Tuesday, June 5, 2012

My little part of his big story

Writing, or lack thereof, is a funny thing.  There are some things you want to write down the second they happen, even if you don't actually do it, you want to.  There are other things that get procrastinated, pushed off into the endless to-do pile.  And then, there are things like this.  Things like saying goodbye, things like writing down the life of a friendship, that are stuck there, like a lump in the back of your throat, and you can't swallow them, or get them out.  Being stuck there, it makes it hard to breath at times, you want to get them out, but you just can't do it.  So, my words, they have sat here, stuck, in my blog draft.  Drafts actually.  Maybe five different times I've written, and I couldn't post, I couldn't finish.  I didn't want the content to be true.  Maybe I foolishly thought I wasn't really saying goodbye if I wasn't writing about him.  But today, it's a year later, and no surprise, I still don't feel like saying goodbye.  So instead  of continuing to avoid, I will piece together my drafts, and I will write from my heart.  For my friend.  And the thing is, I'll probably never know just what to say.  Nothing will make it better, nothing will bring him back.  But my friend deserves more than my silence, and I deserve to release some grief.  This is just my little part of his big story.  
On June 6, 2011 I got a voicemail from my friend Mandy.  I was sitting at a beach house in Arch Cape with my family and my parents-in-law getting ready to go stroll around Cannon Beach for the day.  Her voicemail was broken up, but I thought I heard her say that Jim Schiefelbein had died.  I was confused and numb, I got on facebook and confirmed what she had said was true.  There had been a terrible accident, on a logging road, and he'd gone off a steep embankment.  This article was all I could find.  Short and terrible.  I must have read that last sentence 1000 times trying to make sense of it, make it either sink in or be not true.  (That sentence was: "The operator, James Schiefelbein, was ejected and died at the scene.")  After everyone had long gone to bed that night, I looked at the computer screen and read various facebook posts until the wee hours, I was finally able to release a few tears, I stared into cyberspace while my mind raced, until I was blurry eyed, and then I went to bed and I didn't sleep a wink.
It had been over two years since I'd seen Jim.  And that was crazy because he lived just 35 minutes away, in Vancouver, Washington.  We'd called and emailed and said we needed to catch up over a beer.  But we never made that happen. He was traveling and working hard, I was working hard and had my hands full with my 3 little ones.  He and his wife were expecting their first baby, and he had decided to name her Audrey.  I knew that from a post she'd made on facebook and I'd meant to call him and tell him how much I loved that name, how I'd given that name to my first daughter as her middle name.  But I didn't. Just a week before I'd meant to send him a text over Memorial Day to say we were in Joseph, and did he want to "stop by".  Only Jim would consider going to the end of the road in the corner of the state, passing through.  But I didn't.  No reception for a minute, and then I forgot.  In the busyness.  The wall of guilt and sadness over that feels like it will forever haunt me.  

The last time I'd seen Jim, he gushed over his new wife and son.  He told me how he'd adopted her son from a previous relationship and how much he liked being a dad.  He was teaching his little boy to fish and hunt, and he'd never been happier.  We were in a crowded bar after a Montana football game vs Portland State.  We went our separate ways that night without a goodbye, swarms of people all around.  It wasn't a big deal, we'd catch up later when it was less crazy. A million pictures of that day later, yet not one of Jim and I.  Of course I didn't know that that would end up being a precious last day for Jim and me.  A treasured day.  Thinking about it, makes me want to see every single friend I haven't seen and call them all and make sure that they knew how much I love them. I hope Jim knew.  Oh God, I hope he did.  
Dad and Son

The first time I met Jim, was in Missoula at the Bodega.  I walked past he and his friend, and he said, "Hey, what's your name?"  Jenny, I told him, "Where ya from, Jenny?" Joseph, I told him.  "That's my favorite place in the whole wide world."  Ha, Joseph, yeah right, most people I'd met in Montana had never heard of my little town of 1000 people and I certainly didn't believe this tall scruffy looking red head.  I told him as much.  He said, "Ya know Shirley Bothum?" I did, I actually graduated from high school with his daughter, I said so.  "Oh yeah, Katy?" he asked.  I was surprised, okay, I stood corrected, he did know where Joseph was.  He told me about the property his family owned there and that it was indeed his favorite place in the whole wide world.  We talked for the rest of the night.  I ended up dating his best friend / roommate, (which sometimes felt like I was dating Jim too because those two guys were inseparable, definitely what I would consider the definition of a best friendship), for about a year and I also became good friends with Jim's long time girlfriend.  When each of those relationships ended, Jim and I were both pretty broke up about it and had developed a close and true friendship.  We were both hurting and both begging the other for some answers about why our respective dumpers didn't want to be with us any more.  Neither of us was able to provide an answer, but we were certainly able to give each other the gift of time, companionship to ease some of the loneliness.  A lot of people didn't understand our friendship, in the whole men and women can never be friends type of a way.  But that was the thing we always were to each other, just friends.  

