An Open Letter to a Fallen Friend
Kyle Gantt: He was a model friend, father, and husband. It's difficult, nearly impossible, to find a harsh word to say about Kyle. He was the kind of person others admired; he was generous, courteous, selfless, and above all else- he loved everyone.
We met in the fall of 1999, during our 8th grade year at Piqua Junior High School. He'd recently moved back to Piqua after spending a few years out west with his family. We were at lunch in the commons and I, being the joker that I was (and still am), had been telling jokes to the other kids at my table.
Kyle, with his own sense of humor offered, "Well, an eagle may soar high, but a weasel will never get sucked into a jet engine." None of us at the table were quite sure what he meant by that, but it was funny enough in its own right and soon became an oft-repeated joke between Kyle and I.
We stayed friends throughout junior high and high school, finding our own cliques to blend into, but always saved time for one another. Once we left school, we both ended up working for Hollywood Video, albeit not at the same time. After I'd left the company, I found myself visiting him at work, catching up, and soon integrated into his adult friend base. It was during this time that he met his future wife, Tanya. Who knew all those years ago that they'd end up together? Further so, who knew that I'd be the one to join them in marriage?
I had the honor of being Kyle's friend for 17 years, which is currently more than half of my life. I've known him longer than my wife, my son, and definitely more than almost anyone else in my life. His loss comes as a great blow. While we've grown apart over the years, each of us creating our own families and making our own homes, there was always a bond between us.
I've spent the past few days thinking about the last time I saw Kyle. It was on June 24th, 2015. At the time, he was stationed in Washington State. Unbeknownst to me, he'd driven back to Piqua to see family and friends.
I had stopped at Walmart to pick up a few things, and ran into him unexpectedly. Taken aback, I offered a handshake, but he insisted on a brief, yet warm, hug. We spoke for a few hurried minutes, both of us short for time. Before parting, I made sure he had my phone number and was promised that I'd get a call before he left- so that we could finish catching up.
Unfortunately, that call never came. I assume that he got caught up in the whimsy that is missed friends and family, and that I was an afterthought. I was bitter, but I understood. When so many people love you, it's hard to love them all back equally.
I told myself that the next time he came to town, that I'd catch up with him. That chance came this year, in May. He and his family came back to Ohio to prepare for his deployment to Honduras. But once again, that call never came, despite the messages I'd sent to him hoping that we could meet.
I never imagined that the last time I'd see Kyle alive would be at the Walmart Pharmacy. I never imagined the last words I'd here would result in a broken promise. And I surely didn't expect to lose a friend this early in life. His death has really struck home for me. It's been different than every other death I've experienced, my own mortality is starting to come into focus.
Kyle was a good man, far better than me. He loved, he laughed, and he gave himself completely and wholly to his family. Despite the last few years of disappointment, that is how I insist on remembering him. He loved me, even if he didn't have time to show it.
So tonight Kyle, I celebrate your life. I toast the memories that we've created together. To silly recordings on our cassette tape deck, to dreams of starting a business selling Pokemon TMs and Magic Cards, to reckless drinking on New Year's Eve, and that day in February of 2013 that you explained to me why we'd grown apart over the years.
We weren't best friends, we weren't brothers. But you meant a lot to me, Kyle. You made a measurable impact upon my life. I am honored to have been at your side, if even for a moment.
I've got one last memory of you, Kyle. Tonight I watched an impressive honor guard carry you from the airport back to our hometown, Piqua. I watched hundreds and hundreds of men and women, many that hadn't heard your name before your passing, line up for the privilege of escorting you. The roar of their motorcycles and the blare of the sirens from the emergency vehicles still ring in my ears.
My heart broke as I watched the hearse bearing your flag covered casket followed by your wife,Tanya, in the car behind you with her face twisted in grief. I can only pray that my own marriage doesn't end so quickly or tragically.
Kyle, it was a blessing to have shared these times with you. Your music and laughter will live on in my heart, and all of the innumerable others that you've touched. Before I say goodbye this one last time, I have but one thing to say:
Now that you're soaring even higher than the eagles, Kyle. Just do me a favor- watch out for jet engines.