Friday, December 05, 2008

Ryan Tarpley

That old picture I put up the other day had a few people in it that might bear some introducing to those of you who haven't known me for 20 years. I'll start with Ryan (second from the right). Ryan Tarpley and I went to high school together, knew each other slightly freshman year, really didn't like each other sophomore year, and were fast friends by graduation, and stayed that way until he died at age 25 from glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer. The story of how we went from being sort of enemies to strong friends is one of my favorite stories ever, and a good explanation of why I still miss Ryan, almost 13 years after his death.

At the end of our sophomore year, Ryan was dating Heather, whom I wanted to date (isn't high school wonderful?). I managed to make that switch happen over the following summer, and Ryan moved on to dating other folks. So here it is, junior year, and I'm dating Heather, and now Ryan is dating Amy Young (Amy, if you're out there, drop me a line; I'd love to know how you're doing). Amy was one of those sweet girls that everyone loves, while Ryan was equal parts brash and crass, and we had all sort of cast him as the villian in our little debate club dramas, so there was a lot of confusion on all of our parts as to what the attraction was.

One Saturday afternoon, there's a group of us hanging out on the debate bus between rounds talking about the evils of Ryan, and trying to come up with ways to break up Amy and Ryan. That group, as near as I can recall, including Amy's brother (Bryan), Amy's ex (Ben), Ryan's ex (Heather), Heather's boyfriend (me), and Theron, who had no vested interest. Not long into the conversation, Bob came onto the bus, sat on a pile of coats in a nearby seat, and joined in half-heartedly (he wasn't quite as dedicated a Ryan-basher as the rest of us).

I don't really remember the specifics of the conversation. It was just standard high school stuff. But it ended up meaning a lot to Ryan, because his stereo was under that pile of coats that Bob sat on, and Bob's ass pressed the record button. The next time Ryan went to listen to the Doors, he was treated to ten minutes of drunk Jim Morrison, and 35 minutes of us railing on him.

I only know this because Ryan told me about it years later. He listened to that tape over and over again, and paid particular attention to the things we said we didn't like about him. If he thought our criticisms were valid, he set out to change. If they weren't, he made it his goal to change our minds. He resolved to become friends with every single person on that tape, and he was, until the day he died.


vince said...

That was a pretty awesome story. Thanks for sharing it, and I hope your memories of your friend also bring you joy.

breje said...

Oh wow, that was a great, great story. I got a lump in my throat just reading it. I appreciate you sharing it.

Sheila said...

I suppose I should say "thank you!" Though I'm not inclined toward romanticism, I can still say after all these years that Ryan was the best person I've ever known.

Chris Burris said...

Yes, that was Ryan... I wish he could have become President. I knew him from his KU days, where he went from student to RA to co-author and dear friend within a short period of time. He had... charisma... that was toward the Tutu end of the Tutu-Biden spectrum. Thanks for letting me learn something about him that I didn't know.