I wonder when he rested his head on that pillow if he’d ever thought to himself, “What will they say about me when I die?”
Even if he didn’t, I know that more than anything he’d want to be remembered for his essence, for what he possessed in a quantity greater than anyone I’ve ever known. To say that he was larger than life doesn’t capture how he transcended life. His mere presence consumed you with arms wide open, a chest as warm as the light that feeds an entire galaxy.
Because he studied you. He wanted to know you. You could see in his eyes that he examined syllables and hand gestures. The color of your shirt. The way your eyes dart to the right when you feel vulnerable. How the bottom of the length of your hair twists in the shape of a lowercase J. He wanted to piece you together so that his embrace would be customized for you.
And that accent. So thick with the heritage of Western Tennessee, so dense with the confidence of the way he could take a three-letter word and turn it into a song once sung by farmers chugging moonshine together by candlelight.
Travis Scott Bowden. I remember your essence.
Scott — and that is the only time I will refer to you by that singular name — this is what I will say about you.
If you ever did wonder what would be remembered about the man you were, the person and friend and lover, when you died. I am here to remind those who right now might not have the words to do it. And please forgive them. They have been destroyed by your loss. Not that I haven’t been set afloat in a boat without a moor, your absence now the bottomless sea surrounding me.
But, you, like me, we traded words for currency. You knew me like like I knew you, and you would be editing this BLOG POST with a red Sharpie so hard right now. I am purposefully making stupid grammatical mistakes that would drive you insane. I’m doing it on purpose. To poke you and tell you how much I loved you.
I am not here to talk about his time in the wrestling scene in Memphis, how he knew Dwayne Johnson before Dwayne Johnson was The Rock. Oh, the stories he’d tell. That was not why he was so important to me. But you can google him if you need to see him in action:
I saw his license plate in my neighborhood several times. The first time, it made me smile. The second time, I tilted and scratched my head almost like a herding dog who hears a noise it doesn’t understand. The third time I looked around like a paranoid loon.
And then the fourth time.
He got out of his car parked next to the building I was living in when I had an apartment in Los Angeles.
If you are reading this and you do not know me, let’s just put this mildly: I ain’t shy to shit. I am the living legacy of a woman born of Alabama clay who would throw rocks at anyone and anything acting foolish.
“Why do you have a ‘SHELBY COUNTY’ license plate on your car?” I shouted after he maneuvered his vehicle into a very small parallel parking spot — I know now that it was his car because Travis Scott Bowden never liked to clean his windshield, and I was very judgmental about that and still am.
SCOTT, YOUR WINDSHIELD LOOKS LIKE SOMEONE SHOVED A SLOPPY JOE AND A BLOOP RAZZLE SLURPEE INTO A BLENDER, KNOCKED THE WHOLE THING BACK LIKE A BEER AND THEN BARFED LIKE A TURBO OSCILLATING SPRINKLER.
He had expertly steered his car with a windshield so covered in debris you’d be able to use it and heist diamonds better than a single one of those idiots in Oceans Eleven or Oceans Twelve or Oceans We are Desperate for Money One Hundred Eighteen Thousand.
I’m sorry, this is really hard. This is really, really hard.
He answered, “Well, why do you ask?” And he folded his arms across his chest as if to fight me about it. That smirk on his face. You who knew him. You know that smirk. It said, “Do you even know who I am.” And it was never menacing or condescending. It was an invitation into a conversation he’d make sure you never forgot. Because he would study every word coming out of your mouth.
Still, he could be a right son of a bitch. And I say that as someone who grew up in the same tiny town in Tennessee. Privileged white Southerners somehow get to shout that at each other and then nod and smile as if we’ve just been hugged and seen and heard and loved. We should probably (most definitely) be slapped, but I’ll save that for later, okay?
Bartlett. We both grew up in Bartlett, Tennessee. Right there on the map to the east of Memphis. Slightly north. That’s where he entered my life. And I had no idea. Had no idea that this wild-eyed, thick-haired rascal who had at that point leaned his entire body against his car grew up with my brother and sister. To answer his question, no. I didn’t know who he was.
As someone whose brother was on his baseball team starting in elementary school. As someone whose older sister he admired — he once admitted to having a huge crush on her, and most guys at our high school did.
He and I attended the same high school. I had no idea.
As someone who could love Travis Scott Bowden for Travis Scott Bowden.
I will refer to him this way now forever because we joked about it all the time. The first time he told me his full name I said it back to him in his accent, because WHOA THAT ACCENT. And I nailed it. I remember him covering his face with both hands as he laughed and asked, “Do I really sound like that?”
And in his accent I answered, “Do you sound like a hick eatin’ country fried steak with his damn fangers? Maybe so, Travis Scott Bowden. Maybe so.”
It was our inside joke, but I feel I should now share it with you. Any of you searching for a piece of him. For Travis Scott Bowden.
I did not know Travis Scott Bowden when he lived in Tennessee. I was too young and concerned with My Little Pony or gloves I’d fashioned to look like the ones in Madonna’s videos. I was busy VOGUEING. Our generation, we were posing that way without Instagramming it. Oh, the collective sigh and relief that we did not document our teased bangs and pinch-rolled scatterbrains.
Y’all, I am trying so hard to appeal to the widest possible audience right now, so I am resigning my usual language to Keeping It The Cleanest. Just know this: He is laughing his “butt” off knowing I’m not throwing every four-letter word into this whole shebang, and he knows the pain it is causing me to do so. The restraint is killing me, and he has his red Sharpie and IS READY TO USE IT.
So, there we were. Face to face in a standoff. Please do recall, I can throw rocks like you never done seen.
In Los Angeles, of all places.
I remember when I saw him cross his arms, I thought, come on. I am asking about your license plate, not your green card. Or your plasma. Or your genetic code. Or whether or not you like Fiona Apple. THERE IS A RIGHT AND A WRONG ANSWER TO THAT QUESTION.
But there we were, two strangers whose lives had been entwined since childhood, examining each other at sunset. On the corner of Oakwood and Stanley Avenue. And without engaging in all the mind-numbing pleasantries that normally happen between two strangers, we got straight to: “Which suburb?”
And that’s where, “Oh my God, I played at least seven years of baseball with your brother Ranger, and oh wait a minute, YOUR SISTER, YOUR SISTER! Your sister is September! Oh, I remember September!” happened. He knew both of them. He knew them well and by name and could recall that my brother is the funniest person alive, that my brother can tell a story like no one else on earth. He remembered this.
But he didn’t know Ranger and September had a little sister.
And look who showed up.
In Los Angeles, this is what they call the “Martini Shot”. Because that’s the last shot of the day and you want to end production on a perfectly wild, spontaneous exchange rather than a scene of an awkward kiss between two actors who have assistants hired specifically to wipe, IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION, the poop from their butts. I read this on Goop.
Travis Scott Bowden and I dated for five months. He had rented the apartment two doors down from mine. Same building. Same address. Two strangers who had no idea they’d already been inextricably connected for over two decades.
Coincidence? Yeah. I’ll let you consider that. What is coincidence. Since I’m learning German for no other reason than something somewhere is telling me to speak to my puppy in that language: “Was ist das?”
This is really hard to write, not because writing about him is hard. This is hard because I sit here in Salt Lake City, Utah, almost 700 miles away from where he took his last breath and I can feel the absence of a three-letter word turned into a song.
What, what, what did I love about him most. No question mark. Well, not his dirty windshield. Nope. I brought it up again, didn’t I, Travis Scott Bowden. Because you are marking this up with a red Sharpie. I am gifting this to you. I am shoving pages of messed up grammar and punctuation at you so that you can rip it to shreds. MARK IT UP. You love this.
There is too much to list about the enormity of the room he possessed when he entered it. Too much to list about the intensity of his stare, the way the corners of his smile — my god, his smile — could shatter glass.
And so, I will share with those of you who knew him three distinct memories you probably know nothing about. He’d want you to know. Unless he crosses out the rest of this post with that red Sharpie. I know he’s tempted.
Music is second only to touch when it comes to my love language. I introduced Travis Scott Bowden to an artist named Mason Jennings during the early days of our relationship, a man who wrote several songs about California, his journey there and what that journey meant to him. And I knew Travis Scott Bowden would understand those songs as an outsider like me throwing all caution into the trash and moving to LA. Why?! Why would we do this to ourselves? Might as well take a broken shard of a mirror we broke when we threw those rocks (gotta be careful about our aim, you know?) and carve out BLOOP RAZZLE SLURPEE on our foreheads.
