Losing Tim

Posted: September 27, 2016 in Death, Inspiration, Life
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Today marks 18-years since I lost one of my best friends, Tim.TimBeckMike

I first met him when I was in high school. I played basketball at Paint Valley and he played for Bishop Flaget. Honestly? At first I hated the guy. If you think trash talking began in the 90’s you’d be mistaken. Tim had it down to a fine art in 1974.

It was one of those deals where you wanted to be mad at the him but it was difficult because you were too busy laughing at him.  Bottom line though, we respected each other.

As time went by we found ourselves running into each other more and more. We both worked at a State Park in the summer, doing odd jobs around the lake like mowing, picking up trash and cleaning bathrooms. It gave us a lot of time to talk about life, sports, politics, and most importantly, music.

Beatles music.

Tim is the only person who I ever felt appreciated the Beatles as much as I did. We’d talk for hours about them, arguing about song lyrics or album covers, the relevance of certain songs, who was the most talented Beatle. I was always a Lennon guy, he leaned towards McCartney. We used to argue about which was the greatest Beatle album. He always said it was Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and I always argued for Abbey Road.  We could never come to an agreement on that one, arguing for hours on end over which was the greatest album.

I remember once when he came up with the idea that he and I should do a radio show. We sat down and had it all planned out. The format, ideas for different shows, everything. It was to be a 3-hour show from 10-1 on Saturday night. We were going to argue about music and different songs, compare cover versions of songs, play Beatles stuff backwards, point out songs that were clearly rip-offs of earlier tunes, we had it all figured out.

Tim knew everyone in town, so it was no problem to arrange a meeting with the head of the local radio station. The only problem was, when we met with the guy he’d already asked around about us. Turns out there was zero chance this guy was going to unleash us on the unsuspecting masses. We even told him we’d make a demo tape for him, but in the end we had no chance.

Seems our reputations had preceded us, damn it.

Tim was honest to a fault. If you didn’t want to hear the truth he wasn’t a guy you wanted to have around. It wasn’t uncommon to run into Tim, and if you hadn’t seen him for awhile he’d say something like, “Jesus Shoe, you’ve gained some weight, right?” or “Man, you’re losing more hair every time I see you.”

You know, pleasantries like that.

Listen, I’m not going to sugarcoat things here. Tim rubbed some people the wrong way. They didn’t appreciate his brand of honest, straightforward candor. As for me, it was exactly what I expected from a friend.

And often times that honesty was exactly what you needed. I remember running into him years ago, after I’d flunked out of college and was working in a local factory. I hated my job, was unhappy with my life, and was generally making everyone around me miserable. Tim took one look at me and said, “You look like hell. What’s wrong?” I told him I was fine but he wasn’t buying it. He said, “No you’re not. You hate yourself because you know you can do better. You need to get out of that fucking factory.”

ShoeTim98

And I did.

He was exactly right and I knew that, but sometimes it takes a friend to say it out loud.

Over the years we grew even closer as I became a teacher and coach and he worked as the chairman of our local political party as well as holding other jobs in local and state government. My family had been active in local politics my entire life, so it was one more thing we had in common. We did a lot of work together with local government, and because of Tim I got to meet President Bill Clinton and several other important political people.

Bottom line, he was exactly what I needed – honest with me when I needed it most, pointing out my faults without exception, and accepting me for who I was, warts and all. What more could anyone possibly want in a friend?

It was the early summer of 1999 and I was vacationing in the Outer Banks when I got a call from my father. He said he’d heard some bad news regarding Tim and that I might want to give him a call. I did, and after the usual greetings we had the following conversation:

Me: “Hey, I heard you got some serious news yesterday. Are you OK?”

Tim: “Well, only if you consider being told you have 12-weeks to live serious. Otherwise I’m great.”

Good God. Leave it to him to make light of the most morbid situation imaginable. But seriously, you know what he was doing, right? He was worried about my feelings. He’d heard the worry in my voice was trying to make me feel better.

Think about that. That should tell you all you need to know about him.

Over the next few weeks Tim gradually deteriorated despite seeing the experts and doing all the things recommended medically. It was difficult to watch, and he handled it much better than the rest of us, believe me.

Later that summer we talked him into going to the first game ever played in Cleveland’s new football stadium. It was a preseason contest against the Minnesota Vikings, on August 21st. We knew he didn’t have much time left but he sucked it up and agreed to go. He was down to probably 130 pounds, maybe less, and was feeling awful. In fact, he was spitting blood into a paper cup on the way to the game.

I remember he’d gotten a rather severe haircut before we left, and I kept telling him he looked like a Nazi war prisoner. He was so thin and gaunt, and that combined with the haircut made his ears look twice their normal size. At some point one of our wives started calling him “Wingnut” and it stuck for the rest of the weekend.

After checking in at our hotel, Tim and I got a cab to the stadium. For some reason we only had two tickets so the ladies stayed behind. After arriving we realized our seats were in the nosebleed section, w-a-y up top. It immediately became clear that the walk up there wasn’t going to be easy for Tim. He was already out of breath, and we’d barely started. No way he was going to make it.

