Andrea Bernardo was one of Drew's best friends. The two met in undergrad at UCF. Below is her story.
A month ago yesterday I attended the funeral of one of my closest friends, Drew Leinonen. A decade ago, I buried my father, a man I spent hours discussing and analyzing (and even comparing) with Dru. They were both psychologists, and Daddy Issues are always titillating conversation. When I saw The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat on Dru’s bookshelf years ago, and broke down in tears because my father had known the author, Dru let me borrow the book and never asked for it back.
It’s surreal to look at an embalmed corpse and every bit as painful as you think it is if you’ve never had the opportunity. Maybe if I squinted, and stood just close enough to see the spikes of his hair poking above the casket sides, it could pass for my friend. All you want to do is apologize, feeling guilty for still living while someone you loved died and you did nothing to intervene, your friend murdered while you were asleep. The people I love always seem to leave me when I’m sleeping.
Dru literally brought music into my life. Before my month long trip to Europe, he helped me buy my first iPod and we scrolled through his music library together, letting me select what would become the sound track of my life for the better part of a decade. He called my music “Dru’s iPodlite.” He introduced me to The Last Five Years, and Brown’s lyrics now are reverberating in my head, with new meaning attached.
One month to the day after the shooting, I woke up at 4am to the sound of a gunshot. Adrenaline pumping, I confirmed with Phil it was a dream. After an hour, my pulse slowed and I fell back asleep, dreaming I was in Winter Park, meeting up with Dru and Juan. In my dream, I thought I must’ve time-traveled, and here was my chance to save them! I began sobbing, begging Dru not to go to Pulse the next day, pleading with him please, please don’t go. He smiled at me, wrapped me in one of his notorious too-tight, pinching hugs, and promised me he wouldn’t go to the club. When I woke up in the morning, I was annoyed at myself for believing time travel might happen outside of the movies. Coincidentally, Dru’s Marty impression, complete with red cap, was my favorite.
We met in college. Technically, a few days before. The first night of moving into the dorms at UCF, I saw Dru on a picnic table, already surrounded by friends. It unfolded like a movie scene: our eyes locked, picking up each other’s’ scent –Faghag meets Boi. Fruit Fly meets Twink. We would laugh at these pejorative labels (and how much I hate labels) for the rest of his life. It was instantaneous, and like everyone else I met my freshman year, we were obnoxious and curious and passionate, feeding on drama and Steak N’ Shake.
After the first year of college, I’d put on the Freshmen 500 and clocked in at 300lbs on my 5’6 frame. I was large, boisterous and all around insufferable at times; shock value was my costume, and I stitched and displayed it large enough to cloak my hulking frame. I was determined for people to comment on what came out of my mouth, for my words and actions to define me, not my body (besides, it was easier to talk about eating a human fetus than actually eating a salad). Dru loved me anyway. He loved me in part BECAUSE of this. Sometimes, we would have sleepovers at his dorm or apartment. We would strip down to our underwear and watch Y Tu Mama Tambien and eat baked brie and homemade chocolate truffles. Dru would invite me into his bed to sleep and we would cuddle. Me, a giant, wildebeest of a girl cuddling with a boy a third her size, not because there was underlying sexual attraction, but because Dru truly loved and accepted me exactly as I was. For the depth that I was disgusted with myself, he wanted to be physically and emotionally close to me. That is a spiritual love that few people are capable of feeling or brave enough to express; Dru danced in it.
Brittany Ann's eulogy spoke of losing hours at Dru’s apartment. A glow emanated from everywhere he lived; every dorm or apartment was indeed a safe haven, a sanctuary. I told him his place always reminded me of Nate Fisher’s father’s secret apartment from Six Feet Under. How poignant to think of that comparison now. Warmly lit, snug, and filled in every corner and wall space with art, movies, and collectibles of everything that brought him joy. I’ve realized that similar to the indie DVDs, action figures, Star Wars memorabilia, and animal skulls, Dru collected and cherished his friends the same way: we all inhabited Dru’s Land of Misfit Toys. We were each a unique curio in his treasured collection of friends.
On the last day I saw Dru, he and Juan toured me around The Center, surprised I’d never been. Two weeks later, The Center would be on international news, staff weeping for its lost community members. My last words to Dru were over text, Saturday, June 11th. He wouldn’t read the next text I sent to him Sunday morning.
I’m still grieving the loss of my friend. I’m not ready to “focus on the good times” or accept that “he is in a better place.” Dru “living on in my heart” doesn’t hold me while we watch movies, or sassily call me out on my bullshit, or provide a unique stance that never occurred to me. I wanted to write about Dru to honor him, but all I’ve managed to do is talk about how I was able to feel when we were together. I miss my friend, and selfishly, I miss how I felt in Dru’s light.
“Jaime is over and Jaime is gone…and I’m still hurting.”