Dad's Memories pg 2
Jake got into skateboarding and learned a bunch of tricks from an older neighborhood kid, Daemon. Jake loved to skateboard and it became a mode of transportation for him. He built ramps, waxed the curb in front of the house, and was always dragging wood home to build something new.
After we added an addition on to the house in 2000, Jake took some of the extra plywood and built a clubhouse onto the backyard storage shed. He also built some furniture to go in it. Everything was OK for quite some time, until his younger sister wanted to start using it for her friends. By that time, Jake had gotten a little older and didn’t use it much. However, he didn’t want anyone else using it, either. So one day he got my shovel and dug a 3 foot deep hole in front of the entrance and had laid some sticks and grass on top to cover it up. He was going to teach her not to use his clubhouse. I happened to catch him before his little sister ever got a chance to fall into the hole and made him fill it up.
I caught him once in the front of the house showing off for his buddies. He would eat a live worm from the flower bed, just because no one else would. That was his boldness showing through again. I asked him about it and told him how gross it was, but he said, “nah, you just wipe the dirt off of them first.” One time his friends and he were jumping their bikes off a homemade ramp on the sidewalk. Jake got the bright idea to see if his friends could jump far enough to clear his body, if he lay down in front of the ramp. A kid had just started to take off for the ramp when I saw Jake and I yelled louder than I’ve ever yelled “JAKE!!” I chewed him out for thinking up a crazy idea like that. He was fortunate not to get his chest crushed.
One thing that struck me about Jake is that he was always concerned about his personal hygiene. Most young men in 6th and 7th grade start to exhibit strange odors ranging from "wet dog" to "stinky feet" to "skunk boy." They just haven't learned to ratchet up their personal hygiene yet. After I hauled around five or six of Jake’s skateboard buddies around in my truck, I learned to appreciate Jake's cleanliness. P.U., those kids reeked!!! One girl told me that she loved for Jake to come by her house to visit. If he had been lying up against her pillows, she would sniff them after he left because “they smelled like Jake.” Jake was a big advocate for deodorant, cologne, and breath products! I told him though that he messed it up once he started sneaking cigarettes.
Girls always seemed to like Jake. They started calling the house for him when he was in 3rd grade. I always tried to discourage it at that age, but they kept calling. By the time he graduated from elementary school, he proudly claimed to have 16 ex-girlfriends. I think he liked racking up the numbers, even if they were only boyfriend and girlfriend for a day! Just out of the 5th grade, we were watching fireworks with a group of neighborhood kids. Jake was telling a neighbor girl who was two years older that he had 16 ex-girlfriends, hoping she would be impressed. She looked at this kid straight out of grade school and said, I wouldn’t be bragging about not being able to keep a girlfriend.” I couldn’t help but laugh.
Because Jake's puberty had kicked into high gear early, he figured out that he could tell girls that he was older than he was. In summer 2003, a 15 year old girl from Alabama was visiting relatives that lived a few doors down and across the street from us. She happened to meet Jake on the street and they talked. Jake came into the house and asked if he could go to her house that evening to watch movies. I asked how old she was and Jake said “15”. I looked at him funny because he had just turned 13. He was smirking and said, “Dad, I told her I was almost 16 and she believed it.” I knew the girl's relatives that lived there so I just shook my head and let him go. He pulled that same stunt with two other girls that I know of, each time convincing them that he was older. What a player! He had a girl from Arkansas that called him every so often. I received a call this summer from a girl that Jake had met at Opening Night 2004 in Oklahoma City. I received another call three months after Jake's death from a Yukon girl he'd met last summer doing community service together. We received a call recently from a girl that had gone to grade school with him and had just moved back. None of them had heard about Jake’s passing, so it was hard to tell them.
