I believe some backstory is needed here, before I delve into Victor’s story.
I was born and raised in a tiny Appalachian town in Western Maryland. After I graduated from high school in 2001, my mother decided to move back to Albuquerque, New Mexico so she could be close to her mother and her sister’s family.
My father had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer a year before, so I wasn’t anywhere near ready to jump right into college. So, I made the move to Albuquerque with my mom, never knowing how much my eleven years there would alter the course of my life.
Jessica was the first friend I made. I applied to work at American Eagle Outfitters, and she was one of the assistant managers at the store. She was everything I was not – blonde, bubbly, outgoing, talkative, and seemed to radiate confidence in her beauty and in who she was.
I remember meeting her, working with her, and thinking – “I really like her, but there is no way someone like her would want to be friends with me.”
I was wrong.
I’ll never forget the evening our friendship truly began. We were the only ones working the closing shift at the store, it was quiet, so… she got me to start talking.
The first Harry Potter movie was due to open soon, and we instantly connected over our mutual love of that series and reading in general. I’d never had a friend growing up who loved to read as much as I did.
From books, the conversation flowed to family, and she asked me what had brought me to Albuquerque. I shared what had happened with my father, about his cancer, and essentially that I was waiting for him to die – just never knowing when it would happen.
As she listened to me, she looked at me with her huge blue eyes. In those eyes (that I’m still envious of) I saw her deeper spirit shining through – not the blonde bubbly cheerleader, but the insightful, soulful, deeply intelligent and wonderful human she was.
She said, “I’m so sorry this is happening to you, Molly… My dad died this past June.”
That was it. The light-bulb clicked on for both of us, and we were irrevocably bonded. And we only grew and grew and GREW from there.
Not only was Jessica the first friend I made in Albuquerque, she was the first friend I made as an adult. All of my friends from home in Maryland, we’d grown up together, and in some cases known each other since infancy.
It’s different, getting to know someone from scratch when you have no childhood history. She’s taught me so much, she’s changed my life; and honestly, I could write an entire blog about our friendship.
Perhaps another time.
This blog is in honor of one of Jessica’s younger twin brothers.
Much like I’ll never forget the first time I met Jessica, I’ll never forget the first time I met her brothers in 2003, shortly after I’d turned 21.
While Jess stands at a very petite 5’2, Randy and Victor towered over her, at least six feet tall, give or take an inch or two.
Randy, who went on to become a police officer and has progressed to being a detective, most definitely had ‘that’ personality. Sweet and funny as can be; but – for lack of a better word – macho to the core.
Victor, whom I’d learned a lot about from Jessica before meeting him, was very thin, and looked exactly like someone with the rough past I knew he had. He’d been the sibling to internalize most deeply what had happened to the three of them growing up.
Out of respect for the sensitive nature of their story, I’m not going to share details – but to phrase it mildly, they did not have it easy.
While Jessica and Randy were able to channel their energies towards creating healthy life paths, Victor was the one who turned to drugs, alcohol, and… just all sorts of ‘trouble.’
I’d see him periodically – a few times a year at family gatherings – and for a while he was doing really well. He looked great, seemed healthy, and he FINALLY started letting me break through his walls here and there.
He was a lot like me, in the sense that he didn’t let people in very easily, so it took a few years – but I became his buddy.
He had such a fantastic sense of humor… gosh, he could make me laugh. And he was truly one of the softest, most sensitive souls on this earth. It was often hidden behind the ‘tough guy’ exterior – much like his brother – but Vic was very, very special.
In 2008, when Jessica married her husband, Ryan, the bridal party had hotel rooms where the reception was held. Some of us stayed up most of the night talking, laughing, and continuing the party.
I remember Vic sauntering into the room I was sharing with two of my fellow bridesmaids, and he was carrying an entire pitcher of beer. Still in his tux, while the rest of us were in pajamas, he goes – “Hey there, ladies. Check out my pitcher’o’beer. Wanna join?”
Lots of laughter followed.
He and I talked a lot that night… personal details were revealed on both sides, and we became a little closer. I remember feeling a bit of a spark, and thinking that if Victor was someone who had his life together, I could very easily fall for him.
But even at times, like at the wedding, when he seemed to be in a better place – he still lived with his mom, couldn’t hold a job, and unfortunately, just floated a bit aimlessly though his life.
There were a few times over the following years that he reached out to me and asked if I wanted to hang out, go to a movie, go on a ride with him on his motorcycle… I always wanted to say yes.
But each time, I’d ask Jess – “Does Victor have any intentions other than friendship?”