I remember this one Valentine's day we went out to the bar, since neither of us had anything romantic to do.  We laughed and laughed about how the only people that go to the bar on Valentine's Day are "what's left".  We didn't even hope to meet anyone that night because who want's "What's left", even if it was us?!  Funny enough, the downtown scene that night was really busy and we did have a lot of fun, playing wingman for one another.  That night I got invited to leave and go watch a movie with a guy I had dated a few years earlier.  I went, and Jim never let me live it down, leaving him alone downtown with "what's left" on Valentine's Day, though he always admitted he would have done the same thing to me if he'd gotten an invitation. 

Jim was bold and loud and crazy and forthcoming.  He'd say things to people that made me think he was going to get us both get knocked out.  The man had no filter, and many a time I seriously questioned his judgement.  He was a total pain in the ass about 50% of the time.  My roommates would throw their hands in the air at how I put up with him when he'd do something crazy in the wee hours, or stop by in some rage about something.  But that's because the other 50% of the time, he was fun and exciting and safe.  And because 100% of the time he was unconditional, even if I was doing something he totally disagreed with, even if I was mean and hurtful, when I was bitchy and sarcastic, and even if I was wrong.  He made sure I knew I  mattered to him.  And not just me, he made sure that everyone who mattered to him knew they mattered to him.  He was dependable and patient and honest.  There was never a hidden motive or deceptive plan.  You never had to wonder what he was after, because, after all, he had no filter.  He was a refreshing person to be around...when he wasn't driving you nuts.  People either loved him with all their heart or thought he was a total ass.  Not much in between.  He knew this, and he also knew that he could win over pretty much anyone, if given enough time.  His personality was so strong, so larger than life.  And he really would have done anything for me, I always knew that.  He would have done anything for anyone.  Don't get me wrong, he'd show up a day late to do it, and he'd take ya on the most obscure route to get home.  But I knew I could always count on him.  I always knew that.  He made sure I knew, not by his words, but by his actions.  As I think about it, I think it helped me to feel safe to take some of the risks I did in my life.  Moving to Boise, New Jersey, Portland without a plan.  If it came down to it, I knew that Jim would bail me out, come get me, and take me home if I ever needed him to.

When I graduated from college, he and his mom packed up all my stuff into the back of his truck and moved me to Boise, "on the way from Missoula to Portland".  If you've ever been on the road from Missoula to Boise, there is no "on the way" about it.  It's a mountain road in which 50% of the drive has a 25 MPH speed limit because of the near U turns in the road.  All. The. Way.  But he didn't mind a bit.  And bless his mom, Prudence, for coming along on that ride.  He was a good son, and she was just happy to be with him on the adventure.  He treated her like a queen.  I can only hope for my adult son to love me the way Jim loved Prudence.  (Although, Bryson, if you are reading this someday...I wouldn't mind if you gave me just a few less heart attacks that he likely gave her over the years!)
Jim and Prudence at our wedding, August 17, 2002
I posted this song because Jim loved it.  Every time I hear it I am back in that truck.  He had this on cassette single and he'd listen to it on repeat in the tape deck.  He would roll down the windows (on a cold Montana night), turn up the heat and the music, and he loved to drive to too loud classic country.  He knew weird backroads to go almost anywhere.  He would get stuck and have a winch and pull us out and I'd never even have to step foot in the mud, he'd do it all.  I always felt the safest with Jim, on muddy mountain roads, a place that I rarely felt safe as a passenger (or a driver for that matter).  I could close my eyes, hold on tight to the door handle, and know I'd be okay.  I think for me that made the way in which he died a little hard to accept.  If anyone could navigate a narrow logging road on a log skidder, it was him.  He seemed so invincible.  My heart skips when I think of it, I want it to not be true.  