The thrill of having a girlfriend had mostly wore off by 7th grade. He liked having girlfriends, but he didn’t let it rule his life. If he happened to have a girlfriend, that was fine. If not, he didn’t seem to particularly care. He simply liked having friends, both girls and boys. You can read more about his favorite things to do on the page called "Jakes Favorites." Jake's last girlfriend was named Julie and he liked her a lot.
When he was in middle school, we use to field about 15-25 phone calls a night for Jake, the majority of them from girls. Some were repeat callers and most of them were just friends, but I found it interesting that so many girls liked to talk to him. One girl even gave me recordings of her and Jake’s conversations that she had made at Jake's request. Jake talked about his friend Emily a lot and I had taken a lot of phone calls from her over the past couple of years, but I never got to meet her until Jake was gone. I wished that I had got to meet more of Jake's friends while he was still alive. They're really a bunch of great kids.
Being his age, he liked the songs that had more heavily distorted guitars. As a guitar player, you never forget that first time you play a loud, harmonically rich, overdriven power chord. It is a very intoxicating feeling of power. Jake got a little Marshall amplifier for Christmas and he was good to go. He would come to me and ask me how to play the solo on an Audioslave song. I would figure it out quickly and then teach it to him. And he would practice and practice until he had it down. A month would go by and I would have forgotten how to play it, but he would remember. He took his guitar and amp to some of his friends’ houses to jam. He and his friends, Wes and Andy, had talked about starting a band soon. I was looking forward to helping them get started.
I had a game that I played with Jake and his sister. When we were in the car going somewhere, a song would come on the radio and they would have to guess what decade it was from. They were accurate about 90% of the time. Whenever I was watching old videos on VH-1 or some middle-aged headbanger from the MTV glory years was being interviewed, Jake would walk by and say “Man, that dude is sooooo 80’s!” Jake remembered hearing old Alice Cooper and Black Sabbath CDs from when he was little in Norman. Once he got into playing guitar, he rediscovered these and learned that they were actually more fun to play than most of the new stuff on the radio.
I had a CD that I played in the truck a lot that was a compilation of some of my favorite “headbanger” songs. This CD was packed with nothing but skull rattling songs…… except for the last track. The last track was the theme from Pee Wee’s Playhouse, which was a Saturday morning kid's TV show. The wacky theme song was sung by Cindy Lauper, using her squeaky voice with the heavy Queens, NY accent. Anyway, Jake and I would listen to this entire CD of bone crunching metal which could almost wear you mentally out. Then the Pee Wee theme would come on and we would both die laughing because it was funny and so out of context with everything else we had just listened to. It never failed to crack us up.
Jake always had nice hair and once
he got into middle school, he had more hairstyles than a beauty queen. His favorite hairstyle was to gel his hair
into a dozen or so pointy spikes, which was not exactly a typical hair style for
the town we live in. When he first started doing it, I told him not to, but he would wait until I went to
work, then "spike up" for school. He thought he was getting away with
it. However, during open house at the school, his teachers ratted on
him. I finally gave in as he got a little
older. At that point, I was more concerned about him not getting in trouble than
looking like the norm. His oddest hairstyle was a shaven head except for two
greasy curls that hung from the front of his head. It looked like someone had
placed a drowned rat on his forehead. Jake had been well known for wearing a NY
Yankees ball cap all of the time when he was in 6th and 7th grade. His grandma
was having a retirement party for being a life long educator. All of her friends
and colleagues were in attendance. She wanted her grandkids there and left a
message on the phone to "make sure Jake doesn't wear that hat!",
unaware that Jake had just changed his hairstyle. I told Jake that Grandma
didn't want him wearing that hat, so he obliged her and instead showed up with
the drowned rat on his forehead! He only had that hairstyle for a few weeks,
thank God. He shaved it off and went bald for the summer.
Jake became my concert going buddy. I took him to see Paul McCartney in late 2002. We had killer seats and Jake loved it. I was hoping he would live to be a hundred and be one of the few old people still around who could say, “Yea, I saw a Beatle in concert once.” I always enjoyed being with Jake. He always knew how to have fun and was up for adventure. I worried a lot though, that he would cross the line between fun/adventure and something dangerous. He had other things going on in his head.
