This piece is long overdue. I don’t know if I couldn’t bring myself to or thins just got in the way. Looking at his Facebook pictures makes me think it’s the first rather than the second. I’m not a big crier, which is odd given the work I do, but looking at his picture brings me right to it.
Just before December 15, 2016, one of my best friends from High School, Tony Briand died. I hadn’t seen him in 25 years and, clearly, it was my loss. I know it’s been that long, since I saw him and met his wife either on or near my honeymoon and I’ll be married 25 years in May.
Tony, as I told our friend, Ed Smith, was “my favorite wiseass”. In my life, that’s a high honor. But it’s because of him, that I value such things as wit, humor, and intelligence, mixed with a bit of protective spunk that made him my friend. In short, I’m a wiseass because Tony was.
My favorite example of this is when another sort-of friend planned to “out-insult” Tony. To my knowledge, Tony hadn’t done anything to him, but the guy was jealous of him, and “rank out contests” were something 15 or 16 year boys did. So he insulted Tony and, after the shock of the insult hit, Tony said something back. The guy did it again and, again, Tony responded. Third time out, the guy escalates, and so does Tony. Suddenly aware that he’s not going to beat Tony in this battle of wits, he got upset and gave Tony the middle finger, to which Tony responded, “What’s that? Your sperm count, your IQ, or the number of single White parents you have?” It was like watching Oscar Wilde as a championship boxer. It was over and he never picked on Tony again. To this day, I remember the scene like it was yesterday.
Now, looking back on it from this perspective, it probably wasn’t cool. It was, however, verbal self-defense. As someone who had moved from the teen violence of Springfield, I knew what it was like to need defense in some framework that made sense to me. Tony wasn’t physically violent, or aggressive. He never started anything, but he never took grief from anybody — something I could only aspire to.
I knew where Tony got it from. My mother was short at 5 feet her whole life and she learned that she had to defend herself. Tony was the same way. I was pretty hapless in High School with issues I didn’t even know about til tears later. Though Tony apparently had a rough childhood, as teenager there was none of that — or not that it showed. Because Tony could defend himself, he never had to, and neither did I when we hung out — which was all the time. Tony was in my home room and we became fast friends almost immediately.
Tony lived next to the Hampden Country Club and after school, we would frequently play Frisbee catch on the grass or the green when no one was around. (Shhh, don’t tell anybody). Later, Lucie, his mom worked there with Eddie, his step-father. She worked the night of my 20th (?) reunion and I was thrilled to see her. I attempted to stop by before the funeral out West, but it didn’t come together. You know how some friends you can pick up where you left off? Yep. Lucie and Eddie.
Tony was my good luck charm as I drove in High School. Only once did I drive someone else and that day, someone yelled an obscure remark about the Beatles, just as we passed the police. The officer thought it was me that yelled and that I was using a slang term for police. Neither was true, but the other car (with Tony in it) got away unscathed while I got a ticket. After that, I only drove with him.
Tony, who became a professional chemist, saved me from flunking Chemistry as my lab partner. While I would shatter test tubes turning on the power spigot, Tony would laugh with me about it, and still manage to get the exact results. It was just his thing, and he was great at it.
Tony was kind of an introvert and, on some weekends, he would intentionally stay home… and read 5 books. Absolutely a genius both with his mind and in life, he was a great friend who valued smarts in himself and in others. My first party ever in High School was my graduation party and Tony was there, as a girl I was interested in got drunk and hit on him. We laughed our heads off about it, because there was no danger. Tony would never betray me, and I knew it.
I took six months off after High School to “travel the world” or at least the East Coast hitchhiking. Tony went straight to UConn and introduced me to college life there when I visited him. My folks moved to California and I lived at Tony’s house for awhile, with Eddie, Lucie, and Paul. Later, when I moved out there, he stayed with my family, until he got a job making vitamins (and telling me that my urine would change color if I had enough B vitamins. Ah, the wonders of science!).
He got a job and then got work at Boeing or something and he moved to the more traditional (like New England) Orange County where he apparently met his wife. The last time I saw him, he was so happy and so in love, I knew there was hope for all of us.
As I write this, I can see that nothing spectacular happened with Tony in High School or after. All of the stories above are just goofy things a High School student would do. I think that was the point. With Tony, I always felt accepted and normal, without being picked on or dealing with big issues. It was simply dependable and normal — like life should be. I have since had many clients who will tell you they never knew what normal looked like. Because of Tony, I did. It has been such a life-long gift he gave me.
His wife, just after his death, said “He always spoke highly of” me. I can’t imagine why or what he said, because, as I said, we didn’t do extraordinary things together. Nonetheless, his friendship changed my life and I will never get to tell him that now.
As I wrote this piece, I am aware of people in my life that remind me of Tony. My youngest daughter, for instance, is an introvert and has a voracious appetite for reading and learning… and she can dish it out as well as anyone. I admire her for that. It’s because of Tony. My friend of 30 years Rob McCarthy has the same intelligence, kindness, and normalcy about him. I treasure his friendship because of Tony, I’m sure.
I still want to get together with friends and toast his memory. I still want to connect with Lucie, Eddie, and Paul. A day or so after I learned of his death, I had a dream that Tony came to me and wanted me to be there for the wife he loved. I pray for her frequently, because I know what a loss she is facing. If none of the real-life meetings happen, at least I have done this for my friend Tony Briand.
Resisting with peace,