Friendship is a single soul dwelling in two bodies.
In the short time that I knew Jacob Daniel Hurnblad he taught me many things, including what his last name meant in a European language I can’t seem to recall now. When he asked me to take a stab at translating it into English, I am sure he knew that I would think it held a sophisticated or profound meaning. After a few minutes of guesses I gave up.
“Nope. It means horned-bladder,” He replied.
I still remember the smirk on his face when he told me the translation. In my memory, I can still hear the cackle in his voice as he teased me about the answers I gave.
“Dude, you were never going to get it. You pulled those outta your ass.” He probably said.
I most likely replied with, “I was getting close.”
He concluded the conversation by emphasizing how I was so far from the right answer that it wasn’t even funny. I am pretty sure I was hoping that the end result would be much more meaningful than it turned out to be, especially as hard as I wracked my brain.
Thinking back, I’m not sure how I didn’t just guess horned-bladder; it seems so obvious and even more ridiculous now. If my memory serves me at all, after I found out the true meaning of his last name I most likely proceeded to call him Jake the horned-bladder. Being the kind of kick back guy he was, he most definitely wore the new title like a proud king of wherever the fuck the name originated from. The thing is, I haven’t seen him in almost 15 years. We all know how tricky our memory gets the further we walk away from the past.
This is a warning, in the most meta-literature sort of sense, letting you know that the tale you are about to dive into is almost wholly true based on my recollection of events during the time this story takes place. What I want this piece to be more than anything else is a memorial to a great friend. Hopefully this account will lock a piece of the memory I have of a guy who was a great buddy into your mind so you can carry it around and maybe, for whatever reason, consider passing it on to someone else, because it is only through sharing memories that our passed loved ones live on.
In the summer of 1996, I moved from Santa Barbara to Santa Maria with my then-wife and son, Felipe. I had recently lost my job and we decided that it might be a good idea to move to the town where my wife’s mom lived. We figured that being near my son’s grandma would give us an opportunity to have someone to watch him other than a daycare. The opportunity might allow us to save some money and get back on our feet. It was the first time in almost five years that I was unemployed and I remember being scared that I wasn’t going to be able to find a job to support my new family. Farming and retail were about the only industries in that small California Central Coast community. Luckily, I found out relatively early in my adult working career that I was pretty good at selling things, so I was able to land a job within a month as a small electronics consultant at the local Circuit City. That is where I met Jacob.
The first time I saw Jacob he was standing in the back of the store near the car audio wall helping some customers. He was one of those people that always showed genuine concern for everyone, even if a customer was only looking. He didn’t care about just making a sale; he enjoyed educating customers and introducing them to the best possible fit for their needs. He always looked like he was engrossed in what the customer was trying to convey to him, and usually stood with his hands upon his hips, head slightly tilted, always in listening mode.
There was a certain magnetic force that drew people to him. It could have been one of his many fine qualities, including his zany sense of humor or the way he never passed judgment on people. It always amazes me to meet a person who almost never says an unkind thing about another human being. I strive to be someone like that. Jacob was one of those people. He was the kind of guy who could’ve been the poster boy for the phrase, “There wasn’t a bad bone in his body.” I recall that within the first week or so of being at the store I wanted to meet the guy in the back who everyone seemed to hang out with.
One day when it was slow and there were no customers in my area, and since we were department neighbors, I walked up to him and started a conversation. Being new in town, I didn’t have any friends and he seemed like a good guy to know since he knew everyone and everybody talked highly of him.
He made me comfortable and feel welcome right away. I have always believed that when you meet someone who will turn out to be a life-long friend, it is like meeting someone you are physically attracted to; there is a certain unexplainable energy and the connection happens almost instantaneously, and with very little effort. In the case of friends, rather than being attracted physically to them, usually the attraction is based on an immediate realization that the person you are talking too has the same sense of humor or enjoys many of the same things you do.
If I recall, our first conversation started with the usual small-talk, probably about the town, the store or the people we worked with. For some reason one of us made a joke about smoking weed. When our eyes met and we knew that the joke was made to test the waters of comfort and that the other guy was okay with smoking a little wacky tobacky, that wrapped up the “friendship interview.” We started hanging out at least once a week after that.
In late 1996, I was about 23 years old and I think Jacob was around 20. I don’t recall him being old enough to buy alcohol when we drank on the weekends at my house, but somehow he always showed up with beer. We would often put down a case and then try to determine the nearest liquor store so we could go get another one without running the risk of having to drive too far.
