The same thing happened this time, too. But instead of letting it go, something inside me told me that I had better stay on it until I had talked to Jay.
Sometime the next evening, I finally found Jay awake and not in the company of nurses or doctors. I was taken aback by his voice, which was clearly weakened. But his mind was sharp as ever. The last conversation we had was classic Jay, he imploring me to meet my deadlines for the 'BAMA Magazine Yearbook.
I had planned to write about Jay before his death. There is a column on my hard drive singing his praises, but it will never be published. To publish it while he was still alive would have made Jay uncomfortable, as he never considered himself the story. Even my simple paean to a friend would probably have embarrassed him.
I first met Jay over the Internet, through the old BamaFan listserv. Back then, he was Jeff Lisby (his name got shortened later, perhaps inadvertently, when he began signing his articles "J.E. Lisby"), a teacher considering going back to school to learn how to be a writer, -which was funny considering he already was one and didn't know it yet. I was in school at Alabama. Both of us were just sitting at our computers talking about football. It turned out to be not a waste of time.
I remember him asking my advice on what he should do to get into journalism school. I did nothing more substantial than send him the phone numbers of UA Admissions and the department of journalism. Nevertheless, Jay apparently mistook me for a literary critic. He started writing things and asking my opinion of them. After reading several pieces that were on par with what I was seeing in daily newspapers, I finally wrote him and said, "Jeff, you should be critiquing my stuff, not the other way around."
I hooked on with TideFans, at the time called BamaNation. Jay found employment at ‘BAMA Magazine. In time, so did I.
Jay grew quickly in his new role. Within a year, other writers would begin talking about the quality of his work. He never fully accepted how much he was admired by his peers.
But what made Jay different was that he was different. News and sportswriters are a cynical, sarcastic lot. By definition, they are jaded a bit towards the world. Their very being in the craft is focused on righting the wrongs --- even when those wrongs exist only in their own minds.
That wasn't Jay. While other writers might use down time at an event to trade barbs and stories and cuss up a storm, Jay would be talking to a player about his mother's cooking. Or chatting with friends about the good days just around Alabama's corner. I don't remember ever hearing him make a pessimistic remark about Alabama that wasn't followed quickly by two or three suggestions to fix the situation.
So it hit me like a truck when Jay's cancer came back. The eloquent optimist, the man in his profession most devoid of meanness and spite, was doing battle again with a creeping killer. He had been strong enough to beat it back before, but it had taken too much from him. He just couldn't answer the bell this last time.
We will all miss Jay for different reasons. 'BAMA Magazine subscribers will miss his warm profiles of athletes. BamaMag.com readers will miss his practice observations and his knack for needling the fans of other schools unfortunate enough to think they had the intelligence to pull a fast one on him on the message boards. Kirk will miss him for a variety of reasons,- one of them, I'm sure, was the way Jay would keep us other writers on deadline.
I'll miss my friend. Simple as that.