I learned last night that a dear friend from my IU days had passed. I was and am still at a loss, but I feel myself needing to celebrate him through words. I say this because his passing was not only my loss but the world’s, for he was a truly remarkable human being.
I met Jeff the summer I turned 20. I had just finished my freshman year at IU and Jeff was in the midst of the Master’s program at IU Theatre and somehow we had both ended up at the Irish Lion (a pub in Bloomington) with other theatre students. I remember him sitting across from me and next to my roommate/best friend’s brother JB and the two of them spending most of the evening laughing loudly at literally everything (to the point of actual annoyance….but hey, not all friendships start off with unicorns, flowers, and Sailor Moon, right?). I remember thinking, who the hell is this guy?
I actually can’t recall the moment I became friends with Jeff. We attended the same parties (him as a theatre student and me as the roommate of a theatre student), we ran around the same social circles, and we hung out often enough that eventually that was all it took: we were friends. But that was the kind of guy Jeff was: he was kind and nurturing; the kind of personality people always found themselves drawn to.
I never had the privilege of acting with him on stage. I gave it up when I went to college in order to pursue biology but had I continued, I probably would have lied, killed, and stolen in order to be able to work alongside a gifted actor like Jeff. He was a wonder who always captured your attention when he walked on stage and I always made a point to see almost everything he performed in (sometimes more than once). In fact, the last time I saw him was a few years ago when I flew out to New York City to watch him perform in a one act one of my best friends, April, wrote.
While he was bigger than life on stage, he was more mild mannered off. But you couldn’t let his demeanor fool you. His soul was like a constant burning ember that would roar immediately like a wildfire when provoked. He was like our own chivalric knight: a handsome silver fox who rolled several 20s in charisma (sorry, DnD reference), but the demons he fought were the ones we couldn’t see and through his conquering them, he was able to create some of the most beautiful art through performance. But it was always with a cost.
I also remember the night he met Abner. I was living with April at the time and had bought the little guy not too long after. Jeff had come over for dinner one evening and was floored by the craziness and determination my little pug had in trying to give Jeff as much love and kisses as possible. It was almost as if my fur child knew that Jeff needed it. It was shortly after that night that Jeff decided that he too needed to own a pug (it was inevitable, I know) and thus became the proud owner of Sir Toby Belch (named after a character Jeff gloriously played in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night (or What You Will).
The last I saw him was in New York. After seeing him perform in Russ Miles, I had scored some free tickets (through a good friend from high school) to the new Sam Shepard play Heartless. Both April and another friend of Jeff’s were also there with us and after the show (and briefly getting to meet the famed playwright), we went to a nearby bar for drinks where we discussed the play as well as to reminisce. I remember thinking, when we parted ways in that warm August night, that I wished we could have hung out more. Jeff was always so fun and witty and the time always flew by quickly when he was around. I will never forget his loud and boistrous laugh when I would make a crude joke followed by the feined shock of me acting so “unladylike.” But he still laughed.
Jeff was a great man and has made my life better simply by calling me his friend, although I feel that I had failed him in the end for not making the effort in staying in contact. It’s not the first time that I have taken for granted the time we really didn’t have. You would figure that I would know better by now.
I know a lot of my friends out there have taken the day to reflect and write about him as a fellow actor and mentor. He was definitely that and much more. I, on the other hand, could only write about him as an audience member turned friend and how sad I am that the world has lost such a wonderful soul.
So tonight, dear readers, hug your loved ones tightly for tomorrow’s not promised. And for your friends and loved ones battling their own personal demons – hug them tighter. And if you need help, do not hesitate to ask for you are loved.
You are wanted.
You are cherished.
If you do feel like you’re flailing and you need support, here’s the Suicide Lifeline. Please use it.
If you want to help Jeff’s family, please go to their GoFundMe Page.
Until next week, my friends.