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Gone Too Soon

Waking up to an in memoriam piece on a friend's social media page always brings with it a tinge of sadness, if not for the life that was lost, at least for the grief that person's friends and family must be feeling. Discovering that the person who had died was someone you once knew, is quite a different sensation. It brings with it -- at least in this case -- a flurry of memories and emotions, angst, shock and despair. Finally, there is a certain numbness. There have been too many of these premature deaths over the years.

I knew Jared Hoke primarily during the mid-late 1990s. He was attending college here in C-U and, if the memory doesn't cheat, he was studying to be a pharmacist. He was smart, he had a good sense of humor and he was cute, in a nerdy sort of way. Not going to lie: I had an attraction toward Jared, though it wasn't mutual (at least, not in a romantic sense). We were friends, for a time, and he made a lasting impression. No doubt he did the same with others whose paths he crossed.

The strongest memory I have of Jared is the time he got snowed-in at my place. It began in the evening, when he'd come back to town to visit with people, and he and I went to see Shakespeare In Love. That was the one and only time I'd seen the movie, and thought it was okay enough, but was shocked when it beat Saving Private Ryan at the Oscars. But I digress. After the movie ended, we left the theater to snow falling and notably collecting on the ground. Little did we know that it would turn out to be one of the biggest snowfalls to hit the area in some time.

We went back to my place. Jared was spending the night, before going on to see other friends the next day. This, in truth, was a bit awkward, as we were engaged in one of those friendships where one person likes the other perhaps a bit more than just a friend. I'm fairly certain Jared was aware of my feelings and, while it's already been mentioned that they weren't reciprocated, I think he valued me enough to at least humor me on the matter. So, he spent the night. Nothing happened.

The next morning, I couldn't open the front door without some effort. Snow had accumulated and drifted to the extent that pushing the storm door open required what's known as 'putting your back into it.' My driveway -- a long, long expanse of gravel -- was now a deep snowdrift. I called my boss at Circuit City, to tell him that I wasn't sure I could get into work that day. "Can you get out of your driveway, Matt?" the manager asked. "No," I replied. "Neither can I. We're going to be closed today." 

Oh well, I thought eagerly, looks like it's just me and Jared for the day! Alas, Jared's good humor had worn out by this time, and he wanted to get out and see his other friends. And he was serious. What had started as a desire to spend the day snowed-in with my friend soon turned to a stark realization that he did not want for the same, and that meant hours of shoveling. So, shovel-in-hand, I spent the next several hours, off and on, digging us out. Eventually, by late-afternoon/early evening, a path had been cleared, and Jared was able to leave and see the rest of his friends.

We lost touch over the years. My life began to change somewhat, and Jared moved even farther away. Our paths would later cross on social media, but not to any meaningful extent. He would become one of those people I knew in my young-adulthood, a memory of youth and vitality. And yesterday, he died. Cancer. He was slightly younger than myself, but not by much. Definitely too young to go.

Since learning of Jared's death, there have been the typical internal reactions: shock, sadness, an inability to fully grasp what it must be like for his parents and those close to him to be going through this. Also, a quiet sort of anger. Anger at a past where I could perhaps have been a better friend. Anger at having lost touch over the years. Anger at the death of yet another young(ish) person, who has had a fair number of years stolen from him.

I know, I know: That's life. And life isn't always fair.

Rest in peace, Jared.


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