Sunday, July 26, 2015

Thank you, Derek. And rest well.

This is the most painful thing I’ve ever written.

In the fall of 2002, I was a new teacher at Adams City High School. Naturally, being the newest member of the staff, I was given the smallest classroom and assigned freshmen. I actually didn’t mind being assigned freshmen since I tended to like working with freshmen and sophomores the best anyway. At any rate, on the first day of school, in walked a short, skinny blonde kid named Derek Reinhardt who quickly distinguished himself as both highly intelligent, and a bit of a smartass; my favorite type of student, I knew he and I were going to get along well. Little did I know at the time the profound impact he would have on me and on everyone with whom he would come into contact.

A few weeks into the school year, Derek and I were talking about rock climbing. I told him I’d done it for a while and wanted to get into it again now that I was once again living in Colorado. Derek offhandedly said “I’d like to try climbing sometime; I bet it’d be pretty cool.” That simple statement laid the groundwork for what was to become one of the most intense and amazing experiences of my life. A few short months later, the Adams City Climbing Eagles were a reality. For those who don’t know what that was, the incredibly short answer is that the Climbing Eagles were a high school rock climbing team that participated in the Denver Climbing League, a competitive youth climbing series hosted by Paradise Rock Gym. But it was more than that. Much more. We were friends. We were a family. We drove each other crazy. We stood up for each other against all outside comments. We cried on each other’s shoulders. We laughed and patted each other on the back. We pushed each other to become more than who we were; we encouraged each other to become the people we saw inside each other. For seven years, the Climbing Eagles were a home to quite a wide range of individuals who called my classroom, the climbing gyms, and the cliffsides home. And Derek was always there, even after his graduation, and his spirit was a constant presence in everything we did.

Graduation happened, and Derek and I went on living our lives; in touch on again and off again. We finally got together at Williams and Graham for a drink some time ago, and we picked up right where we left off. The night was filled with laughter and hugs, and we promised to get together again as soon as we could.

About six months ago, we made good on that promise, and it would turn out to be the last time I would see my friend. We had gotten together to discuss the role I was hoping he’d play in the opening of my restaurant. We talked about him documenting the entire journey through photographs and video, and the more we talked about what I wanted to do, the more he loved the idea. He quickly and readily agreed to be a part of it, but warned me that when he interviewed me, he was going to ask tough questions and not hold back. I smiled and said I fully expected him to. I told him that if he didn’t, I would be disappointed and that he wouldn’t really be Derek Reinhardt. He laughed and said, “Yeah, I’ve always been a pain in the ass like that.” I smiled and said, “Yeah, and that’s why I love you so much.” He looked me in the eyes, smiled, and said, “I love you too, Mayville.”

And that’s who Derek was. He was the one to call me on it when I wasn’t living up to who I could be. He was the one to smile and offer a helping hand whenever and however he could. He was the one I could count on in both good times and bad. He was there. He was Dex. He was amazing as a teenager; he grew into an absolutely incredible man. For those who don’t know, Derek became one of the best photographers I’d ever seen, and he used his skill behind the camera to benefit others, unhesitatingly going into places where others would fear to enter when he traveled to Haiti and the Philippines after natural disasters so he could bring water filters to those areas and insure that those there had safe drinking water. I was proud of him when he was a teen; I was honored to know him as an adult.

We didn’t always see eye to eye. Who can honestly say that they can do that 100% of the time with anyone they know? Yet when Derek and I disagreed (and even argued), the one thing we both knew and felt was the love and respect we had for each other that was the undercurrent of our lives. That was the one constant between us always. It never changed, and it never would.

Yesterday afternoon, when his mother contacted me to tell me he was gone, I felt the world fall out from under me. I went completely cold. While I cannot even begin to imagine the pain and darkness his parents feel, nor would I presume to understand what they are going through; I can say that the world is much less bright than it used to be. He touched so many people in so many ways. He never once held back his smiles or his love. His enthusiasm and energy were contagious, and just by being in his presence, you felt compelled to push yourself to live up to the potential you know he saw in you. He never stopped working to make the world into the better place he knew it could be, and others were always invited to go along on his ride.

Derek Reinhardt made a profound impact on my life and the lives of those around him. I was and am privileged and honored to call him my friend. But he was more than that. He was my little brother. I don’t think he ever knew how much I admired him. How can you really ever tell anyone that? He knew I was proud of him; he knew I loved him. I just hope he knew how much.