My wife liked Jacob just as much as I did, so his company was always welcome. We grew even closer when he met his girlfriend Nicole; she was the female version of him. I was happy that he finally had a woman in his life and they made an excellent couple. With Nicole in the picture my wife inherited a new friend and soon our time together became a couple’s event.
There is one evening in particular that stands out in my mind when I think of all the evenings we shared with Jacob and Nicole.
It was the day of Princess Di’s funeral. My wife and Nicole had made a big fuss about wanting to watch it, and how they were going to stay up all night. The funeral was broadcast from London sometime around ten A.M., which made it about two A.M. in Santa Maria. Jacob and I settled down and drank a beer, talking about how this event was a huge waste of not only our time, but the world’s time and a lot of money and resources. We made every possible joke we could about how they were blowing this whole thing out of proportion-the media, my wife, and Nicole. No disrespect to Lady Di who dedicated her life selflessly to be of service to millions of needy people all over the world. God rest her soul.
The beginning of the funeral was fast approaching and so was total inebriation for Jacob and I, but we decided since we were up when the event began that we were just going to watch it. When it started we realized that it was really quiet in the room. When we looked back on the sectional, Nicole and my wife were sound asleep. I thought, “This is unbelievable.” We tried to wake them up, and if I remember correctly, they nodded right back off. When they finally came to about three hours later, Jacob and I had not moved from our positions. We gave them the ribbing of a lifetime, especially after the big fuss that they had made. We reassured them that they didn’t miss a thing.
Several months passed, and Jacob and Nicole ended up moving to Santa Barbara and living together, but they would still come and visit us at least once a month. There would also be times when both of our ladies were out of town and when Jacob came to town we just sat around doing our usual shtick and shooting the shit until early in the morning or when we passed out.
It was Saturday May 9, 1998, the day before Mother’s Day. I planned on a lonely weekend because my wife was out of town visiting her parents. Another one of my friends, who was supposed to come and hang out, ditched me for a last minute date. My wife took our car out of town so I was trying to find a ride. About an hour before my shift ended I received a call from Jacob. He was headed up from Santa Barbara to spend the weekend in Santa Maria, to see his mom for Mother’s Day. Jacob’s girlfriend was also busy and when I told him my situation he said he would stop by the store in a few minutes to pick me up.
When I hopped into his little red Toyota truck he mentioned something about going to a bachelor party for one of his older brother’s friends. After a few minutes of talking we decided that we did not want anything to do with that. We both agreed there is something unappealing about a bunch of drunken guys in a room all groping strippers. That whole scene did not appeal to us at all so we headed to the nearest liquor store for some beer and munchies. I believe it was on this ride home that Jacob first introduced me to the band Tool. I learned about a lot of great bands from him.
The rest of the night we sat around and talked about anything and everything. That was the night Jacob introduced me to Pink Floyd, also. He owned several of their CDs and we listened to them most of the night and into the early morning. I remember especially liking Pulse and Dark Side of the Moon (DSOTM).
The song, The Great Gig in the Sky on the DSOTM, has a conversation about dying in it.
While we were listening to that song, I asked Jacob, “Are you afraid of dying?”
He replied, “No. When the time comes it comes.”
The conversation shifted to the subject of college basketball. Jacob claimed he was an expert in this category and if I named a current or former basketball star he could tell me where they went to college. I ran and found my Basketball cards and we sat for hours as I named off NBA player after NBA player and Jacob told me where they had attended college. His knowledge of this dumbfounded me, as did his knowledge of many other things, including, cars, music, and just about everything else. We finally passed out, and Jacob left the next morning.
Sunday May 17, 1998 started as a typical day. My sister was down visiting from the Bay Area. We were sitting around the dining room table that morning trying to make plans for the afternoon when the phone rang. In my mind that moment will always be clear as day. I was sitting at our small round dining table facing the empty wall of the new house my wife and I considered buying. My sister was on my right-hand side and my wife was on the left with my son on her lap. My wife picked up the phone.
She handed the phone to me and told me it was Ralph calling from work. I wondered, “What the hell could he want on a Sunday morning?” I thought he probably just had a question about a special order or something.
“Tony, I think you should be sitting down. Something happened to Jacob… Jacob was hit by a car last night and killed in Santa Barbara.”
This had to be a joke, I thought-typical response now that I look back. I said, “No.”(Hesitate)(Breath) I repeated myself, “No. You’re kidding, right?”
“Jacob’s brother came down to work to tell you but you weren’t here,” Ralph replied.
I started to bawl.
My wife and sister looked at me as I lost my composure. My hand with the phone in it dropped from my ear and I told them that Jacob had been killed.
