Remembering Darrell Jenks ’80

Darrell was my roommate during our sophomore year at Reed. We lived together in an old house in southeast Portland, together with a couple of other people, including his fellow drummer, Phil Waite ’80. I left Reed after that year, and only came back to visit once, in the spring of Darrell’s senior year; that was the last time I saