Meet my friend
Updated: Jul 26
This is Ronald Juan Tyler, Junior.
I met Ronnie the first day of high school, 7th period, Ms. Taylor's (there is a funny story there that I will tell later) Algebra I class. Either I was late or he was late, and there was one seat left in the class. We had those tables with 2 seats each. He probably said something funny, and more than likely provided a running commentary under his breath the entire class.
He made my high school years bearable. We were thick as thieves all four years, and for some years after. We did all kinds of things together, like taking construction cones and putting them in the yard of one of our classmates. I can't remember now if it was Mark McKinstry (who Ronnie called "McChemistry") or Tommy Kalmbach's front yard; but, when they got up the next morning, there was a reflective traffic barricade and several orange cones in their yard. We went to weekend after weekend midnight showings of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show", yelling at the screen, sneaking in bread and water spray bottles to throw and squirt at the right time, and singing the words to every song. We perfected the game Pente, on the coveted rolled mat version of the game. We played that game for hours at a time.
He was the drum major during his senior year, played the saxophone, and decided at some point in our high school days that he wanted to learn to play the piano. He must have practiced for hours because he was very good at it. I think he had the perfect hands for playing musical instruments. I remember sitting in his living room, where the upright piano was, setting up the Pente board while he played a few songs, with the brilliant sunshine streaming bright through the front window.
In 2003, when these photos were taken, I traveled to NYC, where he lived with his partner. Ronnie was a gay man before it was okay to be one out in the open. Thank goodness he moved to NYC from Columbus, GA, which enabled him to not be quite so closeted. We had the best time. Ronnie was incredibly funny, and had a very sardonic wit. His quips would constantly double me over in a laughing fit. I slept on a pull-out sofa bed during my stay with them, and accidently knocked over something on the floor when I was getting out of bed. Ronnie immediately yelled, "Oh, Lord! She's up and breaking everything in her path!" I will never forget that. It was so like him.
Ronnie hated having his pic made, so you can imagine what he is thinking while posing with this NYC police officer, just two years after the 9/11 attacks.
I can't believe it's been almost 20 years.
So, life moves pretty fast (according to Ferris Bueller), and it's easy to be swept up in it. That's what happened to Ronnie and me. He was swept up and swirled about in ways that I never understood, including a more and more volatile relationship with his partner, and self-harm that I won't get into. I talked with him a few times over the years, and he always seemed to be hanging on by a thread. Always.
I've been thinking about him a lot these last few weeks, and finally decided to dig around on the internet to find his number. I finally found the home number for his mother (Ronnie's father died of cancer several years ago). When she answered, and I told her it was Carmen Ingram calling, she just started sobbing. I, of course, knew what this meant.
I have to tell you that I am just heartbroken. Ronnie and I were never supposed to drift apart. I try to live my life with very few regrets because those are the heaviest burdens to carry. One of my deepest regrets will be letting him go so easily. I love this man with my whole heart, and I am not at all sure he ever knew it. I am not sure he had many friends. I have no idea if there were flowers or cards or telephone calls that flowed in and around him at the end.
My darling and fabulous friend was honest, gentle, loving, longsuffering, and truly one of the best people ever put on this planet. He passed away after a two-month diagnosis of a rare and very aggressive cancer. His mother and his brother were at his side as he slowly left this life. His mother told me that when he stopped breathing, she held him until the pulse in his neck was still.
I will say it again: I am utterly heartbroken. I would have loved to lie next to him, stroking his face, and singing songs from Rocky Horror, telling him how special he was, and how he changed my life for the better just by intersecting with it. He deserved to have that. And I will love him and miss him, and try to be a better friend to others, to honor him.
Rest, my darling Ronnie. Rest.