I met Josh Phelps when I was three years old. I'm not 100% certain that is a factually accurate statement, but it is what Josh said for years so I'm willing to accept his version of reality for this account. What is certain, is I am unable to remember a point in my life where I did not know him and we were not friends.
I remember him spending so many hours at my house, wrecking so many things (including one stair master, as I recall). I remember never being invited to his, and finally understanding why when one day, for some reason I cannot recall, I set foot in his parents' home and it looked like an episode of hoarders. I say his parents' home and not his, because for many if not most of those early years, our home was more home to him than his own, and he referred to my parents as mom and dad frequently.
I remember shifting from breaking things to harmlessly stealing things. When we were 16 or so, he and I were in a Gamestop next to Barnes and Noble in Hurst. We asked a question of the shopkeep that for some reason required that shopkeep to go in the back room. Josh, no longer able to resist temptation, set his eyes on an xBox display - a valueless piece of curved metal with an X carved into it and a green sheet of plastic behind to fill out the logo. He quite literally high step-tip-toed (as though a spy in a Warner Brother's cartoon) over to that disply, placed his massive paws on it ever so gingerly, then yelled "YOINK!" and ran with that display to my car. It took my brain what was probably half a second but felt like 3 minutes to process what had happened. I then sprinted and joined him at my car.
This happened with a few other things no one would miss, like a giant xBox banner off of the side of a Toys-R-Us (fun fact - despite their size, those banners are shit parachutes). I believe there may also have been an incident involving a stop sign, but who can say for sure?
It was nearly impossible not to smile around Josh. He was this hilarious gentle giant. I remember him running at me one day laughing his ass off, clutching his chest. He was bleeding because he, for some reason, had his nipples pierced and apparently his mother had tried to forceably remove the piercings. Somehow he found this funny. I didn't ask questions.
When I left public school and went to TAMS, Josh was still there every month when I came home. He came to visit not-infrequently while I was at UT Dallas. Eventually he took jobs working on oil rigs off shore and married a good friend of my sister's and mine named Casey.
In 2013, he was in my wedding party, still literally larger than life. Josh was always a big man - we're talking 6 foot something, three and a half bills big. He was an imposing force of happiness in a tux. Casey was there with him, helping pin flowers on people, etc. He sang with me for the first time in years the night before the wedding at a karaoke bar that no longer does karaoke. We performed the Greatest Song in the World, and it was.
Then the tumors started. They weren't cancerous, so maybe they weren't dangerous, but they were weird, right? Like, what would cause this crap? Within a couple of years, Josh was no longer a gentle giant - he was my sized. More accurately, he had lost one of me in weight. He walked with a cane. He wasn't so jovial anymore, but he tried to be. We thought, "well, maybe this could be a good thing. Losing all that weight had to be better for his heart. Long term, this will help him live longer and be healthier, right? Maybe it doesn't matter that he's lost 2/3 of his stomach..." but it wasn't ok, and it did matter. It turned out hardly anyone had ever experienced this. I don't remember the exact numbers, but what's in my head is "3 people in the last 30 years," and the last two that were diagnosed didn't make it 6 months past that. I don't know exactly how long it's been since Josh and Casey found out, but I'm fairly certain it has been at least two years.
Surgery after surgery, pain meds on more pain meds, and hundreds of video games filled the time of a man who could no longer work - who could no longer actively provide for his family and who could rarely sleep because of the pain. The most recent surgery looked like it provided a glimmer of hope, but it didn't. In the end, the mixture surgery after surgery, medication cocktails that were off balance, and so much pain won out over what had been amazing resolve. He fought for years, but lost yesterday morning. That's ok. It has to be ok. His pain is gone now. And I hurt. So much. But it has to be better than waiting, wondering how long he can fight, and how long he has to endure that pain. Now we know, and we don't have to focus on the pain anymore. We can focus on the good memories, try and forget the last two, three, or whatever years, and hope wherever Josh might be that he's still YOINKing things that people won't miss.