We had planned to go to OzzFest in Dallas in late summer 2004. It would have been a freakazoid time, for sure, but he would have enjoyed it. We had also planned a special trip for the summer of his 16th birthday. I made a deal with my kids that I would take them anywhere they wanted to go when they turned 16. Just Dad and them, one on one. The problem with family vacations and multiple kids is that someone is always whining or doesn’t want to do what the others want to do. You end up feeling like a tour guide or a mediator. A one-on-one trip allows the kid to pick where THEY want to go and not have to deal with family decisions. It also gives you special quality time away from every other influence they have,…family, friends, etc. It’s just you and that kid. Jake’s sister took her trip this summer and went to New York City, Washington D.C. on July 4th, and Williamsburg, VA. Jake hadn’t decided where he wanted to go yet, but I told him he had plenty of time to think about it. Knowing Jake, he would have wanted to go someplace where there was a lot of action and where things really got going after the sun went down!
Jake's personality started to change about the middle of his 6th grade year for reasons that are explained elsewhere on this website. He seemed to keep all of his special good qualities, but he became more angry and defiant. Typical teenager, right? He wanted to do what he wanted, when he wanted, regardless of what anyone else thought. He would sometimes defy me and his step mom and do things he had been told not to do. One winter night, he wanted to go roaming around in another neighborhood after dark. I told him no. He argued, but I wouldn’t give in. Five minutes later, I hear the front door open and close. I get up and sure enough, he had taken off anyway. I got in my truck and proceeded to head for that neighborhood. Right outside of our neighborhood, there is a large open field that meets Highway 152. I was driving along there and saw a shadowy figure out in this field. The clouds obscured the moon that night, so it was fairly dark and I couldn’t really tell who it was,…….but I had a good idea. I stopped the truck and rolled down the window. The shadowy figure stopped moving. I yelled, “Jake, you’re busted! Get in the truck.” The shadowy figure just stood there motionless for about five seconds, then suddenly dropped to the ground. I couldn’t help but laugh. I yelled, “Jake, get up, ya big ding-dong and get in the truck! I can see you.” The shadowy figure laid there awhile, apparently thinking his next move. Then Jake got up slowly and came walking towards the truck. He wasn't very happy, but at least I still had some level of control over him at that point. It was only one of countless episodes where he openly defied me or snuck out of his window to run around at night. I put locks on his windows. He disabled them. I’d take a knife away from him. He’d get another one. We had some tough times. It was like having two different versions of the same kid sometimes.
Like most kids, Jake changed his mind many times about what he wanted to be when he grew up. From storm chaser to professional skateboarder to tattoo artist/body piercer, it reflected what he was passionate about at the time. On a trip to California in 2001, we spent some time in San Francisco and then drove down the Pacific Coast Highway to Los Angeles . As we were cruising the Sunset Strip in the evening, he said to me, “Dad, I think this is where I was meant to be.” He said he wanted to be a musician and move to L.A. after graduation. I told him that he could be anything he wanted to be, but none of it comes easy and most of it is not as romantic as it appears.
A couple of months before Jake died, the 8th grade class took a High School Career Course Planner survey. He scored the highest in Arts & Entertainment and Human Services, but personally chose Human Services as the occupational group that interested him most. He wrote on the report that he wanted to be a substance abuse youth counselor. He would have made a superb youth counselor because he was so personable and related to other kids problems, many of which he had experienced himself.