Knowing her brother as well as she did, she’d tell me honestly – “Probably not a good idea.” I needed no further validation than her intuition.
I’m not a relationship expert, by any stretch. I’m 34 years old, and I’ve never had a boyfriend. Truth.
Not because I haven’t fallen in love, or wanted a boyfriend – but again – this is another can of worms. They may be cute, sparkly, feminine worms, but worms all the same.
Point being – even I have always known that when you fall for someone, you cannot fall for their potential. You have to see the person exactly as they are, right now, in THIS moment, and ask yourself, “Is this person right for me?”
You can’t focus on who they could be someday, if they work through their shit, get their lives together, and become the best version of themselves. The sad truth is, they may never get there.
So in those moments of choice, you must recognize whether or not the person you’re drawn to is capable of giving you what you want and need.
In himself, Victor saw a failure; he saw someone unworthy of love, happiness, and the joys of life.
The rest of us? We saw the biggest, softest heart. We saw kindness, tenderness, humor and intelligence. We saw enormous potential.
But none of us – no one on this earth – could have made him look inward and see what we saw. No one, other than himself.
In this life, Victor just wasn’t ready to do that.
This, I believe, is what makes his passing so hard for me to accept.
After I left Albuquerque in 2012, Vic and I stayed in touch here and there on Facebook. Sometimes I’d get private messages from him that were really intense, and I could tell he was falling further into his darkness.
Sometimes, he seemed to be doing fine – he was a huge dog lover, and a pit bull lover especially. His pit bull, Kaos, was the first I met in real life, and he caused me to change my mind about the breed when I saw how loving and gentle they are by nature. Incidentally, Vic and Kaos died within a few days of each other.
Victor LOVED when I rescued my pitty; and almost every time I posted a photo or a status about my Hippo, I could count on him for a sweet, funny comment.
Jessica always kept me posted on the latest… and in 2015, we learned that Victor’s liver was in severe danger of failing him due to his alcohol consumption. He was basically told that if he continued to drink, he would die.
He fought, at times. He’d go through detox – through the physical withdrawal – and he’d be okay for a while.
But what many addicts don’t realize (or, they choose not to accept), is that the therapeutic work is just as vital as eliminating the substance from your life. Vic was never able to commit to therapy – so he would always relapse, eventually.
Victor dwelled on his past, his deeply rooted pain, and he lived in the darkest places in his mind. In never confronting his demons, never embracing them, he allowed them to consume him… and ultimately, those demons became too much for him to bear.
This past November, right around my birthday on the 17th, Jessica reached out and shared that Victor was in the hospital. He had end stage cirrhosis, and his days were numbered. I cried and cried.
My heart ached for Jess, for her family, and I was so angry that I could do nothing to help. I couldn’t fly home to Albuquerque to support her, I couldn’t see Victor one last time and tell him how much I cared about him. I couldn’t do anything but cry and hurt and pray.
I was at work when I received the news that sweet Victor had passed peacefully in hospice, surrounded by his family.
I broke down in more tears, told my boss what had happened and that I needed to go home; and I spent the rest of the day sobbing for my lost friend.
I can’t imagine how difficult the past few months have been for those closest to him. My heart breaks each time I think of the pain they are being forced to learn to live with.
Recently, I was walking Hippo in the evening. The sky was transitioning from daylight to twilight; and as we turned a corner on a street we’ve walked a hundred times, I looked up at the sky – at the shade of blue that perfectly matched the color of Victor’s eyes – and I saw his face.
The moment was so powerful, the breath left my body on a gasp and I halted where I stood.
I could see him, I could smell him, and I could feel him – right there with me.
“Hey, Vic”…. I said out loud, almost involuntarily. And I started to cry.
He was there. For whatever reason, he decided to check in with me – to let me know he was okay. Better than okay, he was healthy, happy, and at peace.
I believe in the realness of moments like this, where our lost loved ones visit us. I’ve had similar visits from my late father and uncle, both in dreams and in waking life.
I am honored and touched that Vic decided to stop by and say, “Hey, Molly.”
What a gift.
I will always miss him, and I will look for him in those quiet moments where I know he’d be waiting with his crooked grin, a silly joke, a kind word, or a warm, tight, loving hug. He was great at those.
Today would have been my friend Victor’s 35th birthday. Please join me in sending love, light, warmth and healing energy to his mother, Elaine; his twin brother, Randy; his big sister – my dear friend – Jessica, and all others who were touched by Vic’s warm, loving presence in this life.
In loving memory of Victor Cotter Herring: March 26th, 1982 – November 30th, 2016.