I’ve been told people come into our lives for a reason. The reason might not be monumental or life-changing. Or even positive. It can be as simple as making a stranger laugh or notifying a passerby he dropped money on the sidewalk.
Who knows? That dollar-on-a-string trick could be the start to a meaningful relationship.
Phil Buchanan came into my life in high school. He was a friend of my boyfriend’s. We screamed for him at basketball games and gave him rides to school in the ’68 Dart. I had a lot of hair to hot curl and douse with hairspray back then, so we were usually running late. We would blare Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions down the country roads. We went to parties and we had parties. We didn’t have too many cares in the world, outside of going to school, playing basketball or tennis, and being sarcastic.
We did sarcasm like it was our job.
I think that’s what Phil liked about me, my sense of humor. I’m just guessing. I certainly appreciated his. We certainly could joke around and laugh without much effort. His humor could be dry, a little dark, and sometimes even mind-boggling. I know my best friend Megan’s favorite story about Phil is when she was driving in a car with him and someone asked him to get in a bag to find something. So, as asked, Phil contortioned his body down to a size that was compatible to nearly fit in said bag.
Keep in mind Phil was like 6’5” or something.
Phil and I remained friends after high school. He came to visit at Purdue with friends when we had parties. When he joined the Army, we were pen pals. I thought it was so cool Phil was serving our country. He made me really proud for his sacrifice. In Phil’s international travels, he seemed to connect with Germany and the people there in a special way. I had heard recently he maybe wanted to live there again.
I hate that I haven’t seen Phil for more than a year and a half. The last time we connected, Megan, Phil and his girlfriend and I were sitting at Megan’s table. We laughed the entire time, telling terrible stories from the past. Phil’s girlfriend was blind, and I wondered the impression we made from her sightless perspective.
I can only hope she felt the cheer in the air, and not just from the holidays.
I always loved that Phil was patient and insightful. His thought process was on a much higher level than most, I truly believe. He might have even been a super hero. I liked that he played basketball in Indiana. And he could pound a beer like a champion. I liked that he was like a character in a movie. I don’t know if I can explain that exactly, but I think I mean that he was a larger-than-life kind of soul. His presence, although not always vocal, could fill the room even though he may have been sitting back with a wicked smile and watching others do all the talking.
I hope I always remember Phil’s laugh. And the funny way he said, “Hey yeah, uh April …” before he would ask me something that would likely make my face turn red as my last sunburn. I won’t forget the time we made it to the two worms at the bottom of the tequila bottle and Phil told me we had to eat them or we would get sick. So we did. Then we got sick.
What I didn’t know about Phil was the less humorous side of his present-day life; that Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) still haunted his life as he neared turning 40 in August. I took for granted the idea that Phil’s experiences in military operations — the kind most Americans couldn’t handle — could somehow be forgotten like a locker code. I’ll never know the despair or the pain Phil went through as a post-war vet. I’ll never get a random joke from him too blue for me to repeat in a newspaper.
Or even on a stage.
I wish a lot of things about Phil’s passing. Mostly that he could have found solace in life after Somalia. And that peace didn’t have to come by way of his own actions on a dark Sunday morning in our small hometown. I hope he knows I will do what I can to help get the word out about PTSD and the plight of our veterans as they suffer post-battle.
I owe him that much for coming into my life.
April E. Clark sends her far-away condolences to Phil’s family. She can be reached email@example.com.
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