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Yeah, yeah, I’m pretty sure I vowed to make a new bloggie post several weeks ago, and obviously those weeks have gone by with nary a word.

I can honestly say that I have meant to sit down and write a few lines, and it’s no secret that I’ve been online often enough to have done so, but the truth of the matter is, every time I’ve thought about posting, I’ve come up with something else to do, such as finding people on Facebook (it’s fun!) or surfing relentlessly or playing yet another mind-numbing (and usually unsuccessful) game of Minesweeper. (See! That’s EXACTLY why I refuse to invest in a videogame system, no matter how much I want to be able to hop online and challenge Patti and/or her her kiddos to a game of whatever Mario Bros. contest happens to be in the machine at the moment — I quite literally would never get anything else done!)

So I’m borrowing Jane’s nickname as my title for today’s post because that’s exactly what I am: a slacker. The “if not the original, certainly a reasonable facsimile” slacker.

Put it this way: I can slack with the best of them … and I have, what, a more than one-month lag between posts to prove it!

Today I feel energetic yet annoyed. And upbeat, in general, because President Barack Obama is now in the White House, and despite the relatively miserable state of our nation, I have confidence that he is going to try to get some stuff accomplished. As I’ve gone on record before, I’m not naive enough to think he will actually be able to DO all the things he wants to do, nor am I a person who has ever had all that much faith in the president (first presidential memory: Richard Nixon resigning; enough said). However, I do think our nation’s leader is responsible for setting the tone for our country’s overall mood by stepping up and being just that: a leader.

And I think President Obama is quite capable of doing that.

My annoyance comes not from the president’s detractors but from the overall negativity that certain individuals always seem to want to inflict on others. Over the years, I have found myself basically banishing certain people from my life (even if I still saw them on a regular basis) because I realized they were doing absolutely nothing (say it again!) to make my life better.

And, lest we forget: It IS all about me … except when it isn’t.

I mean, I would completely ignore the negativists (cool word, even if it does refer to people who annoy me!) for as long as necessary — and wouldn’t you know: IT WORKED!

Quite frankly, I strongly suspect none of them ever realized (or cared) that they were being ignored, and I don’t recall any of them ever actually changing into shiny, happy people. Which, now that I think about it, probably wasn’t my intent, anyway.

I can’t really change people; I can only change how I react to them.

Meanwhile, I have balanced the realization that you cannot reason with nor understand the rationale of an unreasonable, irrational person with the excitement over reconnecting with a few people who meant quite much to me when I was a much younger person. (In other words: I have been aggravated beyond belief by someone I know who, quite possibly, is crazy — or, if not, exhibits power freak issues and demonstrates a complete lack of understanding and empathy. On the other hand, I have been thrilled to have renewed some very important relationships over the past several days/weeks.)

Out with the bad, in with the good, I say!

Jenn & Di at the BEN

One of my favorite people on earth, Jennifer Brannan, died this week.

At the moment, I still can’t quite grasp the fact that she’s gone. Also, I’ve never lost a friend with whom I felt so close, so forgive me if I meander a bit: I’ll be OK in a few paragraphs … or maybe a few days.

I don’t think I’ll ever be quite the same, though.

Jenn and I became friends the instant we met.

I say this as someone who doesn’t make friends all that easily. Nor do I take friendship lightly; it usually requires months and years of “tending to,” and even then, so many factors go into having — and being — a true friend, I am amazed that any of us are able to be truly successful at it.

Plus, I have the added quality of being someone who, on occasion, makes a really bad first impression — just ask my boss, Terra Kerkemeyer, or sports editor Phil Knapper. (On second thought: Don’t! Their first-impression stories about me make me cringe!)

Jenn and I clicked, though, right from the start, when I saw her sitting in the darkroom at The Benton Evening News office back in the fall of 1998.

A junior at Benton Consolidated High School, Jenn had signed on as our darkroom assistant, which meant that over the next couple of years, she got to arrive at work an hour or so before everyone else (5:30 or 6 o’clock each weekday morning) to develop film. My fellow editorial staff members and I would get to the office, look at our negatives and tell Jenn which ones we wanted printed for that day’s newspaper. She would print the photos and then head off to BCHS for a full day of school.

(Along with my bad-first-impression tendencies, I’ve also heard I can be a little demanding when it comes to pictures. Not as demanding as our former outdoors editor, Joe McFarland, but a little picky, nevertheless. Jenn never seemed to notice or to mind.)

Later, she worked in our composition department, which often required her to be at the office for the late-night shift on Fridays following a Benton Ranger football or basketball game.

Early mornings and late nights can make for some great conversations at the news office, and with each passing day, Jenn and I got to know each other a little better … sometimes outside the office, “on assignment” or road trips or sharing a pizza at the restaurant now known as Cathy Ann’s.

I lost track of Jenn, momentarily, when she left for Peoria not long after graduation — not because she didn’t keep in touch, but because I was caught up in my own sometimes very self-centered life.

In fact, that Christmas, when I was in the midst of a major case of the holiday blues, a card from Jenn a few days after the event was just what I needed, at just the exact moment I needed it, to get me back on track. Or at least pointed in the right direction.

She was a wonderful listener, even when I would babble on about what was going on in my very low-key thirtysomething world. And then, sometimes I would go into Wise Old Pal Mode and try to dispense Valuable Advice on Life. I’m not sure how “valuable” anything I ever said really was, but Jenn did a fantastic job making me feel as if it all really mattered, somehow.

