Aloha, Raul

BlueSaturday

I’ve always found it quite humorous how the term “friend” gets thrown around by people. I will say that I used to be guilty of it myself when referring to just about anybody that I knew. I’ve corrected this problem over the years by saying “a buddy of mine” or “this guy that hangs out at the bar” when I talk about certain people. It’s not that I dislike these people whatsoever, but to me the word “friend” should only be used when talking about a person who has been such an important part of your life that they have impacted your life in such a way that you consider them to be family. Thirteen years ago, I met such a person in my friend Raul Salazar.
When I first turned twenty-one, I would see this guy at the bars from time to time, as it seemed we knew a lot of the same people. So we’d hang out a little in a group and occasionally chat from time to time, but never did I realize that it was only the beginning of what would become a lifelong bond. After a year or so, we would hang out more and more without the group dynamic, whether it was watching wrestling or movies, or just having some drinks. As we all know, Raul didn’t have a license at this time, so if we were going somewhere it was me who did the driving and honestly, as far as our friendship goes, it may have been better this way. As time went by and our relationship grew from drinking buddies to actual friends, we would go out for a while and then I’d take him back to his house and we would just sit in his driveway for hours and hours, many times until the sun came up, and just have these epic talks about everything that was going on in our respective lives. I firmly believe it was these continuing talks that made us grow even further, from friends to brothers.
In late 2002, it was some of these talks that probably kept me from making even worse decisions than I was already making. My life wasn’t going so well and I will spare the details as this isn’t what this post is about, but at that point, along with others, Raul kept a watchful eye on me to make sure that I didn’t go off of the proverbial cliff, and for that I will always be thankful. As I’ve looked back on those times over the years, it amazes me to think that I once thought that I was alone going through all of what I did, but I now know that was never the case.
That next summer, I met the woman who would later become my wife and started to turn my life around, and in early 2004, I moved to Florida to be with her and I’ll never forget how hard it was to say goodbye to the people closest to me, especially those like Raul who had helped me through those dark days. That’s the reason why the next year, it was so special to me to have Raul standing there with me as I got married and started my new life. I would move back in 2006 and soon after, he was in the same boat that I had been in. Relationships would fail and for a while, I think he thought it was never going to happen for him, until Ele walked into his life and changed everything.
Now if I consider Raul to be my brother, then that would make Ele my sister-in-law but she’s one everyone would actually like, and I did from the start. I had the privilege of watching their relationship from the very beginning and there’s nobody else in the world that I would want him to be with. She infects you immediately with this big, beautiful smile that makes you think that everything can be wonderful and she is genuinely such a joy to be around. That’s why I was so humbled and honored to be asked to be the best man when they got married. As I stood there beside them that day, I realized how special their bond was and continues to be to this day, and I’ll forever be thankful that I was allowed to be a part of it. And perhaps even more so that when their lovely daughter Maya was born, I was asked to be her godfather, another honor so grand that words can’t describe how great that feeling was.
Just over six months later, my wife went into premature labor at our diaper party and Raul was right there as I freaked at the thought of my daughters being born so early. And it was Ele who was right there to drive us to the hospital. Five days later, my girls were born eleven weeks early and spent 44 days in the NICU. And every time I needed to get away from it all for a while, I knew I could call Raul to talk or grab a beer to calm myself.
It became harder and harder to hang out after that as we were both now fathers, but when we found the time, it was the same as it ever was. The conversations may have become a little different as talks shifted from wrestling and Michigan football to diapers and feedings and that was okay. It only went to show how far we had both come as men, from just drinking buddies to husbands and fathers. We would love the joyous occasions when our kids could get together and play and life seemed nearly perfect.
But then, as life does, more hiccups came. Both of our own fathers got really sick last year, and we would actually hang out in the hospital because they were both there at the same time. We would walk back and forth between their rooms or have dinner in the cafeteria just to talk things out until unfortunately I won a contest that nobody wanted to win. My marriage had fallen apart right around the same time my dad died and without people like Raul in my life, I would have been completely lost. That’s just what friends do for one another. They listen. They let you talk when you need to. They let you cry when you need to and I’m certainly not ashamed to say that Raul and I have cried to one another on more than one occasion. No judgment, no bullshit comments (unless it’s to get a laugh out of the other which is sometimes necessary), and no shame whatsoever.
For most that will actually read this, then you know that just a couple of days ago, the Salazars picked up and moved to Hawaii. They’d been talking about it for a while and it really wasn’t supposed to happen as quickly as it did, but everything seemed to fall into place about six weeks ago and they decided to just go ahead and do it. When life presents you an opportunity like that, you take it and don’t look back. I’ll never regret leaving for Florida when I did because of what I got out of it. No, my marriage didn’t last but I got two beautiful daughters out of it so I’ll never second guess my decision to go. And who knows what kind of opportunities await the Salazars in this amazing journey they’ve just started, which is why I will never be upset that they chose to leave. The reason I chose to sit down and write this was not to say goodbye to my friend, but to remember all of the great times that we all had together while they were here. But most of all, it was just to express exactly how much I’m going to miss my friend. Everyone that knows Raul has their own opinion and their own view and that’s fine. Whether you know Raul the cook or Raul the wrestler, or Raul…err Sinnister the DJ, I’m proud to say that I know Raul the person and he’s a good one to know.
I could go on and on and on (as I know I already have), but to sum up, here’s what we’ve gone through. Some of the lingo you may not understand, but he and I will. It’s been batting cages, Becatron 2000, Mania, Ann Arbor (or Ypsi…because that’s what we call it), Liki Tiki and two of your finest Caucasians (great…um, what’s a Caucasian?), and everything World. But more importantly, it’s been about friendship, brotherhood, being part of each other’s families, our children, and a bond so strong that it doesn’t matter what side of the ocean he’s on.
“Aloha” can mean many things. It can mean “hello” or “goodbye” but is very commonly used to express love. And this is how I use it today. Not to say goodbye, but to say how much I love Raul, Ele, and Maya. Aloha, my friends. I know I’ll see you again…on this side or the other.

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