Earlier this week I received the distressing news that one of my fraternity brothers, Jose Fernandez, was dead.
Jose – aka Joe – was in my pledge class, a small group that somehow earned a reputation for … underachievement? To be sure, we had our share of fuck-ups. But we also proved, when all was said and done, that were a pretty tight group. And now, even though I hadn’t seen Jose in decades, I find myself feeling his loss more deeply than you might expect.
Part of me thinks I should tell you about Jose, describe him somehow. His intensity, for instance – not only would he be the first to tell you to fuck off if you needed it, he’d do it even if you didn’t need it. The son of Cuban immigrants, he managed to be fluent in neither English or Spanish – I told him he was alingual, and he told me to fuck off. We elected him treasurer – not sure what the hell we were thinking – and his financial management style boiled down to “left pocket fraterny money, right pocket Joe money.” No, I’m not making that up. And yes, we made merciless fun of him because we were college-aged boys and that’s just how it is. He took our best shots and gave it right back. That’s what friends do.
All of us who knew Jose had stories – wonderful, marvelous, hysterical stories. The stuff that lends the texture to the golden-hued memories we all make of our glorious youth.
But honestly, I’m not a good-enough writer to convey even the barest sense of the guy, and if any of my fellow Theta Chis are reading this they can testify to it. He was fun, funny, intense, in every way an original.
At that age I don’t think most of us realized the toll that regular living can take on a person, but by now we’ve probably all had more up close and personal exposure to mortality than we like to think about. I know this is true for me, at least. I’ve had people close to me die. I’ve known people whose bodies stopped working. Heck, I am somebody whose body has let him down (or perhaps I have that backward).
When I saw the news on our Facebook group the other day my first reaction was that it had to be his heart. I had no idea that there was a history of heart disease in his family, but I recall telling some of my brothers even back then that I had never seen Jose with a relaxed muscle in his body. I think he was probably wound tight as a banjo string even when he was passed out. Even when he was happy, he seemed to radiate stress. Over time, few things are as fatal as stress.
Honestly, I’m not sure I have a huge point here, other than to say that Joe was one of the great things about my years at Wake Forest. Something about the college experience forges bonds that never quite go away, and this is especially true in a fraternity environment. You live together, you eat together, you party together. I know a lot of folks are cynical about “frats,” and I won’t lie – I have seen chapters that seem to exist for no reason other than to perpetuate the stereotype and give the rest of us a bad name.
And yet, I can see one of my brothers after not talking for years and it’s like we never missed a day.
Whether you were a Greek or not, whether you went to college or not, I hope you have these kinds of memories of your youth to reflect on.
RIP Jose. Our lives were immensely richer for having known you.
And the rest of you, take care of yourselves.