Through college we had our ups and downs with our significant others, our parents, our friends, our goals, but we held a steady shoulder for the other to cry on.  We got in trouble with the law (some of us more than others, ahem), our significant others, our friends, the greek system, our parents, and our teachers. We laughed our heads off, went on crazy adventures, and spent so much time together that by the end of many days we were sick of the other's company.  But we were true friends and called each other to do it all over again the next day.  I knew when I hopped in that over stuffed truck with country music blasting, avoiding what was sure to be a weeks worth of mixed together clean and dirty laundry,  a tube of toothpaste, and a can of chew, that he were going to take me somewhere new, different, and meaningful.  1997 and 1998, I would say those years we kind of saved each other.  I wonder what life would have been like for me if he wasn't a crazy-stranger-talking-no-filter-friend-finder, boldly asking me who I was and where I was from.  

One night I dragged Jim and his dog, (then a puppy) his professed "only friend left in the world" JD out of the middle of the road, where he'd decided to lay down and take a little nap on a busy Missoula street whilst bear-hugging that pup, after a bartender called me and said he was out of control and needed someone to come get him before the cops were called.  What a sight that was for the Eastside Missoula crowd.  Later, he saved me on a day I really didn't feel like being saved, he called me like 200 times, then came over and rang the doorbell after 200 times of me not answering his calls, and to get me out of my rut (though I refused to get out of my sweatpants), drove me to Bonner for a fun day of Bloody Mary's, darts, and pool...and now to think back, if he wasn't so darn persistent I would be missing from my memory one of the most fun memories I have of college. Just one Sunday when my head was down and I just wanted to stay locked in my room for the rest of the year.  On a day that my friend would not take no for an answer.  Man, he was good at not taking no for an answer.  
Jim with the two great loves of his life, his mom and his wife, Amber - at his second favorite place in the world.  Pendelton Round Up
When Jim met Lawrence, he immediately took him in and told him what a great woman he was marrying, he thought Lawrence was pretty cool, you know, "for an East-Coaster".  :)  He was always talking about how badly he wanted to take Lawrence hunting and fly fishing (something Lawr loves), but it was another something that never happend.  Lawrence did buy a fishing trip to be guided by a friend of Jim's, at the benefit auction for his family.  We are sad that it is the closest Lawrence will ever get to go fishing with Jim, at least it will be for Jim.  Suffice to say, Jim was not a fan of the East Coast or East Coasters, he had his reasons, and he was happy to hear Lawrence tell him time and again, that Oregon was better.  You must remember, Joseph was his favorite place in the whole wide world.  

After our mountain top wedding and reception, Jim bought sleeveless white trash Joseph Hydrant shirts for our whole wedding party.  Thanks to Jim, even I had a muscle shirt with dogs playing cards and drinking beer on over my wedding dress on my wedding day towards the end of the night.  And so did all my bridesmaids.  And some groomsmen.  And all of the Ohio boys.  There are pictures, but I will lose friends if I post them here.  :)  
Showing the East Coasters how it's done (his words)
Just watched a tad of our wedding video and I was happy to find some video of us dancing at my wedding, it made me smile
New Year's Even 1997, impromptu trip to Mount Hood for the night.  We didn't have a reservation or anywhere to stay, but Jim said he would take care of it.  I don't remember the details, but he did.  I mean we didn't drive back to Portland or sleep in the truck.  Jim had no use for such official things like reservations or preplanned things.
Talk about a couple of Bozos!

If you didn't know Jim, you will not understand this part (or most of this blog for that matter), but if you did, you will likely be smiling, nodding your head, as your heart swells, thinking about these words that will always remind of Jim, and I know I am missing some: Bozo, Bozoed, Snake, a real snake move, a real bozo move, there's gonna be a show down,  The big show, outlaw, shot-of-jack-coke-back-no-ice, and mountain bride... 

