I have to be honest...The first time I met Derek Reul, I couldn't stand the guy.
He was loud and obnoxious and seemed to be the total opposite of myself in every conceivable way. Or at least that's how it felt after that first three or four minute interaction.
But, as time passed, I came to be reintroduced to him on several different occasions, and my disdain slowly (and I stress slowly) began to melt down to slight dislike, to apathy, to tolerance. And before I knew it, and without even knowing how it took place, I guess you could say I liked Derek Reul.
Hell...Derek Reul was my friend.
Derek was one of a kind. I know that's the sort of thing you hear said about people all the time, and in most cases it holds no meaning. It's just something nice people say about other people because they're expected to say it under these types of circumstances. But that's simply not the case with Derek Reul. He was one. Of. A. Kind.
Derek was such a unique individual that describing him to someone that didn't know him is practically impossible. Derek's style was stereotypical of the average fraternity bro, but somehow he pieced it together in a way that made it totally Derek Reul. He would wear the usual khaki shorts and polo to the golf course like everybody else, but play his 18 holes in penny loafers with no socks. And despite an onslaught of laughter and ridicule from us, he'd own it. The way only Derek Reul could.
Therein lies some of Derek's charm. Almost without fail, any time a group of us got together, sooner or later, we'd all get a huge laugh at Derek's expense. But he exuded a confidence that was cartoonish in its fervency: totally unrealistic, and yet, a characteristic that made me consistently envious of him. No matter how many times he ended up as the butt of a joke, he always laughed and said, "Don't worry about it, brah," before sauntering away, as if he were the only person in the room that really "got it."
To demonstrate that point, on one occasion, me, Aaron Stanley, Derek Stitt, Matt Sexton, Jimmy Mullaney, and Derek were all sitting around in Stitt and Sexton's apartment watching the Masters on television. I made some critical remark directed towards Tiger Woods or some other golfer, and Reul immediately called me out on it.
"Come on, Edwards! Since you're better than Tiger I guess you can give him tips on how to play golf," he said, at his customary volume, which was almost always way too high for the circumstances.
"I never said I was better than Tiger Woods, Derek...But I'm sure better than you," I snapped back.
"Whatever, dude. I could beat you, no problem," he said. I'm not sure he actually believed it, but that's that Derek Reul confidence.
"Ok," I said. "Let's do it, then. I'll even give you a five stroke lead, just name the time and place. Hell..I'll give you a 10-stroke lead, and I'll STILL beat you," I said defiantly.
And the wager was set. I don't remember what stakes we actually put on the round, if any. And anyone that ever saw Derek play golf knows that he was arguably the worst golfer that had ever swung a club. But that didn't keep him from trying, anyway.
We went out to Connemara in Lexington a few weeks later, and as we made the turn to the 10th tee, Derek's 10-stroke lead had dissipated into a 12-stroke deficit. I don't think we even finished the round.
It's that kind of story that encapsulates Derek Reul in my memory. And one of many that still gets told and retold everytime me and any of those guys get together. In fact, we spend an inordinate amount of time telling Derek Reul stories, even if he isn't with us. And I think that may be the kind of legacy any one of us would want to have.
Derek Reul was loud. He was obnoxious. He was uncouth, and borderline inappropriate on occasion. He could disappear for hours at a time, and when asked where he was, could tell a whopper of a lie, simply for the fun of getting a reaction out of us. But he could do it with so much enthusiasm and detail that it left you thinking, maybe he is telling the truth, even though every fiber of your being told you there was no way.
But, despite his faults, Derek Reul was one of the most loyal people I have ever met in my entire life. If you needed him for anything, and I do mean anything, he'd drop whatever he was doing and be there with bells on. You always knew where he stood, and you never doubted for a second that he had your back.
He loved his friends. He loved his family. He loved his God and country. He loved Ronald Reagan, Carl Weathers, and the Green Bay Packers. He loved crappy 80s pop music, and singing karaoke while doing his patented "air keytar" dance move. He loved life, and you knew it simply by watching him live it.
I wish I could say I kept in touch with him up until the end, but I can't. Sometimes life tends to get in the way, and it's been almost five years since I last saw Derek. We spoke on the phone or texted occasionally, and those conversations almost always revolved around some funny memory from our days in Lexington. And, to some degree, I think I prefer it that way.
I wish I had gotten the opportunity to say goodbye, but I know life doesn't always work out the way we want it to. And I also know Derek wouldn't want me, or anyone else, to sit around sadly wondering what might have been. That's just not his style.
Derek would want us to laugh. He'd want us to keep telling those same funny stories over and over. He'd want us to remember the good times we had with him. He'd want us to go to a karaoke bar, toast to 'Merica, take a shot of peppermint schnapps, and sing "Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car" at the top of our lungs. And he'd want us to smile. And that's exactly how I'll remember Derek Reul.
Rest in peace, brother. You'll be missed more than you know.