March 20, 2018 would have been Brandon’s 36th birthday. I can never forget my friend’s birthday. My iPhone calendar reminds me one week before and also on the day of. Also, his birthday is the day before my paternal grandmother’s.
This week I’ve spent each day reflecting over my memories of Brandon Clarke, aka “B Clarke”.
I couldn’t yet formulate the words by Tuesday, his birthday, but today they have settled and come together.
I watched Brandon grow and evolve into a man, accepting the ups and downs of love and life.
He started out as being a “youngster” with a crush on me, as we worked together promoting and helping our friend Kristian run a club night (“Club Wet”) at Bar 330 in Brea, California. Brandon was one of the promoters, along with my friend and his best friend Brandon Shelby (in the picture above), and Kristian’s brother Anthony. I was in charge of the door, paying the DJs, and overseeing the promoters and their guest lists. I also helped to serve as a liaison so that club goers, the security, the venue owner, and our club promotions team were all satisfied. Once we reached our “cut off” time at the door I would divide the money, give Kristian the splits, and then come inside the club and party with everyone.
The night always ended with our crew reflecting over the success of that night and then leaving together. At least one of the guys would walk me to my car. Once I left I almost always stopped at Carl’s Jr to grab a famous star with cheese combo, and stuff my face in the parking lot. Brandon and the guys would drive by in their cars honking and waving at me and laughing at my weekly routine.
Brandon would try his best each week to convince me that I should be with a younger man (7 years my junior)—that man in his opinion would be him—but I would spend those moments redirecting him towards women his age. I would give him dating advice and show him how to make his Side Kick passcodes stronger. He was dating a girl that was obsessed with trying to break his code. Brandon would say to me “I bet you can’t figure out my code” and in less than a minute I would hand it back, code broken, and watch his gaping mouth hang in disbelief.
Side note: Fellas, your birthdate, child’s date of birth, year you pledged a fraternity, year you graduated from high school or college, and jersey numbers are easy code breakers….
Brandon evolved from “youngster with a crush” into a dear friend and younger brother, in a way. I’m sure the crush was still there, but the respect and friendship weighed heavier and had greater value. He did give me a side eye when years later I started dating a guy 7-years my junior.
Brandon’s cancer diagnosis hit him hard and nearly destroyed his hope and faith. It caused those of us close to him to surround him and lift him up in prayer, and to counter every argument or gripe he had with an affirmation that he was and always would be in God’s hands.
He had been playing basketball at LA Fitness and he kept feeling a pain in his knee. This pain got worse and wouldn’t go away, and initially doctors were clueless as to what was causing the pain. I remember when he told me about it and we were tossing around what could be causing it. He loved playing ball and the pain was keeping him off the court.
Eventually it became clear what was attacking Brandon.
Initially for him the news meant life was over, his dreams were shattered, and those of us without cancer (or never had it at a young age and overcame it) couldn’t relate to his fears, pain, frustration, and anger.
We don’t know what it’s like to face the news of potential death, especially at such a young age. Until we get news that we too would rather forget.
I remember vividly going to the hospital center and rubbing lotion on his legs and feet, and teasing him about his “crusty feet”. I would rub the temples of his head and tell him to just breathe. We would sit and watch television, talk for hours, crack jokes and “trash talk”, until it was time for me to go, or the nurses needed to do something for him, or he fell asleep.
I used to have a Blackberry back then but now I have an iPhone (I converted in or around 2011) and what is amazing is that my address book in my phone still has Brandon’s name but the picture isn’t of him, it’s the one I chose years ago of his puppy that he loved so very much. He took the picture as soon as he got the puppy and he texted it to me. That’s what I used to identify him in my phone book.
I wonder how many people remember Brandon’s dog. I always called him his “Taco Bell dog” and we would laugh.
Below is the actual picture Brandon sent me of his puppy “Kanye”. He used to say I would find a girlfriend for Kanye. Sadly, I never did.
Brandon and I shared some precious moments together as he fought his cancer. He wanted so much out of life. He was just getting started, only the young age of 23, and life was clobbering him.
Brandon wanted a child—a namesake—someone to leave behind a legacy that could be lifted and magnified—someone who would look like him, always remember him, and always cause the rest of us to smile and reflect on the great boy who grew into a great man—who touched so many hearts and lives.
I remember partying with Brandon after his first rounds of treatment were over. It was so awesome seeing him smiling, dancing and laughing. We celebrated his birthday. He and Brandon Shelby came out to celebrate with me for my 31st birthday.
He even came to my going-away-party, November 2007. I was leaving California and heading to Georgia. Brandon looked stronger and hopeful. It gave me an added boost of hope.
Even when I relocated, Brandon and I would talk by phone and chat through text, and at that time we all were deep into MySpace. Our friendship wouldn’t wane because of distance. Whenever I came home to California for a visit I always made sure to spend quality time with Brandon. Our last time together was amazing. He took me and my sister to one of his favorite restaurants for lunch on the Newport Beach-Laguna Beach border. He wanted to talk about everything but his nemesis, cancer. So we did just that.
Whenever I go home and spend time in Orange County I try to have a meal there and stare out at the ocean waves, just like Brandon and I did that day. My sister still fondly recalls that day. It was bright, sunny, and beautiful. It was a perfect day.
I don’t think I will ever forget the day Brandon contacted me.
The cancer was back with a vengeance, it had rapidly spread, and he didn’t see the possibility of bouncing back. Matter of fact the doctors prognosis was clear that he wouldn’t.
Brandon was dealing with that news.
The first diagnosis, Brandon only told a select few of us and we were sworn to secrecy. Now he was telling me awful news again but this time he had waited to tell me. He knew something wasn’t right the last time we had spoken and even when he took me to lunch in California. He didn’t want me to worry. He said “I didn’t want to be a burden“.
I was crushed.
For me, the people that I love are never a burden. Family or friend, when I give you my word I keep it and there’s never a burden when you’re doing something out of love.
I had relocated over 2,000 miles away to Atlanta, Georgia and that day I stood in the home of my childhood friend, Ericka Sampson Smith (as I watched my Godson Kegdrick) and I quietly cried as Brandon and I communicated for what would be the last days. Unlike in the past I couldn’t just hop in my car and come over.
Brandon was trying to hold on but he was also saying “see you later“. He didn’t want to leave without reaching out to his loved ones. Brandon was letting go and I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t there. I told him I would look for a flight for the next day or two to come see him. He told me I didn’t have to but soon said “okay“. He knew it didn’t make sense to argue with me.
But also Brandon knew and accepted something that I couldn’t.
He said he was tired. He said he was okay and content with his reality. He had made peace with God. Oh it crushed me to process those words. My heart was so heavy. I wanted to be by his side as I had been in the past. I knew his family was there and our friend Brandon Shelby was there, but I wanted to also be there. I was the friend that wasn’t there that day. I had promised him that I always would be. I felt I had let him down and no matter how much he tried to convince me that I hadn’t my heart so heavy that I was convinced that I had.
We said “I love you” and then hung up the phone, and I immediately scrambled to look online for flights. I couldn’t afford the tickets and I wouldn’t get paid for another two weeks. But I kept looking.
Then I got the call that I dreaded the most.
It was May 13, 2009.
The person on the other end this time was our friend Brandon Shelby. He was letting me know that his best friend Brandon Clarke had passed, had transitioned.
I just burst out in tears.
Days later would be the funeral and I had reached out to my uncle Ricky to use his credit card to buy my ticket. By the time I went to purchase my ticket the prices had increased significantly. I was so stressed out and so sad that I didn’t know what to do. I remember contacting Brandon Shelby and he comforted me and reassured me, and told me that I had not failed our friend Brandon, but that I had been a true friend—-the type of friend that I wanted to be for him—the type of friend that he needed me to be.
There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about Brandon Clarke.
I see young men and I think about him. I hear someone’s laugh that sounds familiar and I can’t help but turn to look for him. I see a guy dressed as Brandon would and I smile. I sometimes have a student in one of my classes with the same first name and I tell them of my friend Brandon.
I know he’s smiling and pleased to see that his best friend Brandon Shelby got married and started a family, and has a blessed life. He would be pleased to see how I’ve handled the ups and downs of life, but remain hopeful for better and brighter. He would be pleased to see how his other close friends have gotten married, started families, grown in their careers, traveled and experienced many of the things they would daydream and talk about. He would be proud to see our growth and evolution.
I know he’s pleased. I know he’s proud. Because that’s Brandon.
As excited as he would be about his dreams and goals he would be excited about the dreams and goals his friends had. That was Brandon. That is Brandon.
So much life, light, courage, and love in and through one person. He left a beautiful imprint on my heart that I will always cherish.
I’ve learned and continue to learn from Brandon. I share his story with people who need added courage, who need motivation to fight, who need to know that they aren’t the only one to be blindsided by bad news—it’s what you do with that news that matters.
Brandon chose to live his life, spending time with loved ones, and sharing light with everyone who needed it. He chose to not waste precious moments with drama and drama-motivated people. He was intentional with the time he had left here.
It’s not how he planned his life but he made the most of it.
I’m grateful for my friend Brandon and our friendship. He went from being my “student” to unknowingly being my “teacher”.
I love you Brandon and I will never stop sharing your story, for what many would see as a shortened life you have left behind a strong legacy that those of us still here have a duty to ensure has a long and lasting reach. Continue resting in peace Brandon. I know you’re balling it up where you are!