"ON AARON" was a tribute I wrote to/about my pal, the late Aaron Marrs. I don't know exactly why I wrote it. Was I going to post it online? Send it to friends? Or was it just my way of coping with my thoughts and feelings about losing a friend?
It's basically the story of how we met and includes a number of anecdotes I'd forgotten. Anecdotes I thought I would never forget, and I forgot them. I don't remember writing this memoir, but I'm really glad I did.
As far as I know, I've never shared this with anyone or posted it online. It's pretty lengthy, but once you start reminiscing about friends, it's easy to ramble. Here it is, unedited and in its raw state, the file I stumbled across that made me remember how much I miss my friend.
My friends aren’t supposed to start dying. Not yet at least. I’m 34 years old and the majority of people I hang out with are younger than me so thoughts of those close to me clocking out haven’t even started to cross my mind. After all, you should be at least 50 before you have to start concerning yourself with that kind of deep thinking. Right? Right?
I met Aaron Marrs in the fall of 2001. I was visiting the Nashville area to interview for a job as a promoter at a record label. Aaron was working as the graphic designer and his work is incomparable. He found a way to take the fantastic images he saw in his head and capture them on paper (or in Adobe Illustrator as it were).
Aaron was the kind of guy who immediately made you feel comfortable being around him. He was a hefty guy who loved to laugh and whose blond thinning hair was a frequent cause of grief and anguish. Upon first meeting him many people compared him to Chris Farley and although Aaron enjoyed Farley as a comedian he hated the comparison.
It took me a little time to figure out why this irked Aaron so much. I would have taken it as a compliment. Aaron was deeper than that, though. He wasn’t just the “silly fat guy.” There was so much more inside of Aaron than the over-the-top big-guy character and the fact that he may just be seen as The Funny Guy (which he was, believe me) was a bit frustrating. And at Aaron’s memorial service in January 2004 it all finally came together. I landed the radio promotions job and it didn’t take long for Aaron and I to become close friends. He lived right around the corner from work and was always asking people to come over. He loved being around people. You very rarely saw Aaron alone and if you did he was probably on his way to meet someone else. If you looked up the phrase “people person” in the dictionary, you not only saw a picture of Aaron Marrs but it would also give you his address and directions to the house.
Like most of us, Aaron was multi-faceted. He was a guy who loved to rock and was the lead singer of “Forever Texas,” an indie band that just didn’t care (but really did). He rocked so hard that he tore his ACL during a show not once but twice. That, my friends, is rock and roll.
And at the opposite end of the spectrum was Aaron’s soft side. He was extremely sensitive to others and loved to give of himself. He was generous and open about his vulnerabilities. He had no interest in keeping up any sort of macho charade. If he was hurting he let you know and if you were hurting he wanted to do all he could to take the hurt away. When you came to the table with Aaron he showed you his cards and then did what he could to help you take the pot. Unless, of course, you were literally playing cards. In that case he was shrewd and usually walked away with twice as much as he brought to the table. And in a sense I think we all did.
Aaron and I shared a lot of the same passions. We were both music lovers (although where he would listen to The Darkness for hours on end I tended to lean more toward Sugar Ray) and we both shared a strong passion for film.
It wasn’t long before that passion brought us together to work on a short film that we had co-written called “The Pen.” Our main character was a pen and we followed it from fresh out of the box to finally being discarded after traveling through a variety of hands and situations. Our very opposite methods of shooting probably should have caused some tension or strife but it turned out that his meticulous eye for detail and shot set-ups nicely complemented my rapid point-and-shoot commando style. Wes Anderson meets Robert Rodriguez. It wasn’t until much later that I realized how our pen was a metaphor for Aaron; bobbing and weaving through life and impacting everyone he came in contact with along the way.
Spontaneity was our friend. Aaron was always up for anything. White water rafting tomorrow? Sure! Driving an hour and a half to visit a deserted Bible-themed miniature golf course? Why not? Camping this weekend? Hell yeah. And while you’re at it, let’s not bring any food. We’ll eat off of the land (Fast forward to Sunday morning where we are weak and starving. Needless to say, the fish weren’t biting).
Aaron shouldn’t have been this carefree and fun loving. Life threw a lot of crap at Aaron, definitely more than his fair share, and he would pick the turds out of his teeth and keep on moving, smiling and laughing all the while. After all, this too shall pass, and Aaron knew it would. And after it had passed it would make for a heck of a story to pass on to others.
Aaron would have made a great old guy. His story telling was unmatched and he could bring you in and leave you hanging on his every word all the while taking you on a roller coaster of emotions. Laughing one minute; brows furrowed with concern the next.