Many a night when he was young, I would sit at his bedside, lay my hand on his head and say a prayer to keep him safe and happy. It was usually preceded by some weird game I would have to play with him, like “The Possessed Pikachu from Outer Space” where Pikachu had a rocket in his butt, would fly around and shoot laser beams out of his eyes directly into Jake’s stomach, tickling him. Something to make him laugh. He always loved this evening ritual and it was special to me, too. As he got older, he lost interest in goofy little bedtime games and didn't like me praying over his head. But he'd still kiss me goodnight and I still got to wake him gently in the morning, usually with Chloe climbing on top of his chest and laying there for a minute.
Since Jake’s death, nothing in my life holds as much pleasure as it once did. I still enjoy life and have a wonderful family, but it’s just not the same nor will it ever be. Jake was special to me, not only because he was my only son, but because he possessed certain qualities that I admired. Like everyone on this earth, Jake did things sometimes that he wasn’t proud of, but it's all part of growing up,...finding where you fit it in this world,... and learning what is acceptable and unacceptable. I didn't always understand some of things that Jake did, but I was always proud of him, even when he did something wrong, because he'd take his punishment and hopefully learn from it. That's all you can ask from a kid. You guide them through their younger years to the best of your ability, boost their spirits when they're down and hope that what you're trying to teach them eventually sinks in. There is a phrase from a song that goes,
“Some will fall in love with life(death) & drink it from a fountain that is flowing like an avalanche, coming down the mountain.”
For 14 years, 2 weeks, and three days, Jake lived life that way. He absorbed as much life as quickly as he could. It was almost like he was on a timetable and felt the need to cram as much into his life as he could. Whenever Jake would do something to get into trouble, he many times didn't appear remorseful. He'd simply say “I’m going to live my life.” He must have said that to me a hundred times.
I want his friends to remember Jake for the way he embraced and lived life, not how he chose to check out early. Take with you the good memories of Jake and as you grow up, try to think about him once in awhile. That's how we keep a person with us. A person’s life is usually measured in what they do while they’re on this earth, and how they impact those around them. That’s the way I’ll remember Jake Austin..…by how he lived and the people he came in contact with.
I love you Jake and I miss having you here with me. - Dad
2005 - A year has passed since Jake left us. The entire year was hard, but the Christmas holidays were especially difficult. We still put up Jake's stocking over the fireplace and we always will. Even though he is not with us in body, he is still a part of our family. I wrote him a letter on Christmas Eve and put it in his stocking and I vow that I will do the same every year until I die. When Jake's 15th birthday came around in April, we had strawberry cake in his honor. It will be another tradition that we will continue.
2006 - Another year has past and we still find little presents that Jake left. Just this past March (almost two years after his passing), I was cleaning up the shrubs in the front and found one of his empty cigarette packages stuffed in the bushes. I think he figured I might see it if he left it in the regular trash, so he stuffed it in the bushes. I found a different one over a year ago in another shrub. Life has gotten easier, but I still miss him terribly. Jade does too. For some reason, it seems I ache worse for him whenever the seasons change. That first crystal clear spring day makes me miss him more.....That first full-blown summer day makes me wish he was here with me......The first kiss of fall with cool temperatures and changing foilage leaves me melancholy,....while winter's first bite makes me yearn to see him more than usual. I think it's because when the weather changes into a different season, it's sort of like another passing, yet you yourself feel more alive than usual. Or at least I do. I still see a few of Jake's friends and I am grateful. Jake's ex-girlfriend joined us for strawberry cake on his birthday. They all drive cars now, while Jake will forever be frozen in time as a kid who was just barely 14.
2007- This is the third year that Jake has been gone. An odd thing happened late last summer. I received a phone call from the hospital where they had taken Jake. The head of the Facilities Department said that he had a dog tag and chain with Jake's name and address on it, but didn't know who the owner was, so he had looked up our address in the phone book. He asked if I had a son who had been to the hospital recently. I told him yes, Jake was my son but he had died in their emergency room over two years earlier. The gentleman sat there on the phone somewhat confused. I asked him where he got the dog tag and he said it was just sitting on his desk when he came in one day. I asked if it had perhaps been in a lost and found box for awhile. He said no. I told the man that I'd come and get it, but in the meantime, would he please ask around and inquire who might have left it on his desk. He agreed. Once I arrived at the hospital a few days later, the man told me that he never could find anyone who claimed to know anything about it. It was indeed Jake's dog tag that he was wearing the day he died. Pretty strange. Somehow I think it's the last time we'll receive an unexpected message from Jake.