I loved her sense of humor and her smile, and that she would sometimes get to giggling so hard she couldn’t stop.

I loved her fashion sense and her cool hair, along with the fact that she had such a true knowledge of who she was, even as a high-schooler. For someone so young — a mere teen-ager when we first met! — she seemed so comfortable in her own skin, so happy and healthy with her own identity. (For example, she wore a tuxedo and escorted her girlfriend to Prom — something that took no small amount of guts, even here in the diverse and oh-so-open-minded Franklin County!)

I loved the fact that Jenn loved photography. And music. And movies and rain, so much so that the night we went to see Boys Don’t Cry at the Tivoli Theatre in St. Louis, the fact that it was pouring down rain only served to enhance the entire evening.

I loved how much she cared about her friends. Staci, Cristy, Leslie — all of you and many more, her friends and confidants (and anyone who knew her, really, even casually), loved her … and as much as you loved her, she loved you that much back, and more.

I loved how she loved her family, especially her sisters, Molly and Kim, and her brother, Steven. She was so proud of all of you, so glad to be your big sister (and an aunt to her nieces), and she enjoyed being reunited with you over the past few weeks.

And, oh, how she loved (and missed) her mom …

If there is a silver lining to be found amongst the ugly clouds that have loomed overhead most of this past week, it is the belief that Jenn and her mom, who passed away earlier this year, are now together again. And believe me: I do believe.

I hate the fact that Jenn is gone, physically, and I hate the fact that I won’t get to spend about 50 more years hanging out with her. Yet I am grateful for the past nine years that we have known each other and for every second we spent together during that time.

I loved teasing Jenn about how she was so much shorter than I am — even though I am pretty sure we both measured about 5 feet, 2 inches (and change). I used to stand right next to her and cast a sidelong glance and say, “Look at me! I’m TOWERING over you!” She’d smile and giggle, knowing full well we were the same height.

Truth of the matter is, she towered over all of us.

I love you, Jenn.

My little buddy Jenn died today in a car wreck.

I have so many memories and snippets of conversations and other … just stuff that I wanna write about her and me and our friendship, but at the moment all I can think about is how sad I am, and how much I’m gonna miss her. (It really is all about me, isn’t it? Well, except when it isn’t, and I know a lot of people are sad right now, and they’re all gonna miss Jenn. If you knew her, even casually, you loved her.)

I saw her the day before Thanksgiving. We had lunch together at The Buzz: Never mind that it was the day before Thanksgiving, we both ordered turkey-and-Swiss sandwiches on baguettes; she got hers without onions. I drank a Coke and she drank a cup of coffee.

Jenn Coffee

We talked about her move back to the area. She hadn’t found a job yet, but she wasn’t too worried about it because she had put in several applications. She and I had met when we were co-workers, actually, so I knew that she was a dependable, diligent employee (I’d given a potential employer a glowing recommendation about her earlier that day, in fact).

I asked her if she was seeing anyone special, and she sorta gave me a look; later on, she told me about a girl she had been friends with in high school, and how they had rekindled their friendship (and more) over the past few days.

She was happy.

I had no idea this would be the last time I would ever see her alive, or that this would be the last picture of her I would ever take.

Smiling Jenn

Rose Shed

Pamela Sue Brannan
(April 28, 1962-April 18, 2007)

Jenn’s mom died on my birthday. I didn’t hear about it until the next evening when Leslie sent me a message on MySpace. (Lest you think I’ve forgiven MySpace, keep in mind that it was back to its fucked-up ways over the weekend — so: NO, I haven’t.) Jenn and Brandee made their way to the news office on Friday, and for the first few minutes of seeing them, all I could do was hold Jenn.

She and Brandee were expecting some words o’ wisdom from me, and all I could come up with was: “Sucks.” Honest to God, that’s the best I could do … although, today, after the funeral, standing in the parking lot at the cemetery, just before I left, I came up with a bit of an improvement — or at the very least, an expansion: “Sucks, man.”

(I am nothing if not eloquent. And/or succinct.)

I did not know Pam. In fact, I’m pretty sure I never actually met her in person — I had only spoken to her a few times on the phone when I would call out to talk to Jenn.

It would have made more sense, age-wise, for Pam and me to be friends, as she was 44 going on 45 and I just turned 42. Jenn was the one who worked with me, though, and by getting to know each other in the wee hours of the morning every weekday (and late-night Fridays), plus all the other connections we seemed to have, we formed a friendship that I will always treasure.

Jenn is 25 now — coincidentally, the same age I was when my dad died. Suddenly. Just like Pam, and I suspect that now, just a few days after her mom died, Jenn is probably in the same kind of shock that I was for a few days/weeks/months … except, no, this is her mom, so it’s different, and as much as I might think I understand, I really don’t.

But I’m sure it sucks, man.

Please offer up your prayers and/or words of encouragement and/or good vibes for the following peeps*:

  • Tee-Hee Barker-Maxwell, who is having disc fusion surgery today
  • Pastor Roger Ellsworth, who is having his prostate — or, as Det. Andy Sipowicz would say, his “prostrate” — removed today
  • Bets Carberry, in her daily struggle with leukemia
  • Plus you & me & and everyone else we know as we try to muddle through and at the same time appreciate every minute of yet another day

Thank you.

* — Not the Easter peeps.

Sometimes, an unexpected chat with a couple of awesome friends is EXACTLY what I need(ed) on an otherwise dreary, drizzly night. (Yay, Jane & Roger!)

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