Neil Smith

3 years ago · 1 min. reading time · visibility ~10 ·

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The Appreciation of a Life and the Sadness of Death.

The Appreciation of a Life and the Sadness of Death.


Suddenly there's a lot to think about tonight.

One of the joys of the internet is the ability to keep in touch with people known from far away or long ago and in some cases people who have never been more than pixels and data on a screen. For someone like me who often forgot to value friendships enough and carelessly spent many years letting friends pass through my fingers like grains of sand, the internet has been a boon. Sometimes though I wonder if blissful ignorance doesn't have a bit going for it. This evening I got some news about someone I had never met and the coincidence of names led me to find out about someone else as well. A young person that I barely knew then and only heard of again because of a stray sliver of information that popped up online. The news has led me to try to put my thoughts down in a story and stories have rules and formulas and conventions so tonight I'll play by the rules.

Once upon a time. . . There were two Jesses.

One was a young guy who used to hang around the house.

The house was Howland House, an old wooden villa on MAC avenue in East Lansing, Michigan. It had become an independently run housing co-operative and was home to a fairly motley bunch of students all of whom attended the nearby Michigan State University. These weren't the slick, fraternity and sorority students who lived in the beautifully maintained houses further up the avenue. This wasn't the home of students with a trust fund future. You wouldn't ever mistake them for life's chosen people. It wasn't even really a coherent gang of any kind. It was just the collection that is left over when everyone else is gone, like the last person to get picked for a football team. This was all the last people to get picked for any football team ever.

Possibly because of the eclectic nature of the residents it was a pretty open and welcoming group. Not everyone was an angel and there was certainly enough of a dark side but it was one of the most open and mixed groups of humanity I witnessed in the US.

Jesse didn't live here. He was too young to be a student and nominally lived at home with his mother. In reality he lived wherever he fell asleep and couch or floor surfed around the homes of his friends in the Lansing area. Some of the Howland House residents knew him so he used to turn up on the living room floor occasionally. Jesse was in his teens and had just finished not graduating from high school. His "dropout" status may have been a problem in the job market but as a self employed drug dealer he wasn't attending a lot of interviews anyway. Like many small fry he dealt dope, speed and acid as a way of financing his own habits. Like many small fry he also wasn't very good at it and he had been arrested more than once. As a minor he was on a pretty endless series of probationary sentences. In theory supervised but in fact ignored.

Anyway he wasn't a major part of my universe. Someone to hear as he talked about how wasted he had been last night or to trip over as I wandered out for a run in the early midwest morning. He wasn't my friend nor really anyone's friend just someone who was part of the furniture of life in that town. When I packed my bags and headed out to the west coast I forgot about him and didn't give him a second thought. For decades.

The other Jesse.

I didn't know that this guy existed until long after I had left the states. He grew up in British Columbia in the seventies and moved to the US to make a living as a croupier in Las Vegas. He came to my notice when he started publishing stories and articles on LinkedIn and then The stories dealt with a difficult upbringing, life in Vegas, his fight against cancer, a career as an amateur boxer, masseur, process server and cemetery worker. His mental health problems, drug addiction and so much more. The list seemed to go on forever. His entire existence seemed to be one huge, tumbling rollercoaster ride from high to low, round and round we go.

In among all the bullshit articles about "How to be a leader" or "Ten interview questions to avoid" his stuff stood out like Sammy Davis Jr at a Klan rally.

And then, somehow his life just calmed down.

He moved back to Nanaimo in BC. He wrote and got on with life. He published "Early Out" a book charting all the life experiences you probably wouldn't ever want your kids to go through and settled down to a much more relaxed existence. At least relatively.

His work experience was a roll call of professions and he managed to fit them all in and remember enough to write about it afterwards with wit, feeling, anger and in a way a kind of love. His writing was rough and real. It glowed with the authentic feeling you only get from having done the hard yards. He always replied to messages and I loved that he would follow up on suggestions and get back with his opinions. Once he struggled to find Christy Moore on iTunes as he was searching for a female vocalist and took a while to realise that Christy is a pretty normal name for men in Ireland. We traded a few messages and that was about the size of it. I thought that if I was ever back over in BC I would look him up or send him a note or something but in the meantime I just liked reading his stuff.

So! Two Jesses.

Not just two Jesses but two Jesses that I only barely knew and the reason they both feature in this tale tonight is that tonight is when I found out that one of them has died and the other is in prison.

The first Jesse was involved in a disagreement some years ago with someone outside a bar in East Lansing that he was too young to enter legally. He pulled a knife and fatally stabbed that person.

Stupid. Rash. Heedless of the future.

No more probation. Now it's the real deal and some things can't be undone. I wonder how it got to that but probably it got to that because of a thousand little things that became a big thing and someone lost his life.

The second Jesse lost his life because he contracted an infection following a back operation and although he rallied magnificently at one point and it seemed like he was well over the worst he simply stopped one day. On the 31st of December 2017 he was found sitting at his keyboard. Writing.

Jesse Kaellis RIP.

Some stories don't have a "happy ever after" ending. Some stories don't end with the good guys winning and some stories don't have a cute moral point that wraps everything up nicely.

In a real story the young loser would have sorted himself out and ditched the knife for some kind of positive existence.

In a real story the guy who fought everything and won would have had at least a few more years and perhaps would get the girl and ride into the sunset.

This just isn't that story.

At the start I said I would stick to the rules but I lied, beaten by the reality. I am sad at the waste of potential and the loss of life. These events didn't happen to strangers. They happened to people just like us and "There but for the grace of God" and all that. So tomorrow I'll be the same person I am today but perhaps I'll try to be a little bit more helpful and a slightly better person because today I got a reminder that life is unfair and we never know how the next part of the story is going to go.

Take care folks and shine as bright as you can.



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Thank you for the this Neil Smith. RIP Jesse!

Paul Walters

3 years ago #18

Neil Smith Thank you for this and I guess for letting the beBEE community know about the demise of Jesse Kaellis. His writing was gritty, insightful and above all honest. I fell in love with his stories told so eloquently, "from the heart" I am 'on the road ' so to speak and will raise a toast to him in my tiny mountaintop hotel room.

Harvey Lloyd

3 years ago #17

Brilliant. Thanks for the exposure of human frailty and sometimes our pettiness towards it.

Renée 🐝 Cormier

3 years ago #16

So sad to hear about Jesse. I wondered where he had gone. He was a good soul, in spite of all his troubles. He shall now rest in peace.

Nick Mlatchkov

3 years ago #15

I think Jesse might not have found many readers altogether, though he got a lot of true readers here ...

Cyndi wilkins

3 years ago #14

A final goodbye to a 'real' contender...RIP Jesse

Neil Smith

3 years ago #13

Thank you to everyone who read this and especially to those who commented. Normally I would respond to each comment but in all honesty I don't think that would add anything at all so please accept my thanks and I will leave it there. Cheers, Neil.

Debasish Majumder

3 years ago #12

wonderful buzz Neil Smith! enjoyed read and shared. thank you for the buzz.

(Nacho) Ignacio Orna

3 years ago #11

DEP jesse kaellis your writings are not forgotten

Javier 🐝 CR

3 years ago #10

RIP Jesse. We met you on beBee. beBee will not forget your stories.

Javier 🐝 CR

3 years ago #9

thankU Neil Smith

Javier 🐝 CR

3 years ago #8

RIP Jesse

Phil Friedman

3 years ago #7

Thank you for this piece, Neil. I first met jesse kaellis on beBee when he published a piece about having trouble finding an honest publisher for his book and I made what I thought was an innocent comment intended to be helpful. He responded aggressively in an exchange we eventually took to private messaging which ended in much mutual cursing and my accusing him of playing the “victim card” for attention, while he closed by telling me it was a good thing for me that we weren’t face to face. But I continued to read and recommend Jesse’s authetically gritty writings and even once dedicated a piece to him because he had struck a chord in my psyche. Jesse later messaged me both publicly and privately to apologize for having been initially so hostile, even though I told him apologies weren’t necessary.’ He said he had never responded well to people who tried to be helpful, that he was too headstrong., and that was perhaps why his life had taken the path it had. I had the feeling that here on beBee he eventually found some of the writers’ camaraderie he siught and seemed at times to lighten up. At least I hope he did, for I was not at all close enough to him to really know. What I do know is that he was a colorful oasis in the otherwise undifferentiated and bland desert that is social media, and I for one will miss his writings. Which I think is the best tribute one can pay to a real writer. RIP.

Nick Mlatchkov

3 years ago #6

I remembered I don't see Jim Cody too. He had some fine pieces.

Nick Mlatchkov

3 years ago #5

RIP Jesse!

Lada 🏡 Prkic

3 years ago #4

Pascal said it beautifully, we can be emotional for someone we actually never met, such as Jesse, because we met him through his stories. Neil, your beautiful and emotionally written story is a reminder of the harsh reality. We never know when and how our narrative ends. We just have to take care of ourselves and shine as bright as we can. It's a good and solid advice, Neil.

Pascal Derrien

3 years ago #3

Its a rainy morning here in Ireland ( I guess the same in your area Neil since you are not too far from me :-)) and I found out that John Mc Cain has passed away and now your beautiful and inspired write up is also introducing a reality component which leaves me somewhat confused. I read another article yesterday from Martin Wright enquiring about Jesse and now yours , I was connected to Jesse on another platform and I had attributed his lack of activity to him recovering from the surgery. FB being FB I received no notifications for a while and I left it at that thinking he needed time after he told us he was to focus on his recovery. I rushed to his page this monring and the reality is that he is gone.... How can you be emotional for someone you actually never met? Sad day but his writings will stay, he was a troubled soul but deep down I think he was a great guy at least from what I can perceive. So long writer you were much more than just a fighting boxer.....

Martin Wright

3 years ago #2

In memoriam of Jesse Kaellis

Martin Wright

3 years ago #1

In memoriam of Jesse Kaellis

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