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  • Writer's pictureEric Knabel

Thoughts From Six Feet Away: He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother

Yesterday, I lost a brother.

I’ve thought a lot today about the movie Inside Out. For those unfamiliar, it’s a Pixar movie that explores the idea of how our four dominant emotions (Fear, Anger, Sadness, and Joy) work together to control our emotional states. At the basis of their work console is a sequence of “Core Memories,” those memories that were integral to who that person is at the present time. Eventually, the emotional personifications (namely Joy) learn that the core memories don’t have to be all one type, and that even sad memories can make us better people.

Keith’s face appears in a lot of my core memories. My first memory of him was from Cub Scouts, but we weren’t friends at that time. It wasn’t until my mom went back to work and the neighbors where I spent the summers moved away that I got to know Keith. My mom told a co-worker that she needed someone to watch me during summer vacation, and this colleague told my mom that her son was watched by Keith’s mom. After some arrangements were made, I spent that summer, and three summers after that, as an extra member of their family. I ate lunch with them, visited their family with them. We consumed about 576 boxes of Captain Crunch that first summer, digging out treasure maps and hoping that the villain on our map was at the location told when we called the 800 number. We never did get a map that showed Buccaneer’s Roost. We learned an awful truth about those sorts of contests that summer.

But mostly, we played during those summers. We climbed trees and jumped on the trampoline in their front yard. Keith’s dad had a two-story garage that could be better described as a small warehouse. In our later years, we discovered the locker that he kept his Playboy magazines in. There were all sorts of lessons learned during those summers. Keith had an Atari 2600, and there were lots of rainy days spent playing Asteroids and Space Invaders. We rode our bikes, went to movies together, and played in video arcades. I would bet that half of the movies I saw in the early 80s were with Keith. I’ll never forget seeing Return of the Jedi on opening weekend, and our openmouthed shock the first time we saw Princess Leia in that iconic slave girl outfit.

And speaking of puberty, we discovered girls during those summers, and into our later teenage years. Keith’s house sat down the road from an all-girls academy, and our minds and bodies wandered up that hill at the end of every summer, when the students came back to school. Yes, toward the end we dated a couple of them, but we mostly just thought about girls. Kinda like a dog chasing a car – he runs with all his might, but he wouldn’t know what to do if he ever caught one.

There got to be a time where I didn’t require Keith’s mom to watch me anymore, but I still found myself getting on my bike every morning during the summer and going over there. We’d spend hours in the upstairs part of his house, an area he shared with his brother Curtis. As much as I stayed there at times, I’m surprised I didn’t have my own bed. We’d play records in the early years, then tapes. In the beginning, I bet we wore out the grooves in Freeze Frame by the J. Geils Band or the latest Joan Jett album. But later on, we discovered MTV and the burgeoning hard rock scene. Keith would tape hours of music videos in the early years of Headbangers Ball, and we’d spend Saturday nights watching videos of bands no one back home had ever heard of, bands like EZO (Japanese heavy metal is no joke, folks) or Stryper. Later on, he would introduce me to a band that I told him was crap the first time I heard it. Thankfully, I came around, and I’ve seen Metallica many times since my initial lame assessment. He and I went with three others the summer before my senior year to see a 5-band lineup in Indianapolis that included Metallica, along with Kingdom Come, Dokken, the Scorpions, and Van Halen. Talk about your core memories – Indianapolis felt like the other side of the world to us. Keith was my musical muse in those days, and a lot of my listening tastes are based on those summers in his attic bedroom. When I took my son to see Metallica in 2019, I texted Keith, and he applauded me for raising my son right.

We didn’t just listen to music; we played it together too. I joined the drumline of the marching band my freshman year. Since he was only an 8th grader, he took my paper route duties so I could go off and do band stuff. The following year, he joined me, and we spent the next three years side-by-side. We ran in different crowds by that point, but we were always inseparable during band trips. I can think of a hundred different moments, sitting in the back of the band room and cracking jokes the entire time. Sometimes we would just give each other a look, and the other would crack up. We had a million inside jokes and “catch phrases,” ones we’d say to each other up until the end.

We went to different colleges and studied different things. We’d keep in casual contact, but things really fell off. In 2011, when I was considering a move back to Indiana, Keith met me for dinner with a bunch of people when we were home visiting, and it was like time had never passed. We became close again with the death of a friend in 2012, and we always ended up running into each other at the same concerts. Imagine that! In 2015, we road-tripped together for Rock on the Range in Columbus, Ohio. It was just like old times, although we didn’t need anyone to drive us to our shenanigans anymore. We had contemplated a trip to Kings Island on the way home but cancelled at the last minute. I regret not taking that trip now.

I wish the story ended better. I got tied up in my life, and Keith worked weekends, so the time to get together never worked out. I had been planning a trip home, but the day I planned on texting him to get together, I found out that he had died suddenly. He had been involved in a relationship with a lady that seemed to be a perfect match for him. In following his life from a distance via social media, I was happy to see a smile on his face, but I don’t think I ever got used to the beard he grew at the end (especially when he would dye it black).

A piece of my soul is now missing, and although my heart will heal, it will always be sore in an area roughly the size of the space that Keith Quante held in it. I’ve said it before, folks, and I’ll keep saying it: tell your friends that you love them. Make the call or send the text. Spend time together and laugh off the troubles that accumulate in life. Because the longer we walk this rock, the greater the chance will be that someone is taken from us, and regret is an awfully bitter pill to swallow. Tell your friends and loved ones how you feel. I think Keith knew how I felt about him, but I'm the type that doesn't like to leave things to chance. I've missed my opportunity...don't miss yours. In my profession, I deal with loss on a daily basis, and I’ve learned to shield myself from all the emotions, but I just can’t with this one. It’s no good to lock the doors, because the burglar is already in the house.

You know what was encouraging to me? Faced with the loss of a member of my tribe, arguably one of the most powerful members of said tribe, the rest of my people rose up and came to my aid. Friends have called to check on me. Prayers were said. Never get so consumed by your grief that you won't let those that remain lift you up. It may be the very thing you need to carry on. To those who have supported me during this difficult time, thank you. I hope that I'm half the friend to you that you are to me.

I will never hear that laugh again, and I will never get a callback to a joke that is 35 years-old. My core memories are now all colored blue, but I will carry on. Your warm smile is burned into my memories, and a lifetime of tree-climbing, Atari, drum-playing, and girl-chasing are just a thought away. They have asked us to wear our favorite concert shirt to your showing, and I can’t think of a greater way to honor you. Truth is, I have about 2-3 weeks of shirts to choose from, considering all the shows we attended together. But I think I’ll wear the Metallica one, provided I can still fit in it. After all, even though thinking of you makes me feel young again, my body reminds me otherwise. Save a place in the great mosh pit in the sky for me; I will enter the circle with a reckless amount of speed, screaming YOOOO! at the top of my voice.

Be excellent to each other, and…

Party on, Keith...

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