but it doesn’t seem like either of those will be the story. Kyle is living what we all have to I suppose, one day at a time…days that are filled with smiles, jokes, and unimaginable pain. And while we can pray and hope for the suffering to end…sometimes it just doesn’t. It rages on. But I think the Character of Kyle is in the testament of his inner strength continuing on, until there’s nothing left to continue, and it’s us, the weaker ones who pray for a quicker resolve. It’s the courageous ones, the ones who are forged in the fires of life…that say “to hell with that…I’ll keep going…and going…and going…as long as I’m here.”

Even now he’s teaching me maybe the most valuable lesson that life has to offer. Enjoy it. Live it for as long as it lasts…don’t rush it or wish it away…savor every last moment…for even if it is filled with shit, hell, trials, and tribulation…there’s a lot of beauty to be enjoyed a lived…like a smile, laughing a joke, or hugging an old friend.

Thank you Kyle Jennings…for teaching me how to live life…in the last moments of yours.

your forever friend,

David

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~ by David Leo Schultz on December 11, 2015.

2 Responses to “A friend without a voice”

  1. Prayers for Kyle,his family and for you, my friend!!! Love!!!

  2. Praying for peace for Kyle and his family and comfort for you my friend!
    Isaiah 26:3
    Psalm 34:7
    John 10:10

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