The tumultuous, emotional rollercoaster of a relationship that Terrence ended up having with me is not what he signed up for when we became friends in 2002. It began innocently platonic - I mean, he's two days older than my younger brother. Even though our age difference is less than three years, the sibling age reference created little foundation for intimacy.
As a member of Rickey's former college basketball team and a good friend of mine, Terrence held fast in his vigil by my side when Rickey died in 2003. On that first night of the rest of my life without Rickey, Terrence sat in the living room with my roommates all night long while I laid motionless in my bed between brief fits of tears and even briefer moments of restless sleep.
That day, after I received the devastating phone call from Rickey's father and news spread across campus, Terrence was at the foot of my bed immediately after basketball practice. Unlike everyone else who tried to touch me, hug me or offer consoling advice that day, he sat quietly in the evening darkness of my room for what may have been an hour. I can't remember how long. I know that he listened to me cry. That he listened to me breathe. And then he listened to me cry again. I know that just before he left my room and joined the growing group of friends and a few university staff gathering in the living room that he said something I will never forget. I have carried it with me ever since.
The next morning, he peeked into my bedroom just before he left for the team's Canadian basketball tour and continued to check in the entire time he was gone. He called every morning and every night. He sent letters and postcards. And when the team returned a few weeks later, I could feel him reading my moods. He and I still wonder how that innate need to take care of me sprung out of nowhere.
In the years that followed, Terrence willingly made himself my sandbag, and tried to catch me every time the storm of regret sent me careening headfirst. I'm sure there were many eyebrows raised when people perceived that he was filling Rickey's shoes. I never actually heard what words may have churned through the gossip mill of that small college town, but I knew what it looked like. Here was an apparent replacement. The check lists matched. Student-athlete. Basketball player. Tall. Black.
Check. Check. Check. And check.
They even look alike. Not as much in physical appearance as in expression. They have analogous mannerisms. Similar swagger. Down-south Georgia boys with their baseball caps turned back or loosely propped on top of their heads and cocked to the side. College-educated, with the ability to switch between street lingo and classroom vernacular with ease. When Terrence walked around a corner wearing a black wave cap, I often saw Rickey for a split second. And as much as it could sting in those first milliseconds, it was immediately soothing. I found it so comforting that I didn't care what anyone thought. Everything hurt. Bad. I sought relief. Terrence was relief.
Terrence's hero badge and white horse didn't come without burdens. He was often weighed down by my panic attacks, mood swings and misdirected verbal lashings. Over the years, I began to exalt Rickey's memory, glorifying him into a faultless version of selective memories, making him falsely perfect. Erasing his mistakes and the decisions he made that would eventually take his life. As a result, Terrence often endured heated episodes in which he had to firmly remind me that he wasn't Rickey.
Admittedly, our relationship began blindly, hastily. My closest friends warned me that I was jumping in too soon. That I needed to take time to deal with myself. That I could end up hurting Terrence once the sting of losing Rickey subsided. I ignored the risks. So did Terrence.
I was dealing with my own demons and in no realistic position to contribute positively to someone else's life. When faced with the challenge to be there for Rickey at a time when he needed me most, I had failed miserably and finitely. When acknowledging his problems, I had offered flighty ultimatums. It's not that I feel responsible for his actions. It's that I regret being embarrassed by his addiction. I regret not doing more. Even if nothing had worked, at least I could live with knowing that I had really tried.
For me, failure is not in lack of success, but in lack of attempt. But regret can leave a bruise that is slow to heal, but Terrence helps me live through it and love my loved ones better. Is he my crutch? Maybe. If I'm going to be fair and truly introspective, I have to admit that. But he helped me move forward so that I could walk on my own. And now that I can, I prefer to walk beside him.
So while some may have perceived that Terrence stepped into Rickey's shoes, I know the truth. That he simply picks up the shoes and shines them when they're dusty.
The last state on my cycling tour is for you, Terrence. You've been at the end of everything for the last seven years. I'm on my way. On my own. Glad you're here. Love now and always.
UPDATE: Terrence proposed on a rocky shoreline in New Hampshire a few hours after I finished my bicycle tour across North America. Although our engagement ended in October 2011, we still remain close friends.