On September 12, 2015, my son, Jacob, lost his best friend, DJ. He was only 12 years old. His death was sudden, unexpected. At one point I was asking, “Why DJ? Why this family? Why my son?” We don’t have answers yet to explain why this physically happened, why his body couldn’t hold on, and we may never get this answer. Although this information might help bring some closure, some answers about what was going on in DJ’s body, that reason won’t help ease the grief and sadness we all feel, or fill the huge hole we now have without him in our lives.
DJ was my son’s best friend, our neighbor, our friend. Although he was small in stature, he was larger than life. DJ was kind, loyal, smart, charismatic, and a ton of fun to be around.
DJ and Jacob met in first grade. They sat right next to each other in class, not knowing they were neighbors. They didn’t ride the same bus because DJ went to before and after school care and somehow they never saw each other outside. We can thank the snowstorm of 2010 for causing the two of them to discover that they had a friend just next door.
Once they realized that they lived next door to each other, they became fast friends. Over the years there have been sleepovers, bike riding, Boy Scouts, parties, annual trips to the State Fair together, dinners out, movies, lots of video games and Legos, trick or treating together on Halloween, and even a few arguments. Having a disagreement once in a while is normal for friends, but Jacob and DJ were more than friends. These two were more like brothers.
I remember one time when Jacob and DJ were fighting over something, Jacob came home from DJ’s house frustrated, but not five minutes later, DJ was peeking in and knocking at our back door. When I asked if they were over whatever they were arguing about, DJ said, “Yeah. Sometimes we get mad, but that’s normal. We are like brothers. Brothers fight sometimes.” I can still hear DJ ‘s voice in my head. He pronounced brothers more like “brovers” and despite the spin DJ gave the word, he was right. His words of wisdom rang true about those two. They were like brothers and always will be.
DJ was an authentic human being. He was always himself. Other kids his age are worried about impressing others. They have to have the newest Under Armour hoodie or the cool socks. DJ could have cared less about those things. He rocked his sweatpants, often a little too short for him, and wore his character t-shirts like a boss. He wasn’t looking to impress anyone; he was wearing what he liked, what was comfortable, and what made him feel good.
DJ usually wore some sort of Velcro tennis shoes. At first, when he was younger, it was because he didn’t know how to tie his shoes, but even when DJ learned to tie his shoes, he still wore those Velcro shoes. When we asked him about that he said, “Why would I want to waste time tying my shoes? I have better things to do with my time.” Touché.
All of that extra time he gained from not tying his shoes did not go to homework or cleaning his room. I can’t tell you how many times Jacob would tell me that DJ was grounded because he didn’t clean his room or didn’t turn his homework in, even though he had done it. Then there was the time that he wasn’t doing so well in Spelling. DJ was smart, really smart, but early on he decided what he thought was important and what wasn’t. Tying your shoes wasn’t important and neither was learning the correct way to spell words. When he was released from being grounded, I would give him a mom spiel about doing his homework or studying his spelling words, but DJ scoffed at my advice. He said, “It’s annoying. That’s what spell check is for!”
And it’s true that DJ did know what was important to him, and being friends with Jacob was very important. DJ was a loyal friend to Jacob. If those two were apart for longer than they liked, they would see each other, huge smiles on their faces, yell each other’s names and hug. They didn’t care who was around. They didn’t care what social stigmas told them. They were just so happy to be back together. Best friends, brothers united.
Jacob and DJ sometimes seemed young for their age to others, but they didn’t care, because they sure knew how to have fun together. At 12 years old, they were still playing Legos together, having Nerf wars, playing video games, and battling whatever army and creatures their imaginations could come up with. I would see them outside, play swords swinging, taking down their enemies. Then they would come back in searching for bow staffs and other weapons they could add to their arsenal and head back out again to finally slay the dragon, win the war, save humanity. But don’t get me wrong; they were 12-year-old boys and there was talk, once in a while, about girls.
I would sometimes ask DJ, “Who is your girlfriend?” or “Any cute girls in your class?” mainly just to get a rise out of him. Most times he would get embarrassed, shake his head, cover his face, and do his DJ yell. But one time I asked him the same question and Jacob said, “Yes! Yes! Tell her DJ. There is a girl he likes and she likes him too!” This girl will remain nameless, but I am sure that DJ captivated her with his charm, just as he did us.
Despite being only 12 years old, DJ was wise beyond his years. He had impeccable manners. He addressed me and my husband as Mr. and Mrs. Godby and rarely ever missed a “please” and “thank you.” Good parenting there. But one of my favorite things about DJ was his quick wit. He was that guy who could come right back at you with a witty response. You know those things that you wished you had thought of saying at the time that would have been so funny? Well, DJ didn’t miss a beat, slaying us with a perfect quip with perfect timing. There wasn’t a time that DJ was around that he wouldn’t make us laugh. Whether it was his perfectly timed comments, randomly busting a move in our kitchen, or treating us to a DJism, DJ just being DJ brought laughter and joy to our home.
We are all going to miss that guy. I will miss seeing him walk around our house wearing only one sock, not knowing or caring where the other one was. I’ll miss turning around while watching a TV show, only to see DJ standing there entranced with whatever was on, Nerf gun dangling in his hand. No more DJ leaving his food out so he could go back to take a bite of it whenever he wanted, because he ate like a mouse. No more waiting up for Jacob on Friday night because he had gone to El Rodeo for a late night dinner with DJ’s family. I will miss having DJ show up at our door wanting to play with Jacob or watching Jacob run across the lawn to go play with his buddy. DJ won’t be showing up at our house early on Halloween to go trick or treating before I can even get the kids in their costumes. I will miss checking in on the boys while they are sleeping, quietly dreaming the night away. And I will no longer get to hear about their plans for the future; Halloween costumes, trips they would be taking, jobs they thought would be cool to have, and their dreams of going to the same college and being roommates.
DJ and Jacob understood each other. They took each other for who they were- faults, idiosyncrasies, dreams, fears, uncombed hair- all of it. Those two understood that these parts made up the whole of who they were as individuals and they loved each other just as they were.
Losing DJ is beyond sad, it is devastating for us all. It just doesn’t seem right. Why should this family lose their son so soon? Why does Jacob have to lose his best friend at only 12 years old? What has the world lost? The world, our world, was a better place with him in it. Why take him away? There are no good answers to these questions. And there is no changing the outcome. We simply have to accept these new lives that have been forced on us – lives without DJ.
Jason and I have told Jacob how lucky he is to have had a friend like DJ. We told him that some people search their entire lives to have a relationship like Jacob had with DJ and they never find it. Jacob is lucky, we all are lucky, to have known DJ.
And so, although his wings were ready, our hearts were not. We will treasure the time we had with DJ and we will continue to remember and cherish our memories with him. And although Jacob lost his best friend, his brother, he knew what it was like to have a true friend, loyal to the end. Godspeed DJ, our son, brother, and friend, watch over us. We love you.
In memory of David James "DJ" Preece ~ April 11, 2003- September 12, 2015