I’ve heard the saying that a person doesn’t die until someone stops saying their name. I thought that was really powerful because a few years ago, I went to an adrenal fatigue. I went through a deep set of depression and anxiety. There were thought that crossed my mind that I’d never thought about before and so many thoughts about life and death and legacy. The feelings I felt were way heavier and deeper than any that I can’t explain right now after I’ve been out of that for a while. That staying stuck with me, a person never dies until people stop saying their name.
When I thought about it, I thought about myself, I thought about my legacy, about my life. The more I thought about it, the more I thought about people that had died in my life but might not be remembered and the first person I thought of was my friend Luiz and I want to tell you about him today.
When I was in my late teens and early 20s, I worked at a place called Dairy Barn. It was a drive-through convenience store and it was a pretty well-off area of Long Island and there was a time where we will get celebrities that would come in every once in a while. we have members of New York Mets that would come in, singer Billy Joel gone through as well. Probably, the most famous customer we had was Howard Stern, the shock jock. He actually talked about it on his radio show. It’s probably 1989 or 1990, because at that point, everybody that worked there, me included, had long hair and wore leather jackets. So, every once in a blue moon on the show, he would talk about heavy-metal Dairy Barn and he would joke about us in the radio. But there were two people that worked there that didn’t fit that description. One of them was a guy named Alex Gomez, he was a good friend of mine. He was our boss and he was the one who would always kept us in line or at least he tried his best to. The other person was this kid named Luiz Fernandez.
Luiz was the sweetest kid. He was from Canada. He was the biggest Montréal Canadian hockey fan and he was someone I normally didn’t hang around with. He was a great student. He was incredibly polite really, and the only time I didn’t see him wearing nice clothes was when he was wearing his Canadians jersey or T-shirt. Luiz was funny because he always wanted to be like us. He always wanted to grow his hair out but because of the school and his parents, he was never allowed to. Luiz is into the music we played and he kind of lived through the group of guys there. So, we bonded there, talking about music and hockey. In 1993, when the Canadians were about to win the Stanley Cup, I was working at Dairy Barn and I knew he was home watching with his family. I went to the back of the store and I dialed his number. I waited for the last number. As soon as the Canadians won, I press the last number. I want to be the first one to congratulate him for his team winning the championship. He was just a special guy that was always so thoughtful and nothing proved it more in Christmas night later that year.
My brother, my friend Mike and I were renting a house in Huntsville, New York. We are having all of our family over to celebrate Christmas but I was scheduled to work at Dairy Barn. I was scheduled for the eight-to-eight shift. I don’t know how I got it, if I drew the short straw on it but that was my gig. So, I am finally feeling like an adult, I’m hosting Christmas for our family and I can’t even be there and everybody is at our house. So, all throughout the evening the afternoon my families call me. Can you get off early? can you get home? And I’m like I got to keep the store open till eight and I can’t go anywhere.
Around 4:30 or 5 o’clock, I saw a car pulled up in our little parking lot. The headlights were on and then it shut off. why would anybody show up tonight? That’s generally where the employees park. And into the store, walks Luis and I was like “what are you doing here?” And he said to me “I came to finish your shift. Go be with your family.” I said to him “No, you got to be with your family.” He smiled and shook his head. He just dismissed me and I never seem so assertive. He said “I got to spend all day with my family. Now it’s your turn. Go be with your family.” I couldn’t believe it. A few minutes later, I was driving to our house and I got to spend Christmas night with my parents and my grandparents and Mike’s family. It was incredibly special. I just kept thinking about how Luis gave up his Christmas night for me and I never asked him and I don’t even know how even knew but he showed up there and do that for me.
So, at that point, I had two jobs. I worked at dairy barn and I worked at Prestige Photo, which was a photo lab and it was only a couple blocks away from Dairy Barn. So, a week or two later, me and my brother and a couple friends were psyched. It was a Friday night and the next day we were leaving from New York to go to Pittsburgh to go a Steelers playoff game where they have to face the Cleveland Browns. The only thing stopping me from getting to Pittsburgh was finishing up my shift at Prestige Photo, getting home, getting packed and we’ll be on the road the next morning and the game would be Sunday.
As we got towards closing, it was dark out, it was the middle of the winter and the sun goes down early and we were to close at 6 PM. About an hour before closing, I heard all these firetrucks and all this police car, all the sirens flying by the store and I watched as emergency vehicle after emergency vehicle flew past each other. That wasn’t uncommon on Willis Avenue but this was more than usual. So, I went back to my business, went back to cleaning up the tanks and getting the machines all done. I am getting excited because this is the first time that I would see my Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoffs. Ironically, they beat the Browns in that game. they beat Bill Belichick who was the head coach and it was the last time the Steelers beat Bill Belichick in a meaningful game.
Back at Friday night, it’s about five minutes before closing and a firefighter comes into the store. He is holding a bag of film and he asked me to process it. I said I’m sorry but we’re close, we can’t process any more film tonight. They said “please could you process as we need these.” I don’t know why but I remember saying to myself, don’t do it. I felt kind of selfish because it just seems that I just wanted to go home but I told him that the machines are shut down, it’s all cleaned out, we’ll leave it here and we will process it tomorrow and he accepted my answer and he left.
I woke up the next morning, I was so excited. I was in my room and I was packing for the trip. The phone rang, it was my friend Sam and all he said was “Luiz”. I said “what do you mean? I am not Luiz.” He said Luiz is dead. I just sat there stunned and asked “what do you mean he is dead? He’s 20. he can’t be dead.” He said he just got a phone call, he was driving with his family last night and some 17-year-old kid ran a red light and plowed right into his car. He said he was killed instantly. He goes on to tell me that somebody on his family died to and the rest of his family is in critical condition. I was just stunned and I couldn’t even believe it. You can’t even imagine. And then like nightmare flashes, it all started coming back into my head. The sirens the night before, they were all going to the accident. Then I almost felt my heart stop because I realized that the firefighter that came into the store that night, five minutes before closing, the film that he wanted me to process was the film of Luiz accident. And I’ve seen those filmstrips before. When you get the filmstrips from the firefighters, it is real and raw and there’s no way to unseen those images.
So, I spent the entire morning, that afternoon, just trying to contemplate what happened. My brother and my friends called and they tried to figure out what’s going on as well. I could even comprehend getting in the car and going to Pittsburgh. We spent the entire afternoon crying and Sam finally called. He said Luiz would want you to go to the game. He knows how much that means to you. He would not want you stop living because of this. Everybody was waiting in the car for over an hour while I decide on a decision to make, I decided to go.
We went to the game and everybody cheered. I cheered as well but I was crying so much of the time. They’re washed away by the rain that came down that day during the game. We came right back ad we went to the wake the next day and into the funeral. I kept thinking of the words he said to me that Christmas night which was to go be with your family. I felt also appropriate for him as well right there. Just the other day I thought about that quote the person never dies until people stop saying their name. I thought of Luiz for the first time in years. I did an Internet search for him and I found nothing. And I realized, he had not only died so young but he died before the Internet. Everything is searchable now but I couldn’t find Luiz. That’s why I decided to record this and tell the story because as long as we’re saying his name, in some way he is still alive. So, if me publishing this and telling the story to people that never would’ve known about him keeps him alive in some way then that’s my obligation. You’ll never be able to meet him like I did and know what a great person but I just want you know that Luiz Fernandez was a special person in my heart and as long as I’m alive, he will be also.
I’ll talk to you tomorrow.