I met Joseph Rodney Evans–or Rodney, as I knew him–while I was editor of The Weevil Eye, the Enterprise State Junior College student newspaper. He was a reporter for the paper, and a character from the beginning. He was as round as he was tall, with slick black hair and thick, dark-tinted glasses, continually wearing a black canvas duster.
That’s how I still see him, because that’s how I saw him nearly every day for three or four years, I suppose. After ESJC, we each moved on to Troy University, where we lived on the same hall in the same crappy dorm. I kept on with the newspaper thing, but Rodney had other interests. Still, we saw each other every day, and often hung out several times a week. I can tell you that Rodney was a good man–one of the kindest and most genuine people I’ve ever met.
Rodney died last Friday. I still can’t wrap my head around it. We’d reconnected several years ago on Facebook, and I was startled to learn that he was in bad shape physically. Rodney had won the kind of genetic lottery you never want to claim. His eyes were bad–I think he even lost one of them later on–and he was morbidly obese, on dialysis, and had heart problems. I find that last part terribly ironic. He had one of the biggest hearts I’ve ever known. There shouldn’t have been any damned problems.
Here is the difference between Rodney and myself: I am a bullshitter par excellence. Even today, I BS with the best of them. But back then I was all-world at bullshitting, and pretty insufferable because of it. Rodney was not like that at all. He was, as far as I can tell, completely anti-bullshit. He often made me uncomfortable with his naked vulnerability, because I’d learned to be something of a chameleon, to disguise my hurts and my pain–to put up walls and not let anyone in.
He was also one hell of a talented writer. Twenty years from now, some lucky editor is going to dig up old manuscripts of Rodney’s and go “Holy shit–who is this guy? He’s GOOD.” He was smart, and I had/have a healthy respect for the intelligent choices he made in his stories. He was, in many ways, ahead of his time. He wrote a lot of speculative fiction early on, about 15 years too soon. I think he would have been right at home in the new crop of magical realism writers that have come along recently.
I called him last year. Or maybe the year before. He’d posted something to Facebook that was sad, and I knew he was essentially homebound and might like to talk to someone. He didn’t pick up, so I left a voicemail. I didn’t follow up with another call. I know how it is with depression. Sometimes you’re hurting so bad and you want someone to reach out to you–but you want it to be the right someone. I figured I wasn’t it, so I let it go. I wish I hadn’t. I wish I’d called him back again and again, wish I’d annoyed him enough to answer the damned phone.
God, he was funny. Sarcastic without ever really being mean. And despite all of his physical challenges, I never saw him bitter. I saw him hilariously angry many times, but never bitter.
I want to tell you that at his core, Joseph Rodney Evans was a good man–a better man than I was, and better than I ever will be. And yet I’m the one with the house and the cars and the wife and the kids. I’m the one here still breathing. He’s not. And that’s a damned shame. He deserved every happiness, but got damned little of it. And now he’s gone.
I wish I could tell him thank you. Thank you for being my friend when I was so full of myself that I didn’t have many. Thank you for forgiving me when i was being an asshole. Thank you for making me laugh. Thanks for letting me be one of the legion of people who were able to call you a friend.
Rest in peace, Rodney.