I found out over the weekend that a really good friend of mine had passed away recently from a sudden heart attack. The irony was, he was on his way to the doctor for an already-prescribed stress test, so he was trying to take care of himself, but he was just a tad bit too late.
His name was Kennedy, and he was someone important in my life going way back. I’ll explain why.
When I got the news from his daughter that I needed to call her to check on what was some “very sad news,” I knew instantly what it was, and it felt like a sucker punch.
If I’ve ever personally known a Renaissance man in this lifetime, Kennedy was he. Kennedy knew something about everything, he know a lot about some things, but no matter what he knew, he was always very well worth knowing and he could tell a story beyond compare.
He also had a grand sense of humor, one that ranged from the twisted to the benign to the outrageous, but one always informed by a Cheshire Cat grin that could, and did, warm your heart.
Because Kennedy had had the good fortune to leverage the G.I. bill (and did, over and over and over again…he had more college degrees than I could count), and because of his intellectual voraciousness, he could expound on topics ranging from literature to art history to the latest and greatest sci-fi novel.
But he wasn’t just book smart. Yes, he spent a number of years in college and in the orbit of the publishing industry, running across authors like Stephen King and beyond, but he would also regale me with tales from the times he was traipsing across Europe as a young hippie hipster.
I first met Kennedy some 21 years ago when I first moved back to my hometown of Denton, Texas, to continue my university education at the University of North Texas.
I met him at the university student union, where he was working part-time doing desktop publishing-related things (I can’t remember exactly what!), and doing it on a Macintosh! (Remember, this was 1988.)
Over the next several years, Kennedy and I were in one another’s orbits in a variety of ways…we continued working on and honing our editing and desktop publishing skills together…we reappropriated resources from the university to develop an underground newspaper (that was around the time of the Gulf War I) entitled “The North Texas Lite.”
Kennedy also helped me do some very interesting in-field research on Harry Hines Boulevard in Dallas for an urban anthropology class, and when I graduated with my BA degree in English in 1991, Kennedy served as the co-sponsor and venture capitalist for my very popular and festive graduation party.
That alone was the most kind and unselfish thing anybody had ever done for me up to that point in my life, and he did it with that Cheshire Cat grin as if it was absolutely his pleasure…and I suspect it must have been, but it meant the world to me (I took a few extra years to get my undergrad degree so I had a lot to celebrate.)
Later, Kennedy opened his own very popular near-campus bookstore, where students would congregate regularly just to chat with him and once in a while buy something, and in 1993, Kennedy and a couple of other friends took our first trip to San Miguel de Allende, a wonderful artists enclave northwest of Mexico City.
It was San Miguel where Kennedy last week met his untimely demise.
But also because it means the passing of someone who I know helped shape the fragile clay of my own youth through his own good humor, tutelage, and encouragement in a way that had been completely unselfish, and in a manner that helped pave the way and shape and inform the professional I later became.
But, I take great comfort that the circumstances by which Kennedy has passed are an arbiter of the great connectedness and symmetry in our universe.
You see, I last visited San Miguel in 2006 with some other friends, and as fate would have it, found my way to the bar that would only later become Kennedy’s (or “Kenny,” as JJ and friends would come to refer to him) virtual living room.
It’s a small world after all.
JJ’s was a comfy, cozy Harley bar that drew a great diversity in its clientele, and where, if you were brave enough, JJ would do his famous knife trick (I went along for that particular ride, and still have all my fingers).
I take great comfort, and laughter, in knowing that Kennedy spent some of his last couple of years’ evenings a few nights a week in this very warm and welcoming place, and I don’t find it ironic at all that Kennedy found it after I had made my own return trip to San Miguel some 13 years after our great adventure together there.
So, I’ll leave you where Kennedy left us, in San Miguel de Allende, in a bar straight out of a scene from a Quentin Tarantino movie.
It’s a ceremony that may seem strange on its face, but if you knew Kennedy, it was an entirely apt means by which for him to make his escape from this life and possibly of starting the adventure to find out what may come next.
I’m going to miss you terribly, my good friend…more than I can relate here.
Just knowing you’re no longer on this planet causes me a very great sadness.
But in my sadness, I will try to always remember that 13 hour long train ride in the dead of the Mexican night, your Cheshire grin smiling away in the moonlight as you waited for the nice seniorita to bring you another cerveza, the dark and barren Mexican moonscape passing by in the background barely hiding the promise of what great adventure lay south for us in San Miguel, not knowing, in fact, that we were making our way to what would become your final resting place.