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Goodbye, Billy 

Some of Billy Manes' closest friends and colleagues bid farewell to an incomparable man

Page 3 of 8

click to enlarge Billy & Erin - PHOTO BY ROB BARTLETT
  • Photo by Rob Bartlett
  • Billy & Erin

The time when we first met.

The time when we met again, and you barely looked up at me from behind your Macbook screen. You had applied for the job. I got it. I wasn't sure what you'd think about me, a stranger coming to your town to take over the paper you'd dedicated years of your life to. We chatted, and it turned out we had some things in common. A few days later, you called me and invited me to your birthday party, and I knew it was going to be OK.

That time when we went out to meet for a drink for the first time, so we could talk about Orlando and you could help me get familiar with the terrain. One drink at the Peacock Room turned into an hours-long soul-baring session where we plotted our futures and planned to take over everything. Then we hit Will's Pub, Parliament House and Bar-BQ-Bar before ending up dancing like fools to '80s music at I-Bar.

That first time we struggled with editing one of your stories – you had a voice, you had an opinion, you had a vision. We argued some, but it was OK because we made it a better story.

That time we realized that we made a pretty kickass team.

That time you learned that after a lifetime of being a Duran Duran fangirl, I had never gone to a concert. You vowed to take me to see them – and you did. Twice. Both times we screamed like teenagers until we could hardly talk.

All of those times when we would go back to your house after work or a night out and play concert videos as loud as we could and sing along to them until we were exhausted. All of those times.

That one Easter Sunday, late at night, when I got a phone call telling me something was wrong – you were OK, but Alan wasn't. I didn't know what happened, but I flew downtown to find you sitting on the sidewalk, crumpled in grief. Alan had shot himself in the backyard. He was gone.

All of the times we sat in your house after that. How do you ever recover from that? It would not be easy. But you did.

That time you bought a house of your own.

That time you fell in love again.

That time you married the most wonderful man in the universe. He loved you so deeply. You deserved to be loved like that. You deserved to be happy.

That time you were afraid to tell me that you had accepted a job as editor of Watermark. You were afraid that I'd be mad. I wasn't mad – I was excited for you. Of course you would be the editor of Watermark. Of course.

That time when you called me before dawn to tell me that there had been a shooting at Pulse. I thought that maybe it was a bar fight or something we could talk about more tomorrow, at a more reasonable hour. But you knew it wasn't just a bar fight. You knew that the world as we knew it was going to change forever.

You wept. You covered it. You became part of the story, and then they covered you. No, nothing was the same for you after that. It couldn't be.

That time you were let go. You felt like a failure. I wanted you to know that you were anything but. I was proud of you. I was excited for your future. You could take some time to think, plot your next move. I knew there were bigger things ahead for you. You told me you'd been feeling unwell, but you'd figure something out when you'd had some time to rest.

That time you were in the hospital, just a few days later, and the nurse on duty played "Barbie Girl" on his phone. You were weak and exhausted, but you sang along anyway. We laughed. I told you I'd see you tomorrow.

Then, somehow, you were gone.

How did we not know each other all of our lives? How did we not meet sooner? I rage at the unfairness of the world that would grant us such a rare and wonderful friendship, only to take it away on a whim.

I wonder how much more rich my life would have been if we'd met when we were young.

There are different versions of this world where we did have more time, but they aren't the same.

In one of those worlds, we were in high school together. You were friends with the cheerleaders, and I was just a townie stoner, so we didn't talk much because your friends didn't like my friends and we only saw one another a couple of times after high school, then again at a reunion, and we never kept in touch except for a few likes on Facebook.

In another, we were college roommates, and I decided to abandon tradition and asked you to be my best man at my wedding. But then I had kids, and you were working on a book and traveling, and we drifted apart. We had some fond memories, but we went in different directions.

In yet another version of our alternate lives, we were introduced by mutual friends, but it was loud and we all drank too much and went home underwhelmed with our evening. We never saw each other again.

In those other worlds, maybe we were happier, or more successful. Or maybe we weren't. But we never saw Duran Duran in any of those worlds, and we never visited divey hotels in St. Augustine with musty carpets. We never snuck into the pool in the middle of the night and took so many trips down the icy-cold waterslide on a dark, windy night that I was afraid you might develop hypothermia. We never danced at I-Bar or wept for 49 people killed in a senseless shooting at a nightclub. Those other worlds could never be as rich as the world we shared. In those worlds, I never wept for you.

Erin Sullivan has been the public relations administrator for the Orange County Library System since March 2016. She came from Baltimore in 2010 to take over as editor of Orlando Weekly, while Billy Manes was senior staff writer. She and Billy were regular contributors to WMFE 90.7 News, where they launched the "From the Pages of Orlando Weekly" segment that still airs twice a week. Erin and Billy became very close friends during their time working together, and their friendship may have become even stronger after they both left Orlando Weekly for other pursuits.

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