Jim used to be so fed up with the girls he was dating, the ones who had hurt him, or the ones who weren't interested, despite his most charming efforts.  He'd say, "Screw it, Jenny, I'm just going to go find a mountain bride to marry".  I would remind him that the trouble was, he wasn't interested in girls that looked like mountain brides.  He wanted a girl who was happy spending all her time with him riding shotgun in the mountains, waiting for him as many stops as he wanted to make along the way, and who'd never give another fella a look.  But he also wanted a beautiful girl who looked like a model on his arm.  One with a gorgeous smile and a nice butt.  One who was smart and witty and all around lovely.  One who would keep him in line, but who would love him exactly as he was, you know, even with a bit of copenhagen in his teeth.  Mountain brides, I reminded him, didn't have any teeth.  So, enter Amber,...and he sure proved me wrong.  This picture of Jim and Amber is among my favorites.  It reminds me that he got her, he married his mountain bride.  The exact one he had been looking for all those years ago.  The one that I told him probably didn't exist.  She's beautiful, lovely, and she loved him just as he was.  My heart sinks and jumps for him, and I'm so thankful that he got to know this love in his lifetime.  He didn't settle for less than he knew was right for him.

I had to add this picture because I always smile when I think about how much Jim must have loved it.  His gorgeous wife + big machinery.
Mountain bride, indeed
I could and I want to keep telling stories, and keep adding lengthy detail.  In the true words of Red, I guess I just miss my friend.  Jim was a great man, a great friend, a great son, a great father, a great husband; there was something different and special about him, and all of those who took the time to get to know him, loved him.  (However, I don't think you could find another guy in the world who has more people who love him start their story of their first memory of him, "When I first met him, I hated him, I thought there was no way I'd have anything in common with this guy!"...fast forward to end of story..."He ended up being one of my life long best friends".)  In the wake of his death, that is more apparent than ever.  I'm sad that we haven't been in close touch for the last few years. I'm sad that I didn't know him as a husband and a father more than just a phone call here and an email there.  I'm sad that he never met my children.  Mostly, I'm sad that I took one of the most amazing friendships I'll ever know for granted.  I just thought he'd always be there.  Jim has reminded me to hold my husband, kids, friends tighter than I ever have before.  Let them know how much I love them every single day.  To stop worrying about the things that do not matter.  To get outside and love this country that God has created for us.

In September of 2011, Amber gave birth to their beautiful baby girl, Audrey James.  I know Audrey has given Amber and AJ so much joy; as I look at her, there is a palpable feeling that someone is missing, that this isn't how it should be.  I want my friend to be here to father his daughter that resembles him so.  There are just some things in the broken world that we will never understand this side of Heaven.  I'm just so grateful to have Amber in my life.  I regret not knowing her better while Jim was still with us, but she has given me great peace to know his faith was strong, that I will indeed see my friend again in Heaven, and that the last many years of his life with her were truly spent in abundant love and blessings.  She encourages and inspires me to live my daily life with a fuller heart.  Being in touch with her and with a few of Jim's other close friends and family has helped me heal.  
Amber shared his favorite bible verse: 1 Corinthians 13:13 " For now there are faith, hope, and love. But of these three, the greatest is love." (CEV)

Rest in peace my friend.  Thank you for all the wonderful memories.  For all the times I rolled my eyes at your crazy antics, endured your lateness, and cried on your shoulder, I have a story, a smile, and a laugh to go with.  I hope you know how proud I am of the man that you became! 

Thank you for the years of friendship, thank you for the incredible people that you introduced me to, and thank you for being a force that changed me.  You changed me all those years ago, now again, and forever.  I will see you again, my friend, in Heaven.  Until then, I miss you, and I hold you in my heart.


  1. Jen - what a beautiful testament to your friendship & Jim.
    I'm sorry for your loss. I can tell he was an amazing person. XO

  2. Okay. So how is it that I never met THAT guy at UM?! Seems the three of us could have found some worthy trouble to get into on any given night. I'm in tears, Jenny. This is so beautiful. And, I love all the photos of then and more recent... Sounds like he met the perfect woman. Hugs.

  3. I have read your story and cried - we loved Jim, and miss him so much - we miss the phone calls just to tell us he loved us, even in the middle of the night, just to ask what are you doin? - "Its the middle of the night here Jim' just callin to say I love you guys - when are you coming over again? - Just wish we could have come over there more often, and spent more time with him. He will always be a huge part of our special memories, and we will remember him with Love, and look forward to seeing him again. xx Steph Bennett [Western Australia]

    1. Thank you for your comment, it means a lot, and I'm glad my story touched you and reminded you of your story with Jim. I always lived in the same time zone and those middle of the night calls always came. I can't imagine living half way around the world when he-who-has-no-concept-of-time wanted to say WHAT'S UP? :)