And Aaron had some good ones. Did you hear the one about his girlfriend dumping him on the phone while he was in Africa on a missions trip? What about the one where he went to a friend’s house to help her move and walked in on a robbery-at-gunpoint in progress? You know, the one that ended up with Aaron, his friend, and her sister tied up in the closet while the assailants escaped in Aaron’s Range Rover. How about the story of Aaron getting fired from the record label on the day the office closed for Christmas break? [Something else Aaron and I had in common, as I was fired on the first day back from that very holiday vacation.] And despite the fact that he had no backup plan of income he still took that trip to Europe he’d been looking forward to. Where a lot of us might have tried to cash in the plane ticket for money he still decided to hop across the pond and backpack through France and England. I mean come on; we all talk about that being an ideal vacation destination but who really does backpack through Europe? Aaron Marrs does.
Aaron trekked through life seizing the day and it was a conscious effort on his part. Sure, some of that was probably infused into him as his natural makeup, but he spoke on more than one occasion that it was something he was always striving for. Why spend your life behind the 10-foot fence we’ve erected in our back yard protected from our neighbors when there’s a whole world of life out there to experience if we’ll just take the initiative and look around a few corners?
In Europe Aaron gained a new outlook on life. To say it was a life-changing experience would be a severe understatement. He stayed in a small village in France for a couple of days and he loved the fact that everyone walked to the market for their groceries. There was no such thing as Kroger’s, Albertson’s, Ralph’s, or Publix. Just a small, locally owned market where one brand of soap was all you needed.
Aaron returned from Europe disenfranchised with the American way of life and its excesses. Even the fact that Americans produce as much trash as they do did not escape him. He was disgusted with our wastefulness and longed to return to the simplicity of the small French countryside lifestyle. After returning to the States Aaron told me about a dream he had where he stood in a supermarket in the bathroom supplies aisle. As far as he could see up and down the aisle filling the shelves was a countless and endless supply of toothpaste. Every brand imaginable and some brands that he’d never heard of were there, all promising to whiten your teeth and prevent cavities whilst reducing plaque by 99.9 percent. Bright red and blue and yellow boxes stacked to capacity. And Aaron could only stand there amid a thousand choices of dentist-recommended brands and weep. It was just too much.
I asked him what it was about it that upset him so much and I watched as he tried to put his thoughts into words. I knew then that he wouldn’t be able to do it. I wouldn’t be able to understand even if he had been able to express himself. It was at that exact moment that I knew Aaron had undergone a life change and I knew things would be different from that point on.
Aaron Marrs was operating with a new purpose and drive.
Aaron took a trip to California to explore a few job opportunities and through a series of curious events found himself in a cattle call for a new reality program. The basic premise of the show was to take a bunch of regular guys and put them with a ridiculously gorgeous girl. What would happen then? The casting director fell in love with Aaron and she too was taken in by his personality. The smart move would have been to choose Aaron for the show. America would fall in love with this guy and everyone who knew Aaron could attest to that fact. But something about the show and Aaron didn’t fit.
At one point in the interview they revealed to Aaron the premise of the show and asked Aaron his thoughts. Despite his lack of stereotypical Hollywood reality show chiseled features and rock hard abs, Aaron wasn’t comfortable with being referred to as “regular.” Because he wasn’t. He told them that he didn’t see himself as a regular guy, that no one is regular. We all have different aspects that make us incredible and if you wanted to think of him as regular and run-of-the-mill there wasn’t anything he could do to change your perspective but that didn’t mean he agreed with it.
The casting director couldn’t help herself. Although she knew John and Jane Q. Public would eat this guy up she made a confession to Aaron; one she probably shouldn’t be telling him but couldn’t help herself. Aaron just has that effect on people. The show, as you may have guessed, turned out to be “Average Joe”. An interesting premise, I guess, but fairly forgettable as reality shows go. You may recall it being on the air and you may recall the cast of Average Joes as well. Aaron definitely wouldn’t have fit in because people would have liked him. Loved him. And there in her casting office the casting director confessed to Aaron that although he would be great on air, that the camera loved his expressions and personality, she couldn’t do that to Aaron. She couldn’t put him on a throwaway reality show that would present him as just average because Aaron was right. He wasn’t average. She didn’t want a show like this to be Aaron’s introduction to the general public.
Although she promised Aaron she would keep him in mind for other upcoming projects, everyone who’s met with a Hollywood casting director has probably heard the same thing and Aaron left California with another great story to tell. Besides, Aaron’s thirst for life would guarantee to lead him to the next great adventure.
He and some friends journeyed to the Gulf Coast of Florida on a shark fishing expedition and he fell in love with the open water.
In just a matter of weeks Aaron was back in Florida (I was fortunate enough to join him on this venture) with video cameras in tow. He had made a deal with the captain of the Miss Mary, a deep-sea fishing boat for rent. Aaron promised to make the good captain a commercial for the Miss Mary’s fishing excursions. He would bring a crew of friends down to film a day on the open water and hand over a 30-second spot that could be aired on any of the television stations. Aaron would receive a day of deep-sea fishing in exchange (actually two days if you count the day we went out to film) and we also ended up staying at the captain’s beach trailer free of charge as well. Although the captain ended up extremely pleased with the finished commercial product and ended up placing it on TV for a run of a few weeks, I can’t help but think we got the better end of the deal. I still to this day am not one hundred percent sure just how Aaron got that deal finalized, but that was Aaron.
After that second fishing trip, there was little else that Aaron could think about. In his spare time he was online gathering all the information he could about the world of deep-sea fishing. He read books, downloaded countless pictures and video clips, and often had his television tuned to the Discovery Channel and one of its many specials on what was touted as “The Most Dangerous Job in the World.”
Soon the inevitable happened. It gradually went from an interest to a passion to a decision. Aaron was moving to Alaska to enter the harrowing world of deep-sea fishing. He would take a movie camera with him and film a documentary on the people who had chosen to make his newfound interest a way of life. Maybe he was looking for answers. What was it about the water and the ocean that captivated him? Why did he feel drawn to it? Perhaps in asking others what brought them to where they were he would find the answers he sought for himself.
Before leaving Nashville, Aaron gathered his friends at a local pub as a last goodbye hurrah. That was the last time I ever saw Aaron, alive or dead. I asked him to be careful, get some good footage, and come home soon. Of those three requests, only one of them would be heeded.
Aaron and three friends traveled to Alaska to film and they captured just what they had gone looking for. Beautiful scenery, colorful characters, and they were invited aboard the Big Valley crab boat to document the crew along their journey. After spending the summer at sea Aaron’s crew returned to their respective homes and Aaron stayed on a bit longer than originally scheduled. It was too late. The bug had bitten Aaron and there was no going back.
He returned to his hometown of Louisville for a short time and then in January 2004 returned to Alaska. He was returning to the Big Valley but this time there would be no cameras. Aaron would be boarding this time not as a bystander but as one of the crew. I didn’t get a chance to talk to Aaron while he was home but as I understand it he was excited and eager to return to Alaska (even moreso than he was before his first trip out there).
On Saturday night, January 16, I received a call from a mutual friend that Aaron was in trouble. Details were still sketchy and fuzzy but it seemed that the Big Valley, the crab boat that had drawn Aaron back, had gone down during the early hours of the harsh Alaskan winter morning.
What followed was a frenzied relay of e-mails, phone calls, and instant messages between a network of people that Aaron had drawn together. Had anyone heard anything? What was true and what was speculation? They’d already found 2 bodies…was Aaron either of them? Seventy miles away from the closest land mass is no place to be treading water during the month of January in Alaska.
As soon as I got the call, something deep inside of me told me that Aaron was gone. I knew it and I accepted it, even though I didn’t like it.
Others that I spoke to were not so convinced. Perhaps Aaron had on his “survival suit.” Perhaps he’s adrift on a piece of wreckage, cold and wet, but at least out of the water. Or maybe a passing boat had picked him up.
Sure these were all possibilities and it wouldn’t surprise me if any of the above actually came to pass. But I knew it wasn’t so. If Aaron could have chosen the way he had to go, this would have been it. He’d never be able to top this story.
And so it was.
The Big Valley had a crew of six who were on board when the boat capsized, exploded, and sank. Cache Steel, a Big Valley crewman, made it into a lifeboat. Although two other men made it into another life raft Steel was the only survivor. The remaining three fisherman, including Aaron, were never found.
Almost a week later a memorial was held in Louisville for Aaron. It was like nothing I had ever seen before. The service was held in a large church that was Standing Room Only. People couldn’t make enough room to fit everyone in who wanted to pay their respects to a man who had made an impact in their lives similar to what I had experienced. Coming in from as far away as the West Coast, people figured it was the least they could do to honor someone who had so enriched their lives.
And that says a lot about Aaron. A building jammed full of people and Aaron made each of them feel like they were his best friend and vice versa. We all knew Aaron was a great guy that people loved but I don’t know how many of us truly understand the number of lives he touched.
Our love and respect for Aaron wasn’t the only thing we all had in common. To different extents I think we all wanted to be a little bit more like Aaron. He rarely got wrapped up in the toils and troubles of a life of routine and if he did, it didn’t last long. This was a guy who lost his job and still spent the New Year underneath the Eiffel Tower instead of staying home and saving that ticket money like most “sensible” people would suggest you do. This was a guy who tore his ACL during a rock and roll show and just weeks later was clumping around in roller blades in a hockey player’s outfit for Halloween. Aaron didn’t concern himself with social status or fitting in. He loved you regardless. This was a guy deeply in love with God and often times drove himself crazy trying to find God’s will for his life.
I don’t know if Aaron even realized that all the while he was fulfilling that will. He was chasing after God. And sometimes if you work hard all of your life and make an impact on people the way Aaron Marrs did, you get to cut class and come home early. Aaron went home early. Twenty-six years old is pretty early if you ask me. The selfish ones that he left behind (present company included) wanted him to stay. But I’ll be darned if he didn’t inspire me to live life the way he did.
Because let’s face it: We all want to go home early.