A Eulogy for James Heard, gone by his own hand.
James Heard was my best friend through high school, college, and major milestones in my adolescence, early adulthood, and in my family’s life. He was my best man, and Godfather to my son. Jay embodied Ubuntu, a Zulu word that means “I am because we are” — Jay’s identity was very much entangled in the needs of others, Jay needed to be needed. He needed to take care of people. Jay never realized that he also needed to take care of himself. James Heard took his own life yesterday, March 16, 2022. I just want it to make sense, and I realize this is just my way of grieving — to find a reason. Jay’s reasons are his own.
Donations in Jay’s name can be made to SOCKS in Fort Walton Beach Florida ( https://www.saveourcatsandkittens.com/donate-1 ) which is the No Kill shelter that took in Jay’s two cats.
I met Jay in high school in the parking lot of a football game that I did not want to attend, hanging out with another fellow who shall remain nameless here, because this is about Jay. The two were inseparable, until a few years later when they weren’t, and that falling out burned a hole in a lot of relationships. I don’t remember if I met him before Christy (also now passed, due to a stroke), or because of her — her sister April was seeing the other guy. Jay was a year ahead of me, in band, smoked like a chimney, and wrote — a lot. The distance to Christy’s place in Fort Walton was considerable, lots of time to talk and smoke cigarettes, and listen to music. That’s where we connected, poetry. Words, whether his or someone else’s, held power. In my own little way, I’m trying to poorly construct this eulogy like a villanelle, a form which Jay playfully mastered (“Hoes! Hoes are walking down my street!”). Jay had a great appreciation for master poets and writers who could sculpt their feelings on a page: Yeats, Thomas, Whitman. Jay longed to express his feelings openly. Jay desperately wanted to communicate.
When I learned American Sign Language to talk with Christy, Jay also learned ASL. He wasn’t particularly fluent, but could hold a decent conversation. His flowing gestures when transitioning between letters earned him a sign name of “Magic”, because spelling a word might look more like he was casting a spell.
Like most kids our age, Jay was seeking Agency in his life. An ability to use his will to create his own destiny. His tumultuous home life left him feeling robbed of it. So, he created his own Agency. He tried to control the things he could control. Jay gathered in thoughts, opinions, ideas, even faiths. Jay was a collector. Not necessarily of things like stamps or models. Jay collected words, performances, and experiences. Jay desperately wanted to communicate.
While I’d been exposed to some darker music (Skinny Puppy, Depeche Mode) through another friend, Jay went far and beyond that. While other friends sought out a consistent aesthetic in their music choices (Only listening to Country Music, or “Alternative”, or whatever), Jay would push the boundaries into less known works. Driving in that big black Buick, I can still hear the Pixies wondering “Where is My Mind”, Camper Van Beethoven pondering about “When I win the Lottery”, or Consolidated , and Disposable Heroes extolling the damage caused by TV. Some of the most peaceful moments from that time were driving out to the beach and listening to Tones on Tail “The Rain.” If you knew Jay at all, you know that this list doesn’t even scratch the surface, Swans, Einstürzende Neubauten, the list goes on an on. Jay lived through the art of others. Jay collected words, performances, and experiences. Jay desperately wanted to communicate.
His father was an old-time jock who was also a secret nerd. He had an extensive collection of science fiction and fantasy books that Jay consumed deeply. Jay’s primary conflict with his father, for years, was in being nerdy, and empathic, and somehow also not being a quarterback. I’m not sure if the RPG collection was his, his dad’s, or a mix — but Jay also would find esoteric games to read. Even if he couldn’t play them with anyone, he’d read them in detail to imagine games. We didn’t really play much until college, when we played a lot of Cyberpunk 2020. The irony of this very accurate portrayal of the modern Pandemic era does not escape me. I will not doubt for a moment that this was a contributing factor — not playing the game as the Satanic Panic Evangelicals might imagine, but that our society’s current trajectory had been so obvious by the early 90s and we managed to not change a goddamn thing about it. The only thing the game missed was the prevalence of cell phones. I know these simulations of adventure, explorations of right and wrong and stories were a major part of his identity. Jay lived through the art of others. Jay collected words, performances, and experiences. Jay desperately wanted to communicate.
