This is really long and really personal, so I don't expect anyone to read this.
I don't want to make December 28th a big deal for myself. I don't want to make any more tribute art or cry in my room or post any pictures of him. I'm done with that. But I feel it is imperative that I at least openly reflect on how big of an impact he made on my life for once, and I feel that now is an appropriate time.
Of course, like everyone, Jimmy's death took a toll on me when it happened. I'd been listening to Avenged Sevenfold's music since right before the self-titled album came out, and though I never paid too much attention to the members when I first started enjoying their music, I spent a very long time grief-stricken because he was always the one I liked the most. It took me a couple of months for the realization to really hit me that the "funny-looking quirky drummer guy that does those great voices and was the brains behind all my favorite songs" was gone completely, and I became even more upset when I read more into it. From the time that I bought their album, to falling in love with their sound, to the time that I had the greatest concert experience at Taste of Chaos '08 seeing them live, to Nightmare; I had become a huge fan of the band and Jimmy in particular.
That was 2010.
In the summer of 2011, my fiancee Chris and I decided to take a trip to Huntington Beach to visit his grave. That trip became one of my favorite memories to this day (I flipped my shit when I turned the streetcorner and realized that our hotel was in front of the condos where he used to live). However, the most significant thing that happened that weekend was meeting Joe and Barbara, Jimmy's parents. We found their place while walking through the neighborhood. At the time I was angry because I'd left an important necklace at the grave, and the next day I returned to find that it was stolen and replaced with bottle caps and cigarettes - I wanted so badly to ask them if they had taken it. I'm so happy that we knocked on the door that day; Joe and Barbara are probably the friendliest couple I've ever met. They hadn't seen the necklace I lost, but Joe showed us his golden pendant with a picture of baby Jimmy on it as well as the portraits of him and his sisters in their living room. I mentioned that I was an aspiring artist myself, and promised that I'd send them some of my work as soon as I got home. It took about a month for me to complete the piece I wanted to send them because it was my first portrait. I struggled, but even so, I kept my word.
A while after I sent them that portrait, Barbara sent me small parcel. Inside was a letter thanking me for it, and also the necklace that they'd received at the Golden Gods Awards 2010 when they received the Best Drummer Award on Jimmy's behalf. She wrote: "I know you lost an important necklace while you were in Huntington Beach, so I hope you enjoy having it in exchange for bringing a smile to a mom's broken heart." I still cherish both the letter and the necklace - I keep it behind his mini-drumset that I keep on display in my room.
The next time we went to Huntington Beach was in October. We visited them again, this time (unexpectedly) for nearly three hours. We only meant to bring them flowers and thank them for their kindness, but Barbara insisted that we come in and stay a while. Those three hours were spent mostly just talking about Jimmy. We all told stories about him that the other never knew about and she showed us the demos that he had recorded for Nightmare before he passed. All of us laughed a lot and cried a little too, but overall, we all had a good time getting to know each other and getting to know Jimmy. They drove us back to our hotel that night in their SUV, pointing out Jimmy's favorite spots along the way. That same weekend, I got my first tattoo, Jimmy's deathbat on my shoulder. Chris also got the deathbat I drew for him on his right. Before we left for home we went to see them one more time, just to say thanks again. "Feel free to visit any time you're in Huntington Beach," she said.
Later that year in December, Avenged Sevenfold was doing a make-up show in San Jose where we live. They'd abruptly cancelled the concert that we had third-row tickets to (and on top of that we were supposed to meet them), so we were really impatient and excited to see them for the first time since before Jimmy's passing. The shocker was that we were just standing in line waiting to get in when suddenly Joe Sullivan walked up to us, yelled "I knew I would see you guys here!" and brought us in for a hug. We caught up a little bit before parting ways and going into the arena. The show itself was just as amazing as I had hoped; Chris and I were squished up against the front left barricade and Zacky got the Zacky Bee shirt we tossed him. We made a friend at that concert, too, and we were finally able to get an actual picture with Joe and Barbara after the show.
At the end of the month, on the 28th, I went to visit Jimmy's grave again while stopping through town. There were kids sitting around the grave blowing marijuana at the ground and blaring Nightmare. I felt unwelcome there, so I left my flowers, said a prayer, and left.
I haven't seen Joe since that concert, and I haven't seen Barbara since this summer when we visited briefly just to say hello. I did do a lot of Jimmy- and A7X-related things, like getting my handcuff tattoos, completing my first successful animation, and making Avenged Sevenfold cell phone charms that I was able to sell for a short while.
It doesn't matter how many tattoos I get, how many dozens of fanart I draw, how many haircuts I get, how many pieces of crappy custom clothing I make, how much money I spend on week-long trips and merchandise, or how much I try to express how grateful I am. Jimmy and his parents have given me so much more than I could ever do for them. Avenged Sevenfold has made music that has become representative of some of the best and worst times of my life, and there is no way I could ever conceivably top that. I know it very well. Despite everything, I am over Jimmy's death and have accepted that things can never be the same. I don't spend any more time mourning him and that period of time where I was completely immersed in them is over. I will always love him, I will never regret any tributes I've made to him, and I will always cherish Joe and Barbara as my friends (and not just "the Rev's parents" anymore). But after all this, I'd realized that everything that has happened since I first became a fan up to now was still thanks to Jimmy. I can think about him and smile rather than cry over the fact that he is gone, or reflect on how awful it was to lose him. It really upsets me when he is remembered for nothing more than "stallion ducks" or "becoming the knife master" because he's given so much to the world and to me personally. I am more than content with what Jimmy has done for me, both directly and indirectly. That is why I've moved on. Maybe I'll continue to be a fan of Avenged Sevenfold and enjoy their new music and maybe I won't. There are people that I know would get angry at me for saying that, or even that I won't cry for Jimmy anymore. But either way, I don't feel the need to obsess over his death. Tomorrow I will go about my day without any worry or sadness. My tattoos and drawings will be there to remind me of him like every other day, and they always will.