I lifted the phone back up and Jacob’s older brother Jeremy was on the other end now.
I was sobbing into the receiver, “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.”
Crying softly, he replied, “I am sorry, Jacob thought of you as one of his closest friends. That‘s why I came to the store to tell you first.”
My mind draws a blank recalling the ensuing minutes. I know Jeremy was filling me in on all the details about how Jacob was out partying in Santa Barbara the night before and jaywalked across the street and was struck by a drunk driver.
I hung up the phone and continued to cry. Another detail I vividly recall is my two-year old son getting up into my lap and telling me, “Daddy, it’s gonna be all right. It’s gonna be all right.”
The day before I was in Santa Barbara, not far from where Jacob died in the street. My family and sister went down there to visit the zoo. While we were there I wanted to call Jacob and meet up with him so that I could introduce him to my sister. It was my intention to have two of my favorite people meet. That never happened and it never will.
The funeral and the memorial service occurred in the following weeks. I sent flowers to his family and helped them make arrangements for a headstone.
About mid-week my wife and I attended the memorial service at one of the local mortuaries. As we were walking up to the front of the building I noticed Jacob’s mom standing outside. I hugged her and offered my condolences. She said, “Every time you and Jacob hung out, he would come home the next day and tell me what you guys did. You meant a lot to him.” He had even told her about the night that I tested his basketball trivia. Her comments made me laugh and feel better. It meant a lot to know my friendship was cherished by another human being. Often you never know what you mean to someone until it’s too late.
My wife and I walked in and took a seat at the back of the chapel and sat for about an hour thinking quietly. The silence was only broken when Nicole walked over and hugged us both.
Many people attended Jacob’s funeral. The chapel was packed, as it should have been. Inside there was no place to sit, so my wife and I, and another 50 or more people stood outside and listened through the speakers overhead as friends and families told stories about how Jacob touched their lives. When the service ended the body was made available for viewing by the family and close friends, but I chose not to.
I already said my goodbye about a week earlier when he left my house for the last time. As we waited for the funeral directors to bring the casket out and load the car to take the body to its final resting place, everyone gathered outside the church and stood quietly listening as Pink Floyd drifted out of the speaker’s overhead. I felt that the music was a message from Jacob. It was the same music that he had introduced me to a week before. I believe he wasn’t afraid of dying.
It was the kind of sunny spring day that warranted the wearing of sunglasses; they also came in handy covering up my swollen eyes. The crowd at the cemetery was painted with all different kinds of people. Friends, teachers, and former car-stereo purchasers-turned friend-were there. As I looked around at the crowd, I noticed a few of his lifelong friends that I had been introduced to before, standing near his family and the casket. I chose to distance myself from that group because I knew where I stood with Jacob in my heart even if we weren’t related or I hadn’t known him all his life.
As the graveside service ended, I proceeded to give and receive comfort from his family, one more time. I approached and hugged his mom, dad, and two brothers. Then as I turned, several of his friends grabbed me and embraced me. They told me one thing that I will never forget to this day, “Jacob talked about you all the time. He really thought a lot of you. You were a good friend.”
After the funeral my wife and I headed home to hang out together. I decided not to attend the dinner after the funeral because, well I don’t know why. I didn’t do death very well then and I still don’t.
In most of the memories I have of Jacob he is wearing a teal Circuit City Car Audio polo shirt, slightly wrinkled plain-front khakis, and standing in that same pose: head slightly tilted, hands on his hips. I will never forget the shape of his face and the curvature of his forehead, which reminded me of that crazy cartoon bird, Woody Woodpecker. His nose angled out like a sharp triangle as it turned into his smooth forehead, which blended nicely into his short, spiky blonde hair. There are so many small things I remember about him that I cannot explain. He was such an amazing human being.
I want to leave you with one last memory.
One Saturday evening my brother and I went over to Jacob’s house to watch either the Tyson/Holyfield fight or a UFC match. It was long before pay-per-view, when people used those special cable boxes to get the premium channels.
Jacob was giving us the tour of his home before the event started. We were walking down the hall and stopped in front of a group of family photos hanging in the hallway. Jacob pointed at the big picture right in the middle of all of the others. In the photo he looked to be about five or six years old.
“Your mom was pretty,” I said.
Without even blinking Jacob shouts down the hallway, “Hey Mom, Tony thinks you’re hot!”
I am now almost 40. Jacob passed away when he was 22.
This was one of Jacob’s favorite songs. Wish you were here, by Pink Floyd.