Jay had an intense relationship with a woman, Trina. Here’s the rub: While I might hear bits and parts, mainly about his frustrations at the time of being unwed parents… Jay was just sad. He didn’t rant and rave about her, although I knew they fought. He just knew he’d failed, and isolated that part of his life. He loved her intensely, and his daughter, but just couldn’t find a way to “just make it work” like his family wanted. He had a template of manhood in his father, saw his own parent’s marriage fall apart, and just didn’t know how to be who he was “supposed” to be. It didn’t go well. I don’t think the irony of expecting his own relationship to work out while the template of his parents’ crumbled escaped him. I can’t recall if his relationship with Becky came before or after his daughter’s birth, but I know he dearly loved her and her son, and finally got to kind of play that role of caregiver as he thought he might be able to. For a time.
Jay internalized conflict, I know he struggled with his own identity at this time like everyone did. Through high school, through college, he’d play Devil’s Advocate to the hilt. He sculpted arguments like poetry, I assumed he might wander off into law or something. This aspect could be offputting to some, but it was his way of expressing how he felt. He similarly might explore oddity for its effect, experimenting with people’s reactions to things he might say. As people began to plan their lives, Jay didn’t seem like he could decide on what he wanted to do, so he started just being there, wherever “there” was. Jay drove. Where are you going? Jay drove. He showed up and helped you move. He took you to doctor’s appointments. He drove crying friends to the free clinic to get tested. He took friends to the emergency room. He drove over in the middle of the night. Jay showed up. Jay desperately wanted to communicate. Jay collected words, performances, and experiences. Jay lived through the art of others.
As college was coming to an end, Ann and I got married and Jay showed up. My Best Man. Did I mention I failed him? I know he did eventually get a two-year degree, but did he get a four year? I don’t know. What the hell kind of friend am I? After the birth of our first child, Jay showed up. Godfather to my son. Jay stayed with his Dad, through his divorce. Our lives moved on. Jay got involved with the SCA, some online friends in WOW, always sort of managing to find a community somewhere to be part of. I know he started collecting MIDI files — millions of them. I wonder if those harddrives are floating around. Here we began to part ways and only meet up every so often — visits and vacations.
Aimless is an easy word, like “Just”. It’s a word full of blame and failure. “Just get a job”, “Just go to school”, “Just fix the battery in your car.” “Just” assumes a lot of things about the person and their life. Jay was seeking Agency, but he feared it. But Jay found a kind of Agency in showing up. If you had something that needed doing, Jay could support your Agency. A kind of Agent-by-Proxy. When his father lost an arm clearing trees after a hurricane, Jay showed up. His father’s cancer, Jay showed up. His Grandmother, Jay showed up. Jay spent the last 20+ years showing up, using caretaking as a form of Agency. Purpose. His best form of communication was in being a caregiver. Noise and purpose and music, and words, and art, and appointments, and medicine, and treatments, and business and doing. Never mind that he wasn’t in his own place, in his own house, in his own career — there’s caretaking needing done.
Then silence. Those he was caring for passed away.
Then Pandemic. And more silence. Time to face Agency.
Jay stopped taking care of the house. Then his car. He didn’t reach out. He didn’t complain. He didn’t want anyone to fix it, actively misdirecting when the subject might come up. If he did the thing you suggested, was it really his own choice? If he did what was expected, was that really something He decided? He wanted clear and level ground to make his own choice — without all the cruft and detritus of generations piled on him. He wanted Agency, and it terrified him at the same time.
Jay was seeking Agency — He desired and feared it. Jay desperately wanted to communicate, but didn’t know how. Jay collected words, performances, and experiences as templates for how to live and what it would mean to live a good life — and anguished over how to apply those lessons to himself. Jay lived through the art of others, consuming stories of agency. Jay buried his anguish in being a caretaker, and when his charges had gone — Jay found a kind of Agency. I pray I can forgive myself for not showing up for him when he needed me. I pray he finds Peace.
I love you, you magnificent bastard, why didn’t you say anything? I’m angry with you, and angry with myself for not talking with you more. I sat in an multiple online funerals during the pandemic, and heard the words “Reach out to your loved ones”, hell.. I watched a movie with Ann the other day, and “It’s later than you think” came up time and again. And here, I just thought you were just doing your thing. Thought you’d found a community again, like you always managed. Thought you were getting along, like you always did. But you didn’t, you weren’t. You were suffering, and I missed it, I didn’t even bother to reach out to check up on you. I failed you. I’m not blaming myself for you taking your own life, but I am blaming myself for failing you as a friend. I regret the sin of things left undone. Time and again. I love you. I miss you.