Missing my friend (updated at end)

For the last three days, it has rained from the sunshine.

We live in one of those places where half the people you meet aren’t natives. It’s not like Florida, where people go to live out the rest of their lives. This is a place where people come to work and decide they are home again.

That’s what Gulfman and I did. He came from Long Island. I came from the middle of America. We both found our way here by way of places that were too humid to breathe. We both came here with precious little experience in Southern living. We both came here to work and ending up calling this place home.

This place isn’t like where we came from. Though we both held great nostalgia for our old haunts, we both bought homes here. We dealt with the ice storms and we sweated through the summers. We knew we were better off, because on any given night, we could probably sit outside, have something cold to drink, and laugh about nothing. Or not talk at all. Gulfman was big on that. He appreciated people who could just sit and not talk.

From the time the phone rang Friday morning until this very moment, the sky has been most frquently full of sunshine. The sky is that impossible Carolina blue. The breeze is both warm and cool. Just enough to make you say, “Damned nice day.” And yet, every few hours, there are some raindrops that fall from the sky. It’s just enough to make me–even if it is trite and far from poetic–think of teardrops. And Stevie Ray Vaughan. And Gulfman.

Gulfman was supposed to get up early and head to work on Friday morning. A photojournalist–the kind of shooter who made stories better than they ever could’ve been before he touched them–he was hoping to grab an early story so he could get home to his wife and home. Overnight between Thursday and Friday, Gulfman got sick, collapsed, and never woke up. The eventual diagnosis was a brain tumor that had exploded and bled into my buddy’s brain. As I learned a few years ago with my dad, blood is like poison, like acid almost, on the brain.

I saw Gulfman, unconcious and on life support, Friday morning. Because I’d been granted a miracle with my father, I somehow believed I’d get another miracle with Gulfman. He was only 34 years old and was in perfect health. The guy that used to be on the party circuit with me had spent the last three years not drinking, not smoking, not partying at all. I was already planning to spend a few days a week visiting him in rehab. Because I believed he was going to be okay.

Saturday I learned that the miracle wasn’t coming this time. Saturday night, I had Gulfman’s friends to my house. We sat, cried, laughed, looked at pictures, and told every Gulfman story we knew ten times. For every person Gulfman met, there are tons of Gulfman stories. He was one of those people you meet in life who is, in short, a “character.”

Many people don’t know that Gulfman was the inspiration for Bradoween. During one of his frequent rants, Gulfman suggested that we all have holidays in honor of ourselves. After a lot of ranting, we decided my holiday should be called Bradoween. Gulfman won the first ever Bradoween Photographer Footrace.

Before and after that time, Gulfman and I spent days upon days on the road together. We crashed in hotel rooms, ate counteless meals (both good and bad) and told every story we could find. He was one of the few people I’ve ever met who was completely different than the first impression he offered. Brash, cranky, and outspoken, he was among the most gentle, caring, and thoughtful people I have ever met. He was one of few people in this world that actually cared about others more than he cared about himself. Of course, most people would never know that.

I would like to write more, but I don’t want to do it now. Part of me just hasn’t accepted that my buddy is gone.

One thing though. It’s a joke nobody would get unless they’d spent a lot of time around Gulfman.

A notorious list-maker, Gulfman always had a slip of paper on the dashboard of his news truck. Whether it was the groceries he needed to buy, the stock he needed to price, or what he needed to do to his lawn, the list was always there. And I liked to needle him about it, primarily because there was nothing funnier than a Gulfman rant. As we rode around one day, I needled him a bit about his list. Later, I mentioned to him that I’d just bought two new pairs of shoes. Without missing a beat, without even cracking a smile, Gulfman pulled a pen from behind his ear and scribbled on his list: “Brad got new shoes.”

That was Gulfman.

Damn it, I miss him.

Update: Visit this site to see the memorial story G-Rob did on Gulfman. G-Rob did a great job with what had to be the toughest story of his career. Not sure how long the story will be up, so if you want to see it, look now.

Brad Willis

Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

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22 Responses

  1. Anonymous Maudie says:

    So, so sorry…

  2. So very sorry to hear about your loss. Do what you do best for those that need you most.

  3. Sorry to hear about the loss of your friend. Good to hear you have such great memories of him.

  4. Give his family the sincerest of poker blogger condolances from all of us.

    I’m sure that he’ll be honored at Bradoween with the fanfare he deserves.

    If you ever need to tell another Gulfman story, I’ll listen…..

  5. Brad, you did a wonderful job of capturing our friend Chris. Thanks.

  6. Thanks for posting the link to G-Rob’s piece. That was lovely.

  7. The sky never cries enough.

    My condolences – I’ll be thinking of you.

  8. peace to you and yours, man.

  9. Anonymous Terri Cohen-Lieberman says:

    Thank you for writing such a lovely tribute. Chris and I were friends from college and I miss him very much. You’ve given us all a great picture of who our cranky and funny New York Chris had become.

  10. Thanks for sharing the wonderful person that Gulfman was with us, Brad.

    G-Rob is the fucking man. Thanks for that link.

    You guys are in all of our thoughts.

  11. I’m so sorry, Otis.

  12. My condolence to you and G-Rob.

  13. G/E, sorry for your loss. But celebrate the time you had. Few of us will check out the upstairs bulletin board and get enough tributes like you folks are making to have to sit down and make a list.

  14. My condolences to you and G-Rob. You paint an amazing tribute to him, such that I wish I could’ve known him. You two and his family are in all of our thoughts.

  15. Anonymous skardon says:

    My heart goes out to everyone at WYFF.. all my friends and co-workers… God bless you all. Chris was a precious gift.

  16. I am very saddened by what is obviously such a tragic loss. The news story was beautiful and captured what a wonderful person he was; my heart goes out to all of you and shares your grief.


  17. My sincere condolences to you and yours. I’m very sorry for your loss.


  18. I’m very sorry to hear about this Otis. Even though I didn’t know Gulfman, I certainly know people just like him. As much as you’ve lost by Gulfman’s passing, you’ve gained much more for having called him a friend.

    I look forward to hearing a Gulfman story and tipping back a drink in his honor one day soon.

  19. All day yesterday, I looked at the sun and imagined the rain you are feeling. You have a way of capturing feelings with words like no one else I read. If anyone were to pen Gulfman down and do it justice, it would be you. Hug your loved ones close and hang in there. So sorry for your loss.

    Ruth and Gary

  20. Anonymous Anonymous says:

    I’m very sorry for your loss…

    His energy “spirit” goes on! I’ll pray for the both of you.. More for you as he is with God now.. no more worries, no more lists/notes on the dashboard..

    He had a great smile…

  21. Anonymous Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the tribute to Chris. I knew him from grade school through high school. Genuinely a nice guy!

  1. May 24, 2011

    […] (or something like them) just a little more than five years ago today in a piece I titled “Missing my friend.” It had been just a few hours since Gulfman had died and I barely knew what to do with […]

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