Commentary: Jake Freeman, lovingly remembered

The most effective newspaper goodbyes are iconic, underwritten and don’t contain the word tragic. They read like a Jimmy Breslin or Pete Hamill story.

Farewell, Jake Freeman.

There’s this kid in the back of the room; he doesn’t say much, but what he does say is funny and strangely discerning. It’s English class, at a brand new high school, in a brand new town, and Jake Freeman is seamlessly scooping up new friends. Meeting people was second nature to Jake. He did it in the California towns of Tiburon, Mill Valley, Larkspur and Santa Barbara, and in Maine and Boston. He did it by talking extreme sports, girls, music and just about everything else. This guy has charm, I thought to myself after our first English class together.

There’s this kid in the front row; he doesn’t play much, but when he gets on the field his athleticism and energy are infectious. It’s rugby practice, he’s on a brand new team, playing a brand new sport, and Jake is excelling. Striking the ball back to his teammates, laughing while delivering bone-jarring hits. Competition and athletics were second nature to Jake. He excelled before, in hockey, rowing, football, baseball, snowboarding and motocross. By the time he took the field for the University of California, Santa Barbara he played with controlled aggression and heart. This guy will be a leader, I thought to myself after our first practice together.

There’s this kid driving a freshly minted Chevy pickup truck, taking corners, until he wraps it around a fence pole. It’s one of those moments when you feel everyone is watching you, he would later tell me. Yet Jake showed no signs of embarrassment. He could have acted out or broken down, but instead he showed maturity through wittiness. “What was that fence doing in my way?” he said.

There’s this man with his bed in my living room. It’s summer 2004 and Jake has moved in with us, bringing the total number of occupants to four in a one-bedroom apartment with just one bathroom. We cook barbeque together, go to the gym, ride bikes and throw parties. Jake is happy when with his friends; he’s in his element. He takes up surfing again and entertains guests from the East Coast. Freebox and later Puck are nicknames they would call him.

There’s this man in the back row; he doesn’t contribute much to the class, but when he does it’s insightful. It’s environmental science, one of his first college classes, in a brand new town, and Jake is discussing ice cores, Riparian systems and global climate change. He’s never studied the environment before. But he learns to soak up new information no matter the subject. Within weeks Jake is leading study groups in classes ranging from business and economics to history. I knew he liked to have a good time and compete in sports, but who knew he was a scholar, too?

There’s this man in a full-sized Slim Jim costume; yeah, the dry meat mascot. It’s Halloween in Isla Vista at UC Santa Barbara, and thousands of college students are roaming the streets. Attracting attention was nothing new to Jake. In fact, he’d worn the same costume the year before. But there is a new set of college freshmen to impress, inspire and teach shotgunning and kegstands to. And Jake was just the man to do it.

There’s this man and he’s just crazy about a girl. Crazy like he’s never been before. Jake had watched his friends date but had never been in a serious, long-term relationship. Julie was perfect, he’d say. Absolutely perfect. The two maintained a long-distance relationship. He’d fly to her while she made trips to Boston. Just last month in Santa Barbara he told my brother, Justin, that Julie was the girl he wanted to marry. Who knew he’d find the love of his life so early.

Who knew he’d accomplish so much in a short time? Me.

– Chris Cadelago is a student at the University of California at Berkeley, and a former classmate of Jake Freeman

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