Once a year, I make a visit. The visit is a straight I-75 drive from my native Griffin, GA to Adel, GA. I visit my high school male best friend. The first time I visited his grave, it ripped my heart out. I cried. You do that when a life ends too young. I will never have closure from this death, as many others do not. I haven’t spoken to his family in years – although I adored his mother. If she reads this, I want her to know how much her son meant to me – and the story and legacy he has in my life. Brett Warren was part of a select group of individuals who helped save my life when I suffered from great depression – and how he was the definition of a friend.
As the years passed with Brett’s death, it got easier to visit his grave. Memories helped. To be blunt and honest, we had grown apart a bit – and become lazy in the relationship, but we remained in contact: he helped my former husband get help for some dental issues, he twice worked on my teeth (and plotted my veneer re-do) and we had dinner a few times. He had become a dentist and I became a librarian. Our last visit, he and I hung out in a parking lot and we played with my toddler – the sun was shining and all was good in our world: he had big plans and I had my miracle child. Most conversations were by phone – with my teasing him with dental jokes or he would listen to something going on in my life. Always, I was the funny one and he was the serious one. I missed his last call to me – two weeks before his death. A message on an answering machine haunts me – it was a simple, “Anne, please give me a call when you get this…” And I didn’t call him back. I wished I had called him back. To my dying day, that is my biggest regret.
I have few pictures of us together. After he died, I went into my father’s attic to hunt for an old slide. In our youth, we did two photography projects together. That is how met Brett – or as he would become when we grew up – Dr. Brett Warren. His dream was to become a dentist – and he achieved his goals.
Brett was one of the top brains in our school. The gifted students were worlds away from the regular students – or so I thought. I have no memories of Brett until the day he showed up at my father’s house to work on a photography project with another student – and pretty much took over my father’s attention. I resented him from the get-go and would pester the boys when they visited. He and I would argue over everything – and as much as I tried to drive him away (even at the school, during photography meetings), he stuck around. After months of back and forth bickering, he suggested we make peace and be friends. I guess he realized I was jealous – and I admitted it. We were fourteen years old.
I had no idea he would become so dear to me.
The picture I am sharing is from our 1987-1988 Media Festival project. It was our New Echota (Cherokee capital) photography slides with tape narration project that went to state level in competition. After Brett’s death and as I mentioned earlier in this blog, I hunted down the slide of our author’s page of the project and put it in an envelope. It remained in my Bible, treasured, until my husband surprised me with the development of the slide into a picture. It was never seen outside of the project until tonight. In this picture, Brett and I were fifteen years old.
What struck me: youth. How young we were. The smirk on Brett’s face to hear my father yell at me (obviously, running my mouth) to be quiet so he could take a picture for the author’s page. The “Old Dude” (as he was known to us in the picture) had commented Brett and I argued like an old married couple and should date – we immediately went “EWWWW…” That’s the type of relationship I had with Brett: he was so serious to my party time, excellent. There is a backstory to this picture – but the basics are treasured. I never knew that picture would stir up so many happy memories – and bring back other ones.
In 1991, when I was in the worst situation of my life, I wrote him a letter, begging for advice. I was too ashamed to call him and tell him how I had screwed up my life, but I wanted his input. His answer was to descend upon my doorstep and give me advice that would have solved my problem – and I didn’t listen. For about three years, I would call him, in great depression, and he would counsel me. He always made time – and trust me, as a busy student, he didn’t have that time. He never threw up I had made a mistake – and he listened. Brett always listened. He was a perfectionist, had opinions, argued with a fence post, but when it came to my grief and guilt in that situation, he was part of the team that saved my life – by just listening. He told me, in 1993, that he thought I may be suffering from depression and that I needed to get help – I listened.
When he needed me, I didn’t make time for Brett. I should have called him back. If I could turn back time, I would in a heartbeat. His legacy to me is something that will never, ever leave me: with my students, friends, and family: listen, speak up, do something – show up on that doorstep – be a friend. We can all use a friend like Dr. Brett Warren was to me. Since his death, I have listened up, spoken up, and done something for many – because I don’t ever ever want to just have…
A slide made into a picture.