I’ve written a lot about Jake and BMuttz’s friendship on this here blog. It’s not just because of the comedic value spurred by two grown men whose bond could put Oprah and Gayle to shame, either. Nope, I enjoyed their friendship for an entirely different reason. Kinda like the film academy and Sally Field in the mid-’80s, I liked him. I REALLY, REALLY liked him.
Jake and I had only been dating a few months when his best friend came to Vegas for a weekend visit four years ago. I still remember standing in my one-bedroom apartment when my brand-spanking-new boyfriend came over to make a very special introduction. I was a little nervous. From our first getting-to-know-you conversation, I’d heard about this BMuttz kid, the grade school days all the way through the college daze. There’s no way he could live up to the hype.
A few hours later, BMuttz and I were exchanging drunken noogies while Jake played the theme song for “Three’s Company” on a piano in the background. … OK, it didn’t quite go like that. In fact, aside from him getting a little too excited to tell me one of what would eventually become SEVERAL Jake trivia facts (“Did you know he has the world’s softest hands?!”), our first meeting wasn’t too memorable.
The next time he visited, Jake and I were living together in a rental house. He and LMuttz were only in town a couple days and I had to work them both. I didn’t spend much time with them, but I do remember Jake’s best friend rocking an accessory that turned into his trademark annual joke: a mustache with more bush than George W. This thing had no business in the 2000′s and that’s exactly what made it so awesome. He went to work, pumped his gas, shopped for groceries and flew to Vegas with a small muskrat on his upper lip. And all for a laugh that only he was in on. I was officially a fan.
About a year and a half later, Jake, BMuttz and their whole college crew embarked on an epic weekend during the NCAA basketball tourney in Detroit, Michigan. It was BMuttz’s bachelor party and a time I knew none of them would ever forget as Michigan State glass slippered its way to the championship game. I blogged about it on this here post and Jake shared it with a few of his friends. BMuttz not only called Jake to offer his enthusiasm, but he left a comment on the follow-up post that solidified him as part of the “Starts with an X” family. This time HE was officially a fan.
After months of fielding laugh-out-loud “Starts with an X” comments from BMuttz, we met up again over the weekend of his wedding. Jake and I went to Michigan a few days early so he could show me the suburb where he grew up and the college campus where his closest friendships formed. The extra days also translated to more time with BMuttz and to one of the most fun weekends I’ve ever had. He wanted to know if I really come up with all that stuff on my blog on my own and actually quoted one of my posts one night with the college crew. If you want to flatter someone who fancies themself a writer, I can’t think of a better way to do it, kids.
At the tail end of his wedding night, he asked me to have a shot with him. Just before we downed it, he said something I’ll never forget: “Man, I wish you went to college with us!” Right about then I was wishing I did, too.
Once we took this trip together, that sealed the deal. Not only did I love BMuttz, but now I loved his wife, too. I envisioned annual vacations together. They could come here to escape from Michigan winters and we’d flip the script for Vegas summers. Eventually our kids would think they were cousins. And on and on and on.
But cancer had other plans. We prayed hard when the diagnosis came and harder when the fucking thing wouldn’t show any mercy. We didn’t just pray at night, but in the shower, on the drive to work, at the dog park – whenever we could fit it in. Loose eyelashes, shooting stars, birthday candles and yellow stoplights all became one last plea to make BMuttz better. But none of it worked. After what can only be described as a heroic fight, he passed away Nov. 28. We knew it was coming, but when Jake got the news it became fact. Present tense became past tense with one phone call.
I tried to comfort my fiance, but he just shook his head with a trembling lip and kept me at arm’s length. He let his body weight thud against our kitchen wall and his head followed. I almost couldn’t bear the sight. Jake leaned into the wall as if it was hugging him back.
While we made travel arrangements, he told me he’d sworn to never again fly Allegiant — one of the few airlines with direct flights to Grand Rapids, Michigan. His grudge involved a wedding trip for one of his college “homies” in which the airline lost his luggage and wanted to charge him to have it returned. Jake’s not the kind of guy to blow up on a pompous flight attendant delivering a ridiculous company policy from behind a desk. But BMuttz sure as hell was. To the point they had to threaten to call the police on his ass. Guess who’s been blowing up on Jake’s behalf the last four years? Maybe that’s why BMuttz and I hit it off so well. Because we could both GO OFF so well.
Funeral services came and went. There were just as many laughs as tears in remembering the husband, son, brother, cousin and friend who had a mischievous grin, fiery temper and life-of-the-party charm. Over those few days, the words “BMuttz would’ve wanted it that way” seemed to play in broken record mode, often with the accompaniment of an extra strong Maker’s Mark, Mickey’s 40 oz. or generously-poured shot. The Midwest can pour out a little liquor, too, apparently.
Over the last eight days I haven’t been able to get the image out of my head of LMuttz walking down the funeral home aisle clad in black lace. Just 15 months earlier her loved ones gathered to watch her walk down a much different aisle, clad in white lace.
The deacon at the funeral said cases like BMuttz’s tend to “accelerate love.” Amen to that. My heart started pedaling the moment LMuttz called me with the cancer news in January and hasn’t stopped since. I don’t know why her husband only got 29 years on this earth, but I do know that Lindsay Homrich Mutnick was the best wife Benjamin Ross Mutnick could have possibly had while he was here. And I know that, if you aren’t more than willing to sit by your partner’s bed and feed him, nurse him, encourage him, support him, comfort him, hold him — LOVE HIM — the way she did BMuttz, then you don’t know the first thing about true love.
That’s what I learned from faithfully reading the Muttz’s blog over the last nine months. That and a new appreciation for health. As Damian Marley puts it, “Ive got love and assurance, I’ve got new health insurance, I’ve got strength and endurance, so I COUNT MY BLESSINGS.”
Whenever I think about Jake and BMuttz’s friendship, which I’ve done a lot of lately, I’m taken back to the night of the Muttz’s wedding. Just after BMuttz and I took that shot, he told me there was no one like my boyfriend and shared a few more Jake trivia gems (“He can’t ash out of a window with his left hand!” “Do you know how many showers that kid takes a day?!”). The whole time we discussed his “favorite Paraguayan,” BMuttz lit up like the top of the Luxor. If I didn’t know it before, I knew then that I was talking to someone who thought as much of Jake as me, but for much longer than me.
I didn’t know Ben the way Jake or the rest of their college friends did. I knew him for a short time, but it was long enough to know that I liked him, I REALLY REALLY liked him. And, that’s why I’ll miss him.
I’ll miss his hilarious comments on this blog. I’ll miss visits from him and LMuttz together. I’ll miss his sports commentary on Facebook. I’ll miss stories about him throwing clubs on the golf course. What I’ll miss most, though, is watching him talk about Jake. It’s OK. Now the angels get to see him light up.