Confidence was never really something I lacked.
Even as a kid when my dad left us for the second time, I was so used to being confident about myself and unafraid of rejection that I went through his departure like it was nothing. [Only in the last few years have I really dove into this emotionally.]
It really wasn't until I was 16 years old and a couple weeks out from my junior year of high school that I first felt what it was like to be afraid and without confidence about myself.
My mom had moved us back to Killeen, Texas, from Greenville, South Carolina, and while I had spent my first seven years of life in this Army town (home of Fort Hood) in Texas, I was not certain what I'd find when we moved back.
The first thing I discovered was that 115 degree heat was really really hot.
Then my mom took me by the high school I'd be attending to register for classes. Killeen High School. It was two times larger than my high school in South Carolina even though they only had 10th - 12th graders there. The 9th graders were in a separate school I was told. My 11th grade class would have more than 1,100 students alone. My 10th grade class in South Carolina was like 300 students. I basically knew everyone and everyone knew me. I was in the marching band, I ran track, I was in National Honor Society, and I had two older brothers who attended the same high school.
Everything was different in Texas. People said "thuh" instead of "thee" for starters.
I considered joining the marching band, where I thought I'd fit in having been an All-County baritone player in South Carolina, but the marching band at Killeen was nothing compared to the band I was in at Berea High. I was used to much more competitions and camaraderie. The band at Killeen seemed more like an extension of the chess team tbh.
So the next day I woke up at 5:30 a.m. and went to cross country practice at Long Branch Park to see what that would be like. I didn't know anyone and I hadn't even run cross country in South Carolina, but I was a distance runner (mile and two mile), and had mostly posted 5:01 to 5:05 minute miles my sophomore year.
At 6 a.m. there were about 8 or 9 of us who started running. I didn't know the route so I just hung toward the back and listened in on the conversation. I quickly realized that hanging toward the back wasn't just for a lack of knowing the route. These guys were fast! I picked up my pace and started making small talk before leading into a conversation about times. I wanted to know what kind of times these guys had posted in track the previous school year.
One guy said he'd run a 4:47 mile, another guy said 4:36, another said 4:42. I almost threw up in my mouth. "WTF did I get myself into?" "How am I going to make the varsity track team with guys this fast!?" "Wait, you said you're a junior, too?" "And you're a sophomore?"
Thankfully the run finished before I embarrassed myself by falling too far behind. After the run, I had to figure out how to get myself to the high school to shower and get ready for class. I didn't have my driver's license yet nor a car of my own. My mom had dropped me off at the park.
A second later, a guy who had been running toward the front of the pack...I think the same guy who'd said he ran a 4:36...even worse. He was a senior. He was white. He looked like a young Brad Pitt, no joke. All these things went through my head...he had a car (an SUV actually) and he offered me a ride to the high school. Sure thing, and I hopped in.
He turned the ignition and a Dave Matthews Band song came on. Say whatever the hell you wanna say about Dave Matthews and him being talentless or not indie enough or a sellout or whatever you will, but damnit if the sound wasn't music to my ears. It was the first familiar thing I'd felt in weeks. I had just seen DMB in concert earlier that summer with some of my bandmates and SC high school friends.
So Colby and I became friends not because of Dave Matthews Band was playing or because we both ran cross country or because we quickly found out that we both loved to read books (not just the ones assigned in school) and we both had family and had lived in South Carolina.
Colby and I became best friends because he was the person who met me during the lowest point of my early life, when I had the least amount of confidence, I was the new kid in school, I had no friends, I knew no one, and he made me feel like I belonged. He was able to do this because his experience growing up the only kid of a military officer father who'd moved every couple of years throughout his childhood gave him a unique perspective on exactly what I was going through. He knew how I felt and, without saying anything, did whatever he could as a friend to not make me feel that way.
I still hated so much of my junior year. Ask my mom: I cried at home nearly every week because I missed my friends in South Carolina and I became disappointed when they didn't write or call or keep me in the loop as much when I left. I had a girlfriend in South Carolina, but in Killeen I struggled. The only girl I "dated" in junior year dumped me after 3 weeks and dated one of my cross country teammates, believe it or not.
But Colby wasn't just a friend of convenience. We ran together, we read and talked about life and politics and what kind of lives we wanted to live. We rode around for hours in Killeen in search of house parties on Friday nights and drank MD 2020s and shitty beer underage. We ate at chain restaurants and listened to Wilco and Three 6 Mafia.
We only had the one year of high school together because then he was off to college in North Carolina and I went to UT the following year, but we stayed in touch even before text messaging was all the rage and before Facebook existed and before we could Skype or video chat on WhatsApp when he graduated and got deployed to Iraq the first time in 2004 during the peak of the Iraq War. We would talk on his Sat phone or send long emails about what we were going through. Him in a Humvee with his unit, me graduating and starting my career in D.C. I was in the business of creating or preventing news about people or companies. The work he was doing, serving our country, was on the news. More than once, I cried at night fearing the three or four reported deaths on CNN would include my best friend. But none did.
We met each other's girlfriends and visited each other in the various cities we lived in. We watched and supported each other through the quarter century life crises so many have. He went to Ranger School then Special Forces selection. I moved back to Austin and started Sneak Attack then Style X. He moved to Germany and deployed more. I took a job at Bazaarvoice. I was his Best Man when he got married. He and Sarah moved back to the States. I launched Localeur and birthed a company. He and Sarah birthed a beatiful baby daughter and I became a Godfather. So much more has happened in the last couple of years, more job and life and relationship changes than are necessary to mention in this post, but through it all my best friend has been there.
Right now, he's deployed in the Middle East in one of the world's most dangerous regions and I couldn't be more proud of the service he continues to give to the country. But honestly, I'm mostly proud to call him my best friend. When he got married, I stood up and gave a speech. People smiled and laughed but all I remember was saying, "Somehow I'm up here as the Best Man, but there's no way I'll ever be the bet man because he's sitting right here beside me."
I still feel that way. I am a very lucky person to have this guy as a friend and I don't hesitate one bit as a straight man to publicly share how much this guy has meant to me for the last 18 years and how much I love him and am proud of the man he's become. Thanks for always making me feel welcome and giving me confidence in myself and for giving me confidence in the country and who is protecting us.
Happy Birthday. Love you brother.