I’ve been blessed in my life with a great family. A mother and father. Two brothers. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, a pair of nieces, and a pair of nephews.
I’ve been further blessed by a collection of such good friendships that I am an honorary member of other families. Some of these relationships date back more than thirty years (at the time of my writing this, I am thirty seven years old, so this is not an insignificant amount of time). Over time you adopt and are adopted by other sets of parents and siblings, that eventhough (yes, it is one word if you say so, Pete) the DNA would say elsewise, you are family.
One of those families—the Streichers—have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Principally, my introduction and connection with the family began with my friend Aaron. I have spent a lifetime interacting with his family—birthday parties, skateboarding, bands, video games, football games, family vacations, family dinners, and just hanging out. When I gave the best man speech at Aaron’s wedding, I recounted a story from Kindergarten when Aaron moved to our school from another school. As fate had it, our teacher, Mrs. Middleton, pulled me aside and said, “Aaron is new here. Can you please be nice to him and show him around?”
That’s how far this goes back.
This week, the Streicher family lost a member. A brother. A son. After a lifetime of trying to make it in the world, Peter Streicher, Aaron’s older brother, chose to leave us at age 44.
I am not mad at Peter and the choice he made.
I am thankful for all of the moments we shared. There are snapshots without context. His green Volvo. The day he showed up with a motorcycle. How he threw the football to Aaron and me in the backyard. A leather jacket with Psychedelic Furs on the back. A red Stratocaster. All of these things are old and gone and probably have been since the late 80s. Later in life, after taking a long road trip, he told me to get to Big Bend in Texas (I promised I would, and promise I still will). Most recently, I was glad when I saw his orange Honda in the driveway, because I knew it meant I was in for good conversation.
He was there when we were growing up. Old enough to be the cool kid, but not so old to be unrelatable. And I never felt like he saw me as a little kid or simply as “Aaron’s friend.” He treated me like family. And when it became clear as we both got older that we experienced some of the same existential pains, he would ask me how I was doing and wouldn’t tolerate a blow off answer like, “Oh, I’m doing fine.” And I, in turn, was the same way with him. As a result, we had some pretty heavy conversations over the years, and I made the assumption that it would always be that way until we were old men around a poker table.
You don’t always end up with what you think you’ll get.
This is one of those times.
On Thursday afternoon, Peter sent out an email with the subject line Fond Farewell from Peter Streicher. The email itself read, in part, “if everything went according to plan, I died by suicide in my home this afternoon.”
The rest of the email was, as you might expect, loving and sad, sometimes funny, reassuring where it could be. I reread it a few times, maybe still in shock, before feeling the urge to cry.
He also attached a 42 page letter to the email to give more insight into his thoughts. I couldn’t open it right away.
Pete and I talked a lot about music. We shared album recommendations every time we met for a card game or a birthday party or whatever else brought us together. I’m not sure why exactly, but once I had a chance to process Thursday’s email, my first impulse was to listen to one of those albums Pete recommended to me—Low’s The Great Destroyer. I wanted to remember. What exactly, I don’t know.
I would later read the letter Pete left behind and see a line about The Great Destroyer, and I would know, in that way filled with certainty but no tangible way of proof, that the larger Universe was afoot. That there are levers and pulleys always in operation, and always undetectable.
This is a common thread through all of our lives.
I am sorry that the inexplicable intricacies of the hardwiring unique to each of us, was so profoundly wired the way it was in Pete. But, it was that way, and no amount of effort ever proved enough to untangle it. It was not for lack of trying. The search for the machinery can be consuming to the point of exhaustion. What are we to do with inquisitive minds when we can never know the how and why of our greater lives and the simple motion of gears is not enough?
I have tiptoed along The Void many times in life. Once, during a particularly bad episode with depression (and one that I haven’t widely talked about), I was walking from my house to my office when I realized I didn’t (a) know where I was, or (b) who I was. I don’t mean this in a metaphorical sense. I had somehow ended up, as best I can describe, as something of a temporary amnesiac. The whole episode lasted less than a minute.
When I came back to myself, the first person I called was Pete. We’d recently been talking about depression and the stranglehold it can take on what should be, by all accounts, a wonderful life. We’d talked about the peculiarities of environmental and emotional sensitivities, the way two people could go through similar experiences and end up in disparate places. We talked about the stigma attached. We talked about how some people weren’t ever going to understand it wasn’t a matter of “just being happy” as though there were some great switch we’d all been missing while pawing around in the dark.
Our conversations often intersected in a mix of cynicism and resigned humor. Well, what are you going to do about it? We shared a nod and a wink and a hug at the absurdity of it all. Even in the face of the internal struggle he waged, he was incredibly funny. I am thankful for his laugh and I will never not hear it when I think of him.
And I will think of him often, especially during the upcoming holiday season, the time of year I was most likely to see him. We will still gather as a family. We will recognize what is missing. We will recognize the treasure of what is left behind.
I love you, man. Be at peace.