February is always a hard month. Even though you think winter should be starting to slow up, you slowly come to the realization that you've got weeks of cold still coming at you. The days are still far too short. Football is over. Et cetera. For all the normal reasons, February is rough. Last year, February became forever tougher, as Jeffrey Crawford, friend to everyone he met, died the weekend of February 1.
My friendship with Jeffrey was as strong as it was unlikely. When I first met him, it was a bit of a novelty, meeting the guy on Tigerboard who overreacted to everything good and bad, and gave everybody nicknames. (I was Hova. Why? I have no idea. Like that matters.) We met him at the Black and Gold basketball scrimmage before the 2003-04 season, then on a whim invited him to go to Shreveport with us for the Independence Bowl.
It didn't take people very long to start collecting their own Jeffrey stories. He was to genuineness and wide-eyed honesty what Bill Brasky was to greatness, only the stories were all 100% true.
- There was the fact that his car had a license plate that said "Hustla", until he got it changed after a few years, saying it was "time to grow up a little." He was 35 at the time.
- There was the time in Shreveport, when he was so distraught after Mizzou's loss - that it was just going to kill Mizzou's recruiting - that he couldn't bring himself to listen to anything other than Sade on the drive back to the hotel.
- There was the time when he came to our tailgate for the first time, and in such an urge to fit in, he bought some beer on the drive down as a thank you, even though he never drank beer. His purchases? Corona (in 8-ounce "Coronita" bottles) and Colt 45.
Making him drink a Colt with meDrinking a Colt with him was one of my favorite Jeffrey moments.
- There was the time I took him to see one of my favorite bands at House of Blues in Chicago. He had absolutely no fear of standing out in a crowd ... in fact, he thrived on it. He seemed to love that he was getting exposed to so many new experiences. Anyway, the opening band closed with "Sweet Caroline," and naturally the 99% white crowd loved it. We got to the "One...touching one..." part, and the entire crowd sang along and held a finger in the air. He was so confused by the situation that he held his finger in the air too, only he just stared at it, baffled, the entire time.
- There was the time in 2005 when we went to Stillwater for the Mizzou-OSU football game. The night before, my high school alma mater, Weatherford, was playing a district game at home, and I had not yet seen my little-brother-from-another-mother Trent Ratterree (his older brother was my high school best friend) play yet. So I proposed that we head to town early on Friday and hop down to Weatherford for the game. He was beyond thrilled, and I knew he would be. He called it his "Friday Night Lights" experience, and within five minutes, he was the biggest Weatherford fan in the stands. He was as vocal at that game as he was the next day in Stillwater.
- And the cologne. Oh, the cologne. Our house would smell like Jeffrey for a week after a home game, but I think the thing that hit my wife the hardest was when she realized that we weren't going to experience that again.
And that was what made Jeffrey so special - the things that drove you the craziest were the things that made you like him the most.
Now, I don't want to sugarcoat things too much. Jeffrey really did drive me absolutely crazy sometimes, more than almost any other friend I've ever had. He was the one person who could suck me into a full-fledged, reactionary argument after losses, be it on Tigerboard, PowerMizzou, Facebook chat, e-mail, whatever. Only, in the middle of it, I'd get an e-mail that said something like "Hey, I decided I should get into Pearl Jam. What are the 12 Pearl Jam songs I need to download? I'm asking somebody else the same question, and I'll cross reference the lists to figure out the first songs I should download."
Suddenly, I would be Ricky Bobby. "Well, there's Porch, obviously. Thumbing My Way is very underrated. Rearviewmir--hey, I'm still mad at you! I don't even know why I'm talking to you right now!"
But I'm rambling.
Jeffrey, because you were such a consistent person, and because you never failed to stray from exactly who you were, I look back over the last year, and I know exactly how you would have reacted to everything that happened. You would have been so unbelievably excited after the Kansas win last year (and disconsolate after the Kansas loss). You would have been asking me about when we were leaving for the Final Four if Mizzou beat UConn.
You would have convinced yourself Blaine Gabbert was winning three Heismans after the Illinois game. You would have driven home in pouty silence after the Nebraska game (well, that or listen to Sade of course). You would have almost cried, then gleefully mocked KU fans after the KU game at Arrowhead. You would have convinced yourself that the glory days were over after the Texas Bowl.
Because you were so easy to get to know, and so likable ... and because you were so unbelievably unique, it still feels like you aren't really gone. It's cliché to say somebody's memory lives on, but ... your memory lives on. It always will. You were something else, Jay-C.
(And to Seth, who had to make some of the most painful, gut-wrenching phone calls imaginable that weekend, calls to both family members and beloved friends, I probably haven't shared just how proud of, impressed by, and sympathetic for you I was that day. I hate that you had to go through all of it, but I love you that much more for it.)
The first basketball game after Jeffrey's death, Mizzou won at Texas. A week later, they came home and beat Kansas. They ended up going 13-3 down the stretch and came within about five minutes of the Final Four. I couldn't help but think about him the whole time. It was hard not to imagine him pulling strings up in whatever version of heaven I believe in. I still hear his voice in my head when something good happens to Mizzou, and I really hear his voice when something bad happens. Jeffrey never lost his child-like hope and emotion when it came to sports, even while growing up, getting better and better jobs, and befriending more and more good people. It was his best and worst quality, so to speak, and I sometimes wish I were more capable of letting myself go in those moments. Even though I do still feel him and feel his reactions to things as if he were here, he's not, and I miss him dearly.