I turned on the radio just as a Robert Earl Keen song began to play:
You say you’re clearing out, the devil’s in your eyes
No time to walk, no time to talk, no time for long goodbyes.
The ticket’s in your hand, you’ve made that final call,
The hard words flying by like punches in a barroom brawl…
As the words came back to me, tears streamed down my face.
It had been over a decade since I’ve heard this song and a year, almost to the day, since my friend Preston took his life.
This old Texas country singer was his favorite. I took it as a sign that Preston was right there singing along with me.
Back In The Day
I had known Preston since my sophomore year of high school. He sat next to me in Spanish class and his bright blonde hair and chocolate-brown eyes made girls blush, including me.
He was an observer, a bit mysterious, maybe even a little shy.
My high school sweetheart was best friends with him along with six other guys, which is how we became acquainted.
He and “the boys” became the brothers I never had.
I loved to hug Preston a little too long, just to get on his nerves as a sister would, then give him a big wet kiss on the cheek before letting him go.
Some of my favorite memories are from college.
The boys lived in a two-story townhouse about a half-mile from campus. It was a mecca for pre-parties, tailgating, kegs, after parties, you name it – and the perfect place to nurse a hangover.
Preston would be the only one up early the next day, cleaning up, making breakfast, and doing his best to make the place look less sinful.
Boys Will Be Boys
Hanging out with the guys meant endless pranks fit for middle schoolers. But of course, I joined in.
I once bought a glittery pink bumper sticker that read, “I Don’t Need A Man, I Have Batteries.”
My friend Ray and I snuck down to Preston’s cherry-red truck and slapped it on the bumper. We laughed our butts off when he drove away not realizing what we had done.
Preston figured it out, of course, and took the sticker off his bumper and put it on mine.
I ran around town with that damn sticker for two days before I realized what was going on.
I can still hear him giggle. His laugh sounded like a little kid being tickled.
The One And Only
Preston had his quirks.
Like the time I walked into his room around 8 in the morning. He had been up all night studying for an economics exam with the “Bud Light Presents: Real Men of Genius” commercials playing on repeat.
They went something like:
Today we salute you, Mr. Really Bad Toupee Wearer… Made of space-age fibers, it can repel anything. Rain, wind, snow, and especially young women.
That was Preston.
He romanticized the simple working man and loved every bit of what it meant to be a Southerner. His Georgia accent was slow and sweet and his mama raised him to be a gentleman.
We lost touch after college, but I kept up with him through mutual friends as best I could.
I wasn’t able to make it to his memorial service as I hoped, but I’ll always remember him dressed in his signature style of khaki shorts, a red polo shirt, penny loafers without socks, a sun-bleached University of Georgia hat, and sport-fishing sunglasses resting at the nape of his neck.
A memory of us in that college townhouse will live in my heart forever.
Preston and I linked arm in arm, surrounded by friends on the back porch, screaming out lyrics to that same Robert Earl Keen song into the late-night sky:
I am just what I am, I won’t apologize
So if you go you’ll surely know you’ll have to come to realize
Love don’t walk away, only people do
So if you go or if you stay, you know I’ll keep on loving you.
And after the song was over I hugged him a little too long, just to get on his nerves as a sister would, then gave him a big wet kiss on the cheek before letting him go.
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