In January 1990, the first week of the semester at LSU, my best friend, on his way home from a night class, was hit by a drunk driver. Twenty-four hours later, the head trauma Brett had sustained in the incident was too great for him to overcome. With zero brain activity being registered, his parents made the difficult decision to end the life support being provided by medical equipment, and would go on to bury the second of their two children, both killed by drunk drivers.
Brett and I met our freshman semester in August 1988, in AFROTC. We were assigned to the same flight, and along with John, formed a quick but deep bond over our love of country, LSU, and hard rock/heavy metal music. John and I, along with our friend Drew, were three of Brett’s pallbearers. AFROTC Detachment 310 led the way, with participation from our Army brethren across the hall, in giving Brett full military honors, inasmuch as we were able to for a bunch of college kids. After the funeral, John and I stood in Brett’s bedroom at his parents’ house in Abbeville, and one of the memories John brought up was how Brett’s left foot was always pounding out the bass beat when he was driving. Brett was a drummer, and it never stopped. Not when he was driving, not when he was sitting in a booth at Pizza Hut after that week’s marching on the Parade Grounds, not when he was sitting and studying.
John would drop out of ROTC before I did. We gradually lost touch, connecting once or twice through the years. Drew is still a good friend; until three years ago, we had spent the previous 15 years living in the same neighborhood, two short blocks from one another. We have literally watched one another’s kids grow up. And there was a fifth member in all of this, and that’s Liz.
Liz was the flight commander for me, Brett, and John that first semester in AFROTC. She became a friend, a big sister none of us had ever had. Brett’s brother had been older, and John and I both had younger siblings. Even as we each went our own way, Liz remained a common star we orbited around. One of the highlights, at least for me, of our family’s annual trips since 2012 to Horn Creek in Colorado, is to take one day to go meet up with Liz, who lives in Colorado Springs with her family. It was Liz who, after I fell down a mountain in the Garden of the Gods in 2016, sat with me at an urgent care in Colorado Springs, waiting until I could get x-rayed and see how broken my arm was, so my wife could take our boys to get lunch. We may be able to only see one another once a year, if that, but there’s Facebook for keeping up with one another, and calls and texting.
One such text came a couple of weeks ago. She was working on a spring cleaning of the house, and found a bunch of Brett’s CDs she’d taken from his apartment. His parents had let those of us who wanted to take things to remember Brett by. I kept his Fudpucker’s t-shirt, acquired during our base visit to Eglin AFB just the semester prior. Liz chose his music. But now they needed to go, and she wanted to know if Drew or I wanted them. Drew passed, but I accepted. Guess what arrived today?
So tonight I’m going down a rabbit hole, thanks to Ozzy, AC/DC, Van Halen—Brett loved Van Halen—and the rest. Memories of that year and half together are strong, as well as memories made after Brett’s death:
- the LSU basketball game John, Drew, and I went to later that semester, meeting up at the ROTC building before heading across the Tiger Stadium parking lot to the PMAC
- seeing The Hunt for Red October in the theater with John, Liz, Drew, Marshall, and Connor (he always went by his last name)
- testifying, to no avail, at the trial of the drunk driver who killed Brett, then road-tripping to Houston to go to Astroworld with Liz, Trish, Carey, Connor, and I don’t recall who else to drown our sorrows at the injustice in roller coasters and theme-park camaraderie
- the visit to England AFB in Alexandria, LA, where Carey’s dad was a flight leader with the 23rd Tactical Fighter Wing; we got to go to the gunnery range and watch A-10 pilots practice their craft
- watching Star Trek: The Next Generation at Drew and Carey’s apartment
- Liz’s graduation party at her apartment, then her commissioning ceremony the next day
Finally, it was at Brett’s funeral that a young lady in the Angel Flight auxiliary (now Silver Wings) first took note of one of the pallbearers. They would meet a couple of times over the next three months, but it was a mutual friend who set them up on their first date for the ROTC Military Ball that April. They have been together ever since.
So I will kiss my bride and raise a toast to you, Brett. Rock on, brother. Rock on.