Finally we saw an elevator, but it had a “V.I.P. Only” sign on it and was being guarded by a humongous man with a shaved head and arms the size of tree trunks. I walked up and explained the circumstances, hoping the guy would see our situation and cut us a break. But, it was the first game ever played there and the guy was under strict orders. He was having none of it.

Suddenly, Tim was there:

Look at me. I can’t walk up there. It’s obvious I’m dying. Help me out.”

At that point the guy stared at Tim for what felt like an eternity, then nodded his head in the direction of the elevator, punched in a code and said, “Get on.”

And we did. Then Tim looked at me, smiled and said, “Might as well use it to my advantage while I can.”

We finally made our way to our seats and sat down. Now, anybody who knew Tim will tell you he was a flirt with the ladies. He definitely had a weakness where beautiful women were concerned. That said, a few minutes later a hot blonde took the seat right next to him. He glanced over, did a double-take, and said, “Well, hell-ooo. How YOU doin’?

I could only stare and shake my head. Here he was, days away from dying, skinny as hell, hair sticking up all over, spitting blood into a paper cup, just so damn sick.

But still flirting with the girls? Hell yes.

On September 26th my wife and I had a political fundraiser at our house for my cousin Mike, a State Senator at the time. I believe it was a Sunday. There were 25-30 people there, and towards the end of the party Tim walked in. The place grew completely quiet, as many of the people there hadn’t seen him in weeks or even months and were stunned at his appearance. I remember our Scottish Terrier, Poe, coming out of the bedroom and looking at Tim. Poe normally stayed in the bedroom when we had large groups of people over, as he wasn’t crazy about big crowds. This time, however, was different. He walked over to the chair that Tim has just sat down in, jumped up on his lap, and began crying and licking his face. For the rest of Tim’s stay Poe wouldn’t leave his side.

Somehow, Poe knew.

The next evening I got the phone call nobody ever wants to get, and I immediately went over to Tim’s house.

I’ll always be thankful for the fact that I was able to spend a few of his last minutes with him.

I’d lost friends before, but they’d all passed suddenly. They never had a chance to think about what was happening, no time to say goodbye, no time for anger or sadness.

Tim had time for all of those things.

The thing is though, over those last 3-months I never saw him angry. I never saw him play the victim, never saw him feel sorry for himself, never saw him scream at God and ask why. Around me at least, he carried a quiet dignity that was remarkable. I respected that so much.

Once, towards the end, I mentioned this to him. I said that if I were in his position I’d be tempted to avenge very person who ever did me wrong, at the very least tell them how I felt before I left this earth, really let them have it.

His response?

“That’s because you’re an asshole. I am too, but something like this makes you see things a little differently. Why waste time on negative stuff like that? Life’s too short.”

Coming from him at that moment, truer words were never spoken.

I’ve not always been successful, but ever since he said that I’ve tried to not waste time using negative energy in my life. It seems a cliché, but you really do have to try and be the best person you can be every day. Like he said, why waste precious time?

He was only 42 when he died, and that was way too soon. And as difficult as it was to watch him suffer, at least he got to say his goodbyes to those he loved, especially his daughter Becky and his son Mike. That’s a kind of blessing, right?

After Tim’s funeral, we went out with some mutual friends and basically reminisced about him. It was an emotional day, and afterwards I just wanted to get home, spend some time alone and relax.

I went down to my basement where I had a bar, my library, and my music collection. I made a drink, sat down on my couch and laid my head back, just trying to unwind after a trying day. When I finally looked up, though, something caught me eye. A CD had fallen from one of my shelves and was on the floor, right in the open, where it had inexplicably landed right in the middle of the room.

The album was Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. 

It seems that Tim had gotten the last word.

I walked over and picked it up, put the CD in the player, hit play, and listened.

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Comments
  1. John and Kathy Barnhart says:

    Dave, this tribute to John’s brother Tim was wonderful. You made John and I cry and remember our Timmy. Thank you so much!!!

  2. Joe A says:

    Great story. Tim was the first person to find me when I arrived to work at the Gazette back in the late ’80s. Only a few days after I got there, he took me on a tour of the county in his Jeep, as I recall.

  3. Cathy Zangri says:

    Let me share a story about Tim and what he did to me: It was time to get my drivers license renewed actually I was past time and as I waited my turn to be called to the counter finally being called I rushed to the counter. The girl behind the desk said oh you’re expired I see about that time Tim came out from the back and greeted me with the usual Hi Cathy how are you? I’m really sorry I have to do this but he placed a screw driver on the counter and told me you have to go outside and take the license plate off your car. Since you’re expired your drivers license I have to take your plates and you can’t drive. Well I being gullible as I am totally believed him and reached for the screw driver with everyone at the counter staring at me and said okay I’ll go get it. Tim stopped me halfway out the door and said I was just kidding you. That was my fondest memory of Tim. He was a great man.

  4. Kathie Bunch says:

    That was an exceptional piece of writing about a very interesting man. Bravo.

  5. Dave, what an amazing and touching piece. Tim was such a wonderful and funny man. And he was certainly right about one thing … Sgt. Peppers IS the best album. 🙂 Thank you for writing this. Your blog is very impressive, I’ll definitely have to read more often.

  6. Jim burns says:

    Tim was my God Child. He was always there when you needed him. I still think about him.

Gimme a holler.

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