Yesterday I received the heart-stopping, gut-wrenching news that my friend, my wild, generous, handy, laughing, partying, boat driving, puppy loving, phenomenal friend, the great Levi Brezee, passed away. Been found in his home, gone to this world. I keep crying, twenty-four hours later, trying to come to grips with this new reality, faced with wave after wave of memories. The world needed him yet and I don’t feel ready to let go. It’s too soon to write about, I’m still too utterly heartbroken, and yet I don’t know what else to do.
I saw him just last week. I was one of the last to get to watch him ruffle the fuzzy head of his new pup. I am so grateful for those few hours of happy conversation, but I am so utterly crushed that what should have been just a simple, fun afternoon in a friendship of fun afternoons has taken on such a significance. And I second-guess every minute of that time. I wish our hug was longer. I wish I’d spent the whole time telling him how great he is. I don’t understand, I don’t understand, I don’t understand, and I want to go back in time.
I met Levi nearly four years ago, on the big Ranger III dock in Rock Harbor in the sun. It was my first summer and my first week on the island. He came over I think that very same night, with his fantastic cousin Jared, gallons of red wine and a fifth of whiskey. I got my first broad-armed, spinning, up-in-the-air Levi-hug.
I have a billion sharply poignant memories of Levi, and our complex and precious friendship. It wasn’t always the easiest thing in the world. There was a lot of push and pull and try and triumph and both of us being stubborn as hell. He’s the only friend of mine I’ve ever really fought with, and I love him for that – for being someone I cared enough about to get angry with, for being someone who pushed me to find an inner fighter, for being the kind of person who stuck to his guns and was his own person even when it ruffled my feathers. And we always were great again. And I hope the depths of how much I cared about him were obvious – to him, I mean.
In my mind, I keep dipping back in time. He is working on a boat in the sun; he is catching lines on Mott’s dock; he’s hanging out in the VC in Rock Harbor distracting me at work; he’s showing up at the Ben East with an armful of fish; he’s leaning back against the deck with a beer, thoughtful and still; he’s carrying an injured patient out of the backcountry solo; he’s hiking down a mossy trail, surefooted and quick; he’s driving down the harbor, one finger on the wheel, confident and happy. There are concerts in Ann Arbor, evenings in the sauna, snowy New Years’ Eves, late-night Wisconsin beers, road trips through the UP, long important conversations, all crowding into my brain. I am standing in his little kitchen on Mott Island, and the country music is turned up loud, and I’m holding a cold beer and he’s cooking some kind of delicious curry and singing along with every word. I want to go back to that. Even just for a minute, for a moment, to that lovely summer peace.
Once he and I went out in his new boat to watch the sun set over the lake. As it set and the sky darkened, the wind and the waves picked up, and on our way back into the channel we got wedged on the rocks in Smithwick Passage we couldn’t see in the spray. The boat was rocking and grinding against the rock, the sky was inky black, the dock was too far to swim, the wind was getting stronger every minute, and waves were splashing over the side; and I was not for a minute afraid. Levi was one of the most competent people I ever knew. I trusted him utterly. We were safe on the dock in hardly any time at all.
I’m writing about my friendship with Levi, but Levi was one of those people who brought something to everyone he met. He was a connector, a teacher, a helper, a confidante, a friend to all. He was the center of our broad and beloved Isle Royale family. And last Sunday, he and I talked a lot about his family, as I cuddled Kali and he pointed out their photos all over the walls. He has a big family, cousins all over the place, and he showed me their photos and talked highly and in detail of them all. I’ve met a lot of his family, and I wish I could do something for them now, these amazing people who deserve none of this tragedy, but all I can do is tell them that in the last parts of his time, Levi was thinking of all of them, and brimming over with love.
I cannot yet say goodbye to him, this friend of mine. I cannot believe this, I cannot believe you are gone. Levi, you are so alive, still, in my mind. You are dancing and singing and lifting me into the air. You are vigor and generosity and bravery embodied. I send you love, wherever you are, from this world that benefitted so very greatly from your presence.