- Jake has been gone for four years now. Should he have lived, he
would have been 18 years old and graduating from high school next month.
His sister Jade graduated last May (2007) and knowing her brother would never
get to walk across that stage, she carried a single black rose with her through
the ceremony and across the stage in Jake’s honor. She spent her
freshman year at the
I went to
an Ozzy concert last December. Jake and I had planned on going see Ozzy
the summer he died. I brought a photo of Jake in his leather jacket and
kept it in my pocket next to my heart during the concert,….sort of like he was
there with me. I saw his good friend Wes there, also.
the past couple of weeks, some of his old friends have stopped by, even a few
that I had not seen since Jake was in 8th grade. It blows me away that
they are about to get out of high school. A couple of them didn’t make
it though and dropped out. One young man I had not seen for over five
years. He never lived in Mustang. Larry and Jake became acquainted
while they were both involved at the Gary Miller center. I cannot
begin to explain how it made my heart feel knowing that they still remember and
have enough respect for Jake’s memory to come by and pay their respects.
We told a bunch of “Jake” stories and had a lot of laughs. He truly
was a remarkable kid and it was such a waste to end his life like he did.
I wish I could say that I’ve moved on, but you never really move on from
something like the death of your child. As with previous years, some of
Jakes friends came by the house the evening of his passing anniversary and lit
votive candles in front of the house.
The middle school where Jake attended contacted me about a couple of large ceiling tiles that his class had painted and decorated right after he died. I’ve placed photos of it on the photos page of this website.
2009 - In April, we celebrated Jake's birthday with strawberry cake like we always do. We also remembered Jake's passing in April. Jake's friends came by to visit that month like Mitch, Jerry ("Donut"), Kayla, Julie, and Merissa. Five years have passed. In some ways, it seems longer. I think it is because five years is enough time for the world to change (family, friends, cultural trends, neighborhood kids, technology, etc) and suddenly, Jake seems to be slightly out of place. It's not quite like looking back at someone that died 50 years ago, but again, five years is enough time that THIS year, it seemed different somehow. Do I still miss him and experience an anguishing cry sometimes? You bet. But so many things have changed that everything surrounding Jake is not quite so vivid as it was. I guess that's the way it is suppose to go. Eventually, we all pass from this world and then those that love us also pass and suddenly, there is no one living that has any connection to your life. You end up being nothing more than a curious figure in some old photos and movies. Or even farther removed, someone happens by your tombstone and wonders who you were and why you died so young.
Jake's great-grandma Ferrell died in early May. He called her "great-Ferrell" and spent a lot of time at her house when he was younger. She knew the pain of losing a child as she had two infant twin daughters that died at childbirth and a son who died at 21. Maybe Jake was there to greet her on the other side. Not really sure how that all works. The one thing I DO know is that back on this side, the beat goes on....and we still miss and honor Jake Austin.
2010 - Six years have passed since Jake left us. He would have been 20 years old. On the anniversary of his passing, some of his friends came by to visit or phoned. Pretty cool given they are all young adults now with their own lives and daily grind of making it on their own.
Jerry (who Jake had nicknamed "Donut" in the 7th grade because Jerry loved those little chocolate covered donuts) came by with his fiance. While they were visiting in the living room, I excused myself and rummaged a bit through Jake's room and and found this really cool drawing Jake had done of the word "DONUT" (which I am sure he had originally created for Jerry). I think Jerry was touched, and especially so because it reminded him of a time when he and Jake were best buds. Unfortunately, they were not friends around the time of Jake's death because of Jake's anger and mental issues. Jake could say some pretty ugly things sometimes.
