Catalyst to My Destiny: A Tribute to Gary Grays, Jr. 1977-2020

“…..Though we changed in our endeavors..I find we still have some things in common…Ain’t it strange but wonderful that we’re still friends.….—-We’re Still Friends by Donny Hathaway

I debated writing this. I still don’t know if it writing this is the best move, but I feel such a tugging to do this so here goes…….

In 2008 I worked at Starbucks. I closed the store with the manager that day. It was a Friday or Saturday-I don’t quite remember. I just remember what happened.

A tall man with a beautiful smile and skin like butter came into the store that day. He has on a white collar shirt and black pants. He worked security at the Houston Police Department. He ordered a Frappuccino. I made his drink and we exchanged the normal customer service pleasantries. He came back right before we closed and ordered another Frappuccino for his coworker. We had a good conversation about life. We exchanged names and numbers. The tall man with the beautiful smile and skin like butter went from being just a customer to a new acquaintance named Gary. From that moment, I knew somehow he would play a significant role in my life.

For the next year, we dated. I moved to Houston for law school about a year and a half prior. He showed me the City, schooled me on the culture and what made Houston the magical place it really is. Honestly, I hated Houston and as soon as I graduated law school my plan was to be on the first thing smoking back to D.C. Through his introduction, Houston felt less like a foreign land with no flavor and more like a place that was familiar and comfortable. The city I once hated became a city I fell in love with by seeing Houston through his eyes.

I admired how kind and forgiving he was. He had a brilliant mind. At the time he had not attended college but he has served in the military as a combat medic. I love a good, contentious conversation. He could spar with me on a various number of subjects, including politics. When he wasn’t familiar with a concept, he would ask me to explain it. There were many times he got the best of me, a then second year law school student in a debate. He expanded my paradigm regarding intelligence. He really solidified that some of the brightest minds don’t go to college.

He was literally the only black man I knew that liked both rap and classical music. He had a huge CD case with everyone from Pastor Troy to Beethoven. All of his CDs were neatly arranged. He loved Phyllis Hyman. He thought she was one of the most gorgeous women to walk the earth. He planted the seeds of the Houston rap scene in me. Before I met him all I knew was UGK. I wasn’t familiar with Z-Ro, Lil Keke, Fat Pat or Big Moe. He was a true blue Houstonian and no Z-Ro slander was tolerated (although at the time I definitely would throw some out there at times). Eventually Z-Ro grew on me. Now he is a regular on my Apple playlist.

He opened up his family to me. Being in a city with no family, it was so nice to be with someone who had a family that loved him. His dad, Gary Sr. was hilarious. I have been a wine drinker for a long time. prior to meeting Papa Gary as I so affectionately called him, I only drank white wine. I will never forget when he told me that “white wine was for white folks. Get you some Red wine.” That is how I began drinking red wine and it is now my preference. His aunts and cousins all lived on the same side of town as Gary and his dad. He took me to meet them. They immediately accepted me with open arms. I felt like I knew them before. It wasn’t awkward. It just flowed. I eventually began hanging out with them without him. Gary had a brother named T. Gary and T were thick as thieves. I remember them laughing together. Their joy and brotherly love was infectious. Gary also had his sisters and mother that he loved dearly as well. His heart was big and abundant with love.

Our relationship met its demise in July 2009. Papa Gary passed away in June of that year which was hard on Gary. That, coupled with our pre-existing issues, we began to bring out the worst in each other. The relationship put my trust and abandonment issues on blast. He told me he thought we should move on. I was devastated by the breakup. We did some harmful things to each other. After the dust from July 2009 settled we began communicating again. We tried our relationship out again in 2010 but it only lasted a couple of months. We eventually moved on.

Although we moved on, we kept in touch from time to time. Over the next ten years, he found a partner in which he had built a life with. He also found out he had a daughter from a previous relationship. I was so happy he found her. Gary loved children. I passed the bar exam and was working on building my career as an attorney. We had some very hard times dealing with each other but we made peace with the past. We were able to talk as friends. We still had the occasional debate. I was very proud of him when he enrolled in college. He had an interest in philosophy. The last time I talked to him was June 6, 2020. His dad crossed my mind and I reached out. He was working part time in security. Like all of us, he was tired of being at home because of the quarantine.

I received a text message on July 17, 2020 around 10:50 am that Gary passed away that morning. I immediately began sobbing. I could not believe it. He had succumbed to COVID 19. He was 42.

All the memories we shared came rushing back like a flood. We talked about getting married. Gary was the only man that I celebrated Valentines Day with. He is the reason why I made Houston home. Gary was not only my last real boyfriend, but he was my ONLY adult relationship. Gary was the first and only for a lot of pivotal moments in my life relationship wise. Although we had some bad times, we also had some good ones.

I didn’t realize how much his presence influenced my life. Because we crossed paths on that fateful day in 2008, I ended up planting roots in a city where I never planned to stay. I became a Texas lawyer. I was adopted into a family that loved me like I was their own, even after we broke up. Through his family, I was reintroduced to God. Because I stayed in Houston, I was only six hours away from my home state, Arkansas. Being in Houston allowed me to reconnect with a person that serves as a safe space for me to work out my emotional issues. Working through those issues led me to the discovery of who I really was. Although I have been single since we last broke up, I discovered happiness and developed a passion for encouraging single women to be happy regardless of their relationship status. I literally evolved into the woman I am today and he played a bigger role that I didn’t really realize until he passed away.

Sometimes people do not come into your life to stay. They come to spark a match and light the way to your destiny. Ultimately, that is what Gary did for me. I learned so many lessons stemming from our time together. I saw all parts of myself. Gary played a integral role in my life journey.

Gary: this is my eulogy of gratitude. Thank you for walking in Starbucks that day. Thank you for opening up your family to me. Thank you for being a catalyst to my destiny. You were loved by many. Rest well.

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