Have you ever heard about the traffic in LA? Whatever you’ve heard it’s actually a thousand times worse. No, that’s an understatement. I don’t do understatements. I’d tell you exactly what it’s like but I want his friends and family to read this so I can’t say what I actually want to say. This restraint, T.S. Bowden, is so that people will know what a glorious and irreplaceable spirit you were in this world.
Travis Scott Bowden and I used to reminisce about how long it took both of our bodies — our physical bodies — to adjust to the amount of time we had to spend in a car every day. It took his body three months. However, it took my body over six months and he loved to tease me about how much more adaptable he was as he’d lay his head in my lap. He’d say things like, “I know gerbils with more stamina, Heather.” Or, “Do you want to know what else took over six months? Well, God created the earth in only seven days, let’s start there.” Or, “The wind is blowing, should we lock you in a bunker?”
I would stroke his hair and his ear and his jawline as he teased me. And I mean no disrespect to his wife. He loved her ferociously and passionately. These are just the details of Travis Scott Bowden at age 30 when he thought turning 30 was equivalent to falling off the edge of the earth. We were both oddly scared of that number and what it would do to our lives when we arrived at its door.
Those nights on my couch as I would stroke his hair and he’d compare me to a rodent. That’s when I fell in love with him.
I moved to Los Angeles for a job, but also to sew a lifetime of wild oats in the span of two years — don’t do this. If I had to leave a Yelp review for that kind of stupidity it would say only this: “TRUST ME YOU WILL WAKE UP EVERY MORNING AND THE SUN WILL BORE A TUNNEL THROUGH YOUR SKULL WHILE FARTING DEAD SKUNK.”
Travis Scott Bowden moved to LA to try acting. Now, I dare you to make a joke about that stereotype. I DARE YOU because MY aim and MY rocks.
He took it seriously and worked hard at it, and I knew he loved the art of it with a zeal most other aspiring actors did not possess. While we were dating he signed up for his third or fourth acting class, and one night he ran to my door after one session had just finished. It was late, at least in terms of what I’m about to tell you, about 10PM. At the very beginning of class the teacher had asked if anyone wanted to spout off a two or three sentence monologue. Could be about anything, they just needed to stand up and do it.
No introduction, no explanation. Just, GO.
And this is why I loved him.
Without hesitation Travis Scott Bowden stood up, looked that teacher square in the eyes in front of thirty other students, and in a booming, Southern baritone that shook the walls and rattled the leaves off of trees belted out these lines:
Don’t you know baby I’m a leading man
I dig down deep when I say I love you
And I can hold my own with the best of them
I guarantee you, you will never see nothing like this again
First four lines of the song “California” by Mason Jennings.
He recreated the entire scene for me in my living room and didn’t care that the pug who lived across the hall started to scream.
And finally. For the family and friends. His mother visiting from Memphis and our dinner together at a Mexican restaurant. There aren’t too many details here. In fact, there are just two:
One: She looked at the menu for a very long time, sat it down and said, “I don’t know. You know this better than I do. But I do want to try some flan.” And she said all of it in the volume of his usual accent. I saw the very DNA that had created this majesty who had stolen my heart, sitting right there. And she pronounced flan as if it rhymed exactly with CAN.
And I almost started crying because I couldn’t have loved her more for giving me that moment in life to witness and live. I have since never pronounced flan any other way.
Two: People have told me about the relationships between sons and mothers. I will not ever know this kind of dynamic. I have two girls, one who is 16 and thinks I am the sole cause of global warming and the apocalypse. The entirety of the end of the world is my fault, and SHE HAS RECEIPTS. My 10-year-old is pretty much a farmer chugging moonshine. She’d prefer to live life shirtless with a lazy gerbil perched on her shirtless shoulder. We have a special kind of love where I celebrate her carefree spirit and she asks me nicely if she can have dessert.
But, oh. I saw the way Travis Scott Bowden looked at his mother. He adored her and worshipped her and ordered her entire meal. And he made sure that they saved her their best piece of flan (CAN).
Scott. I lied. I’m calling you by that singular name one more time.
I feel as if my body is on fire and I want to punch walls and tear out my hair. I cannot make sense of the fact that you are gone. I am so confused and trying to make sense of it, and the whole thing feels like someone is ripping my heart out with their bare hands. The world is not just a lesser place without you in it. That’s the most obtuse way anyone could try to sum it up, and yes, I used “obtuse” because I know you would smile at that word.
The world lost a very rare radiance in its fabric that it can never recover.