In Memoriam: Ricardo “Ricky” Reyes

My dear friend Ricardo “Ricky” Reyes of Mount Joy, Pennsylvania, passed away tragically on August 20, 2022. He was born on June 21, 1987 and grew up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the son of Iris Gomez Lopez and the late Salvador Reyes. He graduated from Lancaster Catholic High School in 2005 and enlisted as a reservist in the United States Marine Corps. He served as a Field Artillery Cannoneer with India Battery, 3rd Battalion, 14th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division out of Allentown, Pennsylvania, from November 2005 to February 2012. He was deployed from September 2006 to April 2007 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom attached to [2d LAAD Battalion? – pending confirmation]. He was also deployed to Africa from May 2011 to June 2011. He was a 2012 graduate of Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, with an associate degree in Collision Repair Technology.

I met Ricardo, or “Ricky” as most people knew him, online in 2006 sometime before or during his deployment. I can no longer remember exactly when or where, it may have been on Xanga or MySpace or potentially on Military.com’s forums as I spent a lot of time on there due to being interested in enlisting. Wherever it was, I remember us messaging one another, initially about the Marine Corps and other military related stuff. From those conversations we grew to become friends and exchanged phone numbers and followed one another on social media for the next sixteen years. He supported me both before and after my enlistment in the Marine Corps in 2007, for a while I considered him one of my closest friends that I could confide in with anything because I trusted, admired, and respected him immensely, I was and still am grateful for his long-lasting and loyal friendship.

He was there for me when I was going through mental health struggles resulting from my premature discharge in 2008. Even when he was busy he still responded to me, any time of day or night. I had not spoken to him as much in more recent years, that’s just how life goes, but I knew that no matter how much time had passed he would treat me exactly the same way as he always did, with open arms and as supportive as ever. Whether it was personal life stuff or car stuff, I knew I could reach out to him for advice. I last spoke to him a few months before his death. A person will never meet someone more loving, supportive, and accepting. The world has suffered a great loss and I am devastated by his passing.

My condolences go out to his family and other friends, of which he had many! He was loved, adored, and admired by so many people, a testament to his character and the type of man he was. I don’t understand how or why the accident happened, but I feel like he would tell me that he died doing something that he loved. He always told me to live without regrets because he tried to live his life that way too.

To anyone who did not know him, I would paint him as a man who served his country with honor and pride, who cared deeply for his family and friends and would do anything for them, he lived to the fullest whether that was traveling, or concerts, or social gatherings, he was always doing something as he hated being idle, and the only thing he loved more than cats were cars and his bike, oh and his loyal “Yota”, he loved that thing too. I never knew him to be angry or bitter, he was always warm and supportive for the entire sixteen years I knew him. He was friendly to everyone he met.

On August 28, 2022, I drove from Missouri to Manheim, Pennsylvania to attend his memorial service on the following day. There are very few people in my life that I had been friends with and had sustained communication with as long as this man, I knew that if I didn’t go I would regret it for the rest of my life. I had hoped that by driving all the way out there and paying my last respects it would allow me to better process my grief over his passing. I also made the decision to go to the location where he died, more about that in a bit. He has since been laid to rest at Indiantown Gap National Cemetery, I will be returning to visit him again.

I was touched by just how many people from Ricky’s life were at his memorial service, such a powerful message for how much he was loved, admired, and respected. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to meet his mom and listen to his family, military family, childhood friends, and other friends tell stories of how he impacted their lives and the funny memories they had of him. Hearing those stories helped paint a picture for me of who he was in other people’s lives, illuminating facets of his character and history that I did not know. To me, this was a gift and I will cherish it. I know that many others have similar stories to tell, though some of us found it too painful to share openly at his memorial service.

In 2021, I had planned to travel to Acadia National Park in Maine and my hope was to stop in Pennsylvania and spend time with him. However, due to pandemic-related complications and my unemployment at the time I made the decision to delay that trip. Reflecting on how I felt during his memorial service, I found that I had some degree of guilt over that decision. Of course I could have never known what the future would hold and so I don’t blame myself for that decision, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have guilt and regret about it. I think that others in his life may have a similar sense of guilt or regret about not reaching out to him more or not spending enough time with him, and considering the circumstances of his unexpected passing I feel like this is a very natural thing to feel.

These last few days I have been scrolling through his social media posts, searching through my own social media feeds looking for posts and comments he made, going through my phone and reading our last private messages, and mentally kicking myself for having not saved our older communications when I changed phones over the years, especially those conversations from 2006 to 2012 when we communicated the most. I didn’t know back then that those conversations would one day hold a whole lot more meaning to me. What I do have left are conversations with him asking me if I put a hood scoop on my Avenger yet, and our most recent conversation wherein he was very convincingly encouraging me to buy a Toyota Tacoma, or a “Taco” as he referred to them. Those conversations may have been generic or basic at the time, but wow do they mean so much more to me now.

In 2016, my mom died after a long illness. I also lost another friend, Colin, just a month before that, very unexpectedly. While I had the opportunity to say my last words to my mom, I did not have the opportunity to make peace with Colin. After those losses, I reached out to Ricky and told him what I really thought about him, essentially my feelings toward who he was as a person and a friend. I am so immensely grateful that I had taken that opportunity. The knowledge that he died knowing how much I really appreciated him brings me a lot of comfort and peace. The shock and pain of his passing is by no means diminished, but it means so much to me that he knew how I felt about him.

As I mentioned at the beginning, I drove to the intersection where the motorcycle accident happened. I don’t know why but I needed to see it as part of my grieving process, to be there in the place of his last moments. There was some kind of work being done at the location, so I couldn’t stop and walk around as I had planned to do, but I could certainly see how an accident could happen there.

Loss is always hard, whether expected or not. It truly is like a wound that hurts immensely at first, drains so much joy and vitality out of you, and it never fully heals because it always leaves a scar that at times will ache as if to remind you of what you have lost. Though the scar fades and hurts less in time it still remains there forever, an aching emptiness to remind you of that person who was once a part of your life but is no more.

I think perhaps there are lessons to be learned here, I feel that we should reach out more to the people in our lives and let them know how much they mean to us, you never know when they may be taken from you. I have lost so many people in the last six years that at times I feel dumbfounded by the whirlwind of shock and grief.

Some say you can fill that void of loss, but I have never found that to be true. Remembering the moments that you shared helps immensely, though it can also resurrect the grief and pain of the loss. I have found that creating new memories by doing things that remind me of the person or engaging in things that they enjoyed can help me feel close to them again without focusing too much on “what used to be” or what I have lost.

It’s not the same as if they were literally there, but in some strange way making new memories doing these things makes me feel as though they are with me. I intend to do this for Ricky as well, it won’t be hard for me because there are reminders of him everywhere I go. I cannot comprehend a life and a world without the privilege of knowing that he’s just a quick message away.

Pour one out for this man, if anyone deserved the title of legend, it’s him. I’d say “rest in peace” but that’s not the man I knew, he wasn’t interested in resting, so maybe “ride free” or “stay wild” or “fly high” would be more appropriate. He was and still is loved and will never be forgotten!

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