Although there really isn't any mention of it in this website, there is a misconception I need to clear up about Jake's death. I learned of the misconception from Jake's old girlfriend, Julie, as we sat around talking about Jake this year. Here's the deal. Jake's death was not some big master plan he had worked out. His closest friends know that he would talk about suicide a lot but Jake hadn't really made up his mind about it. The day of Jake's death, he called me at work that morning asking if he could go to Wednesday evening church service. If someone was truly planning to commit suicide that day, why was he making plans for the evening? I did not allow him to go as he was grounded and was to stay grounded until he was allowed back in school. Ten days. He got mad about it but when you screw up, you pay the price. Ten days suspension?.....then it's ten days grounded from running around.
Jake's sister doesn't think Jake was truly committed to ending his life. She and I know that he was fascinated with it, liked to talk about it, sensationalize it to his friends, etc. Jade believes he was jacking around....just trying to see what it might be like to hang yourself,.....but he could change his mind and step back on the bed in case he needed to. Hanging doesn't work that way. You almost immediately pass out, sort of like those sleeper holds that some guys can do by grabbing another person around the neck, making them pass out. As for me and Jake's motive, I couldn't really say. I do know Jake wasn't scared to try anything and he DID believe he was invincible and the laws of nature didn't apply to him. Seriously. It use to frustrate the hell out of me trying to make him understand with certain things, you can't dance on the edge because you can't tell exactly where the edge is.
I ran into a lady last summer who attended Jake's funeral with her daughter. She had been to the funeral home a couple days before. She claims that she senses things and as she was looking at Jake's body in his casket, she said that she could hear him as clear as day saying "I am so sorry. I didn't mean to." Maybe it's true,...maybe not. This lady believes it. However, the end result is still the same, so I have learned to let that part go. After going over and over it thousands of times in your mind the first few years after his death, you realize that you'll never know the true answer and it doesn't really matter. To quote Forrest Gump, "and that's all I have to say about that".
I bought a Corvette convertible last year and think of Jake a lot of the time while I'm driving in it. I really prefer to be by myself in it. It helps me decompress. The damn thing is monstrously fast, too. Jake loved Corvettes and use to keep an 8x10 photo of my old 1978 Corvette Pace Car in his room. He was so proud of that photo, even though that car was long gone by the time he was born. He painted a ceiling tile at school during 8th grade. It showed two Corvettes racing. He always claimed he was going to get one when he was grown. Yikes!
Jake's grandma Bernice has about 7 1/2 photo albums of "Jake photos" that I have never seen. She spent a ton of time with Jake when I was a single dad raising Jake and Jade and had to go out of town for my job. I've never asked to look at them because I can't bring myself to do it. I simply can't do it yet, even though I'm sure there are a lot of great photos in there that I could upload to his website. However, there is something incredibly sad that happens to me whenever I see a new photo of Jake that I may have never seen before. I'm OK on photos that I've seen before but photos I discover for the first time just tear me up. I guess that is an indicator of whether or not there's a part of me that hasn't moved on yet. But I don't think anyone ever truly 100% "moves on" when they lose a child. It's not in our DNA.
An amazing thing happened today. I found a poem today that had been written by a friend of Jake's back when he passed. I was updating the website and googled Jake's name. I had never seen this poem and am amazed that I never came across it in six years. What a surprise! It is a wonderful letter written to Jake from a girl named Melissa. Anyway, Melissa if you are reading this, I know that you've grown into a young adult by now and Jake's death is like a distant memory, but your words are so touching and heartfelt, they transcend those six years and bring Jake closer to any of us that knew him. Thank you so much for posting that poem!
Or within this website...
Finally, I went out to the cemetery yesterday for Memorial Day. Lots of little gifts and such, and flowers around his grave. Thinking of you everyday, Jake. You are not forgotten.