• Brilliance Proper

Deandre Jerome Coleman lived from 10/26/1982 to 4/14/2010. Here's how he made an imprint on my life.

(Deandre Jerome Coleman circa 2005)

Deandre Jerome Coleman was born on October 26th, 1982 in Huntsville, Alabama. He died April 14th, 2010 of a single, self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. When he killed himself, there was a wave of crimes where he lived in Austin and the police initially thought he might have been a victim in the crime wave. It quickly became apparent that his death was a suicide and therefore was brushed off when it came to reporting. The most I saw regarding his death were two small reports in the news and neither mentioning him by name. Nothing noteworthy happened that day in the news either. It was just another day for most. But for everyone who knew and loved him, the world stopped.

If you look up his full name, you won’t find any information other than an obituary that says his name, birthday to death date and age. Hell, one of the results is just my Facebook page because his name is in my header. According to search engines, Dre never really lived. On an unremarkable day, Dre died and, to the wider world, wasn’t noticed. And unfortunately, I feel like he either wanted it that way or killed himself because he knew this was the case. He had no girlfriend, no kids, was never married and no real tangible legacy. At his funeral, I was the only guest speaker and declared that I was going to do my part to make sure that the world didn’t forget his name. And so, every October and April I celebrate his life and post about him and what he meant to me. Today we’re now 10 years removed from his last day on earth. Here’s to another decade of making him more than an empty Google search.

I met Dre during our sophomore year of high school, 1997, in Wiesbaden, Germany. He told me he hated me because I was so loud. I don’t blame him. I grew up a skinny geek then moved to Germany and pretty much grew into a social butterfly. I made lots of friends, learned how to dress and was pretty popular. When Dre showed up that year, he was the quiet new kid and annoyed with the boisterous dude hopping all over the place in class talking to everyone. Regardless, I offhandedly asked him at one point about buying his copy of Ras Kass’s Soul On Ice album since I couldn’t find a copy and he had one. After a student protest, we ended up in after school detention together and he brought the CD for me. While we were being silent in detention, we started trading rhymes back and forth, realizing we both wrote but hadn’t done anything with our talents. I didn’t know that a protest for the basketball team would lead to a chance encounter that would forever change the course of my life. I left out of that detention with a new album (which I still have), a new friend, and my parents never knew I was there.

Overnight we went from being strangers to being inseparable. We were synonymous with each other with some people always asking one of us where the other was if we weren’t together. This was interesting since we didn’t even live in the same area and outside of school, had to make an effort to hang out. We always found time though and the next 3 years were a whirlwind. What was mine was his and vice versa. We would go to lunch each day off-campus and, since neither of us had jobs, had an inconsistent amount of money. Some weeks each of us would have plenty to buy our own food, other times one of us didn’t have it and we split costs. If I had $7, we bought one meal and split it. If we were both broke, we made it work. But we never left the other one out. We were loyal until the end.

(Me and Dre in high school circa 1998)

Obviously we started a rap group together. We were the Paraminds (pair of minds) and filled up several notebooks of material. Notebooks I still have. We thought we were Mobb Deep, writing about killing and guns. At the time, neither of us had owned or were actively using guns. We felt we were just being lyrical. We even made parody songs. And although we wrote all of these songs, not even realizing how bars worked, we never officially recorded one together. Our one track listed as Paraminds from Dre’s Tape is a remix of a solo song I made with a group I was recording with in Tennessee. Dre took my beat and rhymed over it but didn’t send it to me until years later. I pieced it together just for that project. I wish we could’ve done more. Still, we were in high school in Germany and didn’t know anyone in the late ’90s with recording equipment. We were still the dopest to do it and ran as a rap duo on top of just being best friends. Dre and Buddy. Buddy and Dre. Bananas and Lyrical Sniper Dre aka LSD. Paraminds. We were the shit.

Eventually, we both got jobs at the same place: Popeye’s in the food court. We went from spending time together at school, time together after school, and then working together. We were actually hired completely separate from each other (I started the job first, went on vacation, then he started while I was gone) and were told that if they knew we were best friends, they probably wouldn’t have hired both of us. It didn’t matter though as we worked different sections. He worked the front counter and register while I washed dishes all day. There were lots of hijinks, lots of laughs, and a rainy day caper in which we stole cardboard cutouts of Popeye himself for HP2G, The House Party of the Millenium, that we threw together. The party was a smash (and still gets brought up 20 years later) and then suddenly...high school was over. Dre moved back to the states first, right to Texas, followed by me a few months later to Tennessee.

The next 9 years were spent mostly physically apart, save for a week where he visited me in 2003. That never stopped our brotherhood, as we continued to talk almost daily on the phone, through emails, texts, and packages in the mail. Dre filmed his own version of Cribs where he walked through his apartment for 30 minutes. I posted it on YouTube before you could add a full 30-minute video so there’s three of them. We also started a podcast before that name was truly popular with our “internet radio show” TRYAD Radio with our boy Rah. We would sit on a three-way call, Dre would record it, and we would talk shit for an hour, then post the results to MySpace. I wish we had the sense to have kept that up. We recorded a handful of episodes before our schedules went off the rails. I wonder if anyone else still has them?

(Rah, Me, and Dre circa 2000)

I could fill a book with all that I’m skipping over in our lives and maybe I will someday. The important part of this story is the last year. March 2009 I moved down to Texas. We finally were living in the same state and during one of our first meetups we had a tear-filled confession regarding our battles with depression and he told me that a couple of years prior he was going to kill himself. He asked for my address at that time, wrote two suicide notes, one to his family and one to me. He also bought a gun that he still had in order to carry it out. I told him that I tried to OD but failed. I knew I would. But I also told him that I knew I couldn’t carry it out because he would be pissed without me. I told him I would do my best to keep him alive and get him back in the right frame of mind. I didn’t know I had a time limit.

Just as it had been in Germany, we needed to make an effort to see each other as I had a child and my soon-to-be wife at the time to deal with on top of work while he lived over an hour away. Still, we met up once or twice a month, went to rap shows, wrestling events, out to eat, the works. But towards the end of 2009, he told me he was taking himself off of his antidepressants. He didn’t like the side effects. I didn’t know how bad an idea that was. He became noticeably distant. More than usual. He was already anxious but now he didn’t seem like he was enjoying anything. The last concert we saw, he stayed glued to his phone. It wasn’t even that he didn’t like the music, he had already checked out.

The month before he died, we went out to Burger King to eat like the good old days splitting meals while in Germany. Everything was normal, everything was good. By that time my stomach issues were in full swing but apparently, amoxicillin temporarily cured my condition and suddenly I could eat with no problems. There we were, both in almost matching red, white and blue outfits, late-night, shooting the shit. I treasure that night as it was the last I had like it with him. He, our boy Timo, and I went to Buffalo Wild Wings, as was tradition, to watch Wrestlemania together a couple of weeks later. We were all huge wrestling fans and...he left early. That was the last time I saw him in person.

The night before he died, he talked to Rah on the phone. Rah told me they had a good conversation and nothing seemed off. He texted me about WWE Raw. I think he knew that if he called me, I would’ve noticed and stopped him. I would’ve at least come to his place since I was closest. I feel like he knew that texting was the answer for me. The weekend before, he packed up all of his things at his job, then packed up his apartment like he was moving. He tried to make it less of an inconvenience to people. Making his death considerate for others. The irony.

I was at work when I got a text from Sabrina, a mutual friend from high school. She told me his sister was on Facebook talking about how her brother was gone. I didn’t have a Facebook account at the time and smartphones weren't as ubiquitous. Sabrina asked if his sister had another brother or sibling and I told her no. I knew right then and there that he shot himself with that gun he bought years ago. I told my supervisor that I think my best friend killed himself, ran out of work and drove straight to his parent's house. When I got there, his mother opened the door and welcomed me in but didn’t say anything. She wasn’t surprised to see me. I fell out in the doorway. We all cried together in the living room. I made a lot of phone calls. Friends, family, everyone who I knew that he knew. No one could believe it.

I sat down with his family and started talking about the last year. They were shocked at all that I knew. They didn’t know he was in therapy, didn’t know he was on medication, and most definitely didn’t know about the gun. They asked why I didn’t take it from him. It’s Texas, everyone has one there and it was legal. Whenever I went to his apartment I never saw it. He was alive. But he also had secrets. And over the next 10 years, so many of those things would become evident. Many things were out in the open and many he carefully hid from the world. And yet, I still knew more than most. He was a brother to me. We talked regularly. And now we wouldn’t be speaking ever again. My oldest daughter cried more than I did. She was about to turn 6 the next month. She knew what death meant. She loved Dre as I did. Dre was family. Dre IS family. My youngest daughter was born the year after. Dre’s family used to call him Deon. If my daughter would have been a boy, she would’ve been Deandre as well. Her middle name is Dion.

(Me, circa 2011)

I can’t speak for him as he’s not here. I hate when I see people talk about opinions someone who’s passed may have had if they lived. People surprise us daily so you’ll never hear me speak on his behalf to say what his wishes are or what he would’ve liked. As close as we were, especially as friends and writing songs together, we also had our differences. I liked underground rap more and I’m not sure if he even listened to much MF Doom, if at all. I made the assumption that Ras Kass or Canibus would be his favorite rapper at the time and he let me know his favorites were Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. We were never really attracted to the same women by any stretch and he actually graduated from college whereas I still haven’t gone. He also wasn't the slightest bit of a geek like I was/am, and never read comic books. He also was really into sports and had favorite teams. He had an authentic Cowboys helmet inside his living room. So I can’t speak for his opinions, views, or tastes (hell, he started liking Gucci Mane and OJ Da Juiceman) but I can speak on his influence and what it’s meant to me.

So without further adieu, these are the things I’ve learned from his death, and life, 10 years later.

-The true importance of mental health, treatment, and a supportive network. Growing up, I honestly wanted to be a therapist. Music seemed so farfetched and I hadn’t even written a song but from probably 10 years old, the idea of being a therapist appealed to me. I didn’t honestly know what mental health was but I knew I liked to talk to people about their problems and help them out as much as I could. Eventually, I went another route in my life but if I could go back, I would’ve pursued it as a career, especially now. Looking back on it, Dre did have signs of things being off and I’m glad he was getting treatment. He did stop taking his meds against his doctors’ wishes and I would definitely not have stood for that knowing the consequences. I’m not saying I would’ve saved him, I’m saying I would’ve been more aware or prepared. He was going to make his own choices just as he did.

Many people end up making that same decision because they don’t feel they have a choice or people to turn to. I’ve already run through this in my post about doing suicide prevention wrong and this ties directly into that. Be there for people and stop being so judgemental and negative. One thing I don’t regret is telling him that I loved him. Many people, men especially, have a problem telling their male friends that they love and appreciate them. I at least don’t have that hang up as he died knowing how I felt about him as my brother. I don’t sit around at night thinking that maybe he did it because he didn’t know I cared. No, he knew and did it anyway but I’m happy that I at least expressed that to him. Be your best for those who might need you the most.

-You may underestimate your presence but your permanent absence is immeasurable. I have gone through so many bouts of not feeling like I’m worth a shit, wondering if I’m a good partner, friend, father, just everything in general. When I wanted to kill myself, I just kept thinking of all of the ways life would be better without me. Life has to continue on anyway, right? But soon after we had put Dre in the ground, I met a girl that I would’ve loved to have introduced him to. He was always looking to date and I met this woman that I feel would’ve been perfect for him. We only spoke for a few minutes at Sally Beauty Supply but I could tell she had great energy around her. I thought to myself that I should get her info for Dre...then remembered that he was gone. I never saw her again and told Timo of how perfect she may have been if given the chance. A chance that was impossible.

I’ve had so many changes in my life for good and bad that I wish he were around for but most importantly, I wish he could’ve been there as my confidant. I remember being around for his big breakups when he was telling me about the side effects of his mediation, his problems with body image, and even online dating. I listened to Dre cry just like he did with me. So many times I wonder how I would’ve dealt with certain situations if he were around and would I be in a different space right now? Would I have the same friends or would I have even needed them?

That’s when I get on the other end of seeing how I’m helping people in my life right now. I have friends that I speak to from time to time and friends I speak to often who are helped by my kindness and caring ear. I give them advice or just a person to talk to. I’ve sent money to people that needed it and helped out in situations when no one else could come around. I’m not some angel or a saint by any means and I’m not about to start blasting names and patting myself on the back. My point is that people don’t even realize what we’re contributing to the world until we’re doing it. I’m alive and active in a lot of people’s lives for good reasons and who knows what would happen, good or bad, if I weren’t? But I know I wouldn’t be able to find out unless I were here. Which brings me to my next point.

-Legacy is complicated and not always what you expected. Dre didn’t want to be here. He wasn’t thinking 10 years after his death that I would have my own site and still talking about him. His concern wasn’t about what he was leaving behind as he left it all behind. He didn’t have kids, a wife, a business, or anything like that, but he was still important and influential. His life still matters as does his death. Lots of us are very purposeful in what the world sees from us, how we craft our image or even how we go about our day to day lives. When we’re gone we expect people to remember those things that we worked hard on or feel like something else is going to bring it all down. Michael Jackson, Tom Petty, Prince, and Amy Winehouse I’m sure would have loved for their legacies to be mostly a discussion of their music but since all of their lives ended due to complications from substance abuse, now that part is added with no control of their own.

Deandre killed himself and probably thought that was the end of it. Instead, I’ve pushed forward, making people think of him, remember him, get to know what they can of him, making music in his honor while also taking mental health seriously, helping those out who are distraught, fighting for a better today and tomorrow, the entire way, inspired by him. His death pushed me to live. I realized that I could no longer die early or else he may be forgotten. I can no longer go because I can see that life is important for those who are wanting to be here. I would love to keep that tradition going, inspired by the brother I had for 13 years. Legacy is interesting that way.

-Inspiration comes in unlikely places. When he died, although I had been writing rhymes, I hadn’t actually recorded any music in a few years. Once he did, I knew that music was the main way I could pay tribute to him. I got beats together that he made, remade them, compiled others, found some that had been sitting around that I created years ago, got friends together and created Dre’s Tape, my dedication to him. It started as an EP, the October 26th Edition (his birthday) followed the next year by the April 14th Edition (the day he died.) Eventually, I compiled them into one for The Complete And Final Edition. Our mutual friend at the time Marquis contributed his own song, I pieced together the “It’s Just Me (Remix)” and billed it as Paraminds, plus included skits from Timo and Rah telling stories about him, our initial offering of TRYAD Radio, and even shot and directed a video for my song “Flowers.”

It was a lot of labor for a lot more love and I was happy with the results at the time. I’ll probably do at least one more song but putting that together started me on a path that has benefited me through today. As a result of needing help recording, I met a guy who I ended up making more music with and is one of the dopest people I know. He also introduced me to audio recording software which I then used to start a podcast with the comic book store I frequented in town (shouts to Sons of Geekery.) That knowledge also helped when my friends wanted to start a podcast in Tennessee years later. Directing, shooting, and editing the video for “Flowers” helped me to shoot more music videos including ones for the group my step-brother and I formed and for my friend Stephen as a surprise for his wife at their wedding. I gained a lot of skills while creating Dre’s Tape that will be beneficial for the rest of my life. I’m sure I could’ve done those things while he was alive but would I have figured them out on my own? We’ll never know. Still, the life of my best friend inspired me to create something else that would live on. I thank his memory for that.

-Some questions will never have answers. Come to grips with that and move on. I’ve dealt with other losses since Dre died in the form of friends and family dying to friendships ending without a trace. I sat around for weeks, months, and in one instance, years, trying to figure out why things happened. What did I do wrong and why did…? But just like I can’t speak for Dre, I also can’t drag answers out of him either. Lots of questions died with him and we all have to live with that. The same goes for any other relationship we have. Sometimes we have to stop looking for answers that aren’t there in people who don’t want to be around anymore. That doesn’t mean that it won’t hurt but it does at least help to process over time and accept the current state of the world. Don’t dig too deep for those that are no longer there.

I could go on and on as I have for the last 10 years. Maybe I need to add it to the list of books that I’m writing instead of just throwing everything all over the internet? I don’t know the best answers to do things like this. What I do know is that I got to spend 13 years of my life being a brother to one of the best humans I’ve ever met. I also realized that, if I’m lucky, I’ll end up living more time without him than with him. And eventually, more time without him than he spent alive. 18 years to go. And yet, I’ll still never let people forget about him so long as I still remember him. I don’t know that that means in the grand scheme of things but maybe it’ll help those that need it. He was a positive force in this world and I hope to carry that tradition. Plus I still owed him $400 when he died so maybe I’ll just pay it back over the rest of mine.

Love your people, today and every day.

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