We would’ve been celebrating Tony’s 53rd birthday today had he not transitioned on December 30, 2012. I only knew Antonio Wise a few years, having met him in Jackson, GA one Sunday afternoon when my car wouldn’t start while en route to Indian Springs State Park.
He offered to drive me, Ava, Savanna, and Ceilene back to Riverdale, but we road with the tow driver instead. Because he was waiting to hear from me about the ride and his phone number was in my truck which was on the flatbed, I had to wait until I was home to let him know we’d made it.
Tony and I talked for several hours that evening and became good friends. From day one, Tony opened up to me about his childhood and his life, and it was obvious that he carried a lot of anguish. He’d lost his mother from an illness at a young age, but was fortunate to have two aunts who loved him. The few years I knew him, he was suffering and in pain most of the time but it never stopped him from doing what he had to do. I was often amazed and encouraged by his tenacity and determination and wondered how I would respond in similar circumstances.
Tony was more than a friend to me; he was also my brother. His body may have been failing him, but Tony’s heart was golden. I lived alone at that time, and he always checked in to see if I were ok or needed anything. If I did, he was right there and whatever he had, he was willing to share and often stopped by with a bag of this or a bag of that.
We both enjoyed a good laugh and always managed to have one when we were together. There were times, though, that he tried my patience but our talks about what was really going on served to strengthen our bond.
Tony’s relationship wasn’t limited to me; he also developed relationships with my sister Ava, her husband Frank, and my nieces remember him as the man who helped us in Jackson and who gave us sodas that day we were at his house. He attended family get-togethers, too, and got to meet my mother as well.
And if anyone knows my mother, you know you don’t just meet her; she’s an encounter! She’s going to find out who your people are and either engage you in a discussion about Scripture or regale you with stories and side-splitting jokes. Tony was no exception. Whenever he’d ask about her, it was always with a chuckle about something she’d said. “Your mama is a trip,” he’d say.
I spoke with Tony several times while on the road. One conversation in particular was on the day I was exploring Chuckanut Drive in Washington state.
Knowing he was having health issues, Ava tried to stay in touch with him, too, but both our attempts had been unsuccessful. I left him another message (and can even recall the highway scenery of that moment), and he called a little while later. I was out photographing the creek at Oyster Creek Inn when we talked and he told me that he was scheduled for more tests to determine what was causing his continued weight loss. If anyone had reason to be discouraged, it was Tony but he remained hopeful that everything would be ok.
We talked again while I was down home on the farm after returning from my road trip, and he was still sick but remaining hopeful. After that, all of our calls went unanswered.
Back in Atlanta, I learned that my nephew knew the manager at Tony’s last place of employment and had him inquire about him. “Tony’s a good guy. He called in sick one day, and we didn’t hear anything else from him,” is what the manager said.
Ava and I continued calling and even went to his last known address. It was a gated community, though, so we couldn’t gain access. Ava then suggested I google him. I did, but found nothing. I googled again a few weeks later and found an obituary for Antonio Wise of Atlanta. Unsure if the obit were for our Antonio Wise—and hoping that it wasn’t—I reached out on Facebook to a few people on the registry but heard nothing. I went back to the obituary a few weeks later and found a couple of email contacts. I wrote them–a niece and a friend–and learned that the obit was indeed for our Tony. His friend graciously provided a phone number and filled me in on Tony’s last days.
That conversation was over a month ago, and I still find myself pondering Tony’s life, a life that ended a couple of days before the new year began. I wonder what he thought about in those last days, if he knew he had friends who loved and missed him.
As I write this, it seems that I’m still mourning my friend, a friend whose life was filled with pain and suffering but also filled with love, generosity and hope. We didn’t get to say goodbye, Tony, but know that you’re often in our thoughts and will always be in our hearts. Rest in peace, my friend.