When I talked to Shawn O'Hara that summer afternoon, I had never seen him look happier or healthier. Two hours later, he put the barrel of a rifle into his mouth and splattered his brains all over the back wall of his mother's tool shed.
He made two phone calls between the time I saw him and when he killed himself. .
He called me and asked me to go to Atlanta with him for dinner. But it was already 3 o'clock and I was driving to D.C. to pick up some furniture I had stored. I didn't have time.
Later, he phoned Joe Ed, with less ambitious plans. He wanted Joe Ed to meet him somewhere in Lanier for coffee. But, Joe Ed was fixing dinner for his two little girls. He didn't have time.
Had Shawn ever said: "I'm depressed" or "I'm desperate" or even "I need somebody to talk to" Joe Ed and I would have set anything we were doing aside. There were dozens of people in Lanier who would have dropped everything to talk and listen and hold him, people who would have stayed with him all night if that's what it took - but he never said anything.
Those two telephone calls were the extent of his reaching out.
Shawn O'Hara grew up with us. I played with Shawn, walked to school with Shawn, and later on in high school, partied with Shawn. He was the first boy who ever kissed me. And he was the first boy who ever, walking home from school, carefully steered me to the inside of the sidewalk so he would be on the side near the cars. Southern manners.
He grew from being a short, pudgy red haired little boy into a young man over six feet tall, solid as a rock. He played guard on the football team, and nobody could get around him. He wasn't afraid of anything or anybody.
After high school, he fell victim, like so many of the people I grew up with to drugs and drink and then as the years progressed, to things more sinister. Jamie told me Shawn would show up at their annual drinking binge at the lake with guns - a trunk full of guns - automatic, semi-automatic, enough ammunition to take out a small city, even hand grenades.
"Why?" I asked Jamie. He shrugged his shoulders. "Beats me, but it scared me to death." "Somebody'd usually lock the guns up in the trunk and hide his keys, just in case." Jamie continued. "But, you know how Shawn was - always happy. He never got mean. The guns? I don't know."
After the drug and gun episode, Shawn inexplicably became a charismatic minister. I don't know how long that lasted, but later, I got word that he had settled down and married a very proper young woman from Lanier who was a child when we were in high school. Within a short time (too short for some people's taste) they had a child. Shawn - was in love with the child. He stopped traveling around the country preaching, got a very good job, a house and built a swimming pool, but he kept drinking.
After a few years, his employer told him he had two choices - quit or go into drug treatment. He opted for the latter. After a year of drug treatment, it seemed like he finally had everything together. That's when the proper young woman left him. She said he wasn't "fun" anymore. She took the child.
Maybe that's why he did it, or maybe it was because his mother had died the year before, or maybe he had started drinking again. Who knows?
But in the years since Shawn killed himself he has floated into and out of my mind, usually when I see something especially beautiful. "He'll never see another hibiscus." I'll think to myself. "He'll never see another horse gallop across a snow covered field - filled with the sheer delight of being alive." "He'll never see a cat flick it's tail in anticipation as it reads something captivating in the wind." Hell, - he'll never even be able to go to Wal-Mart. I have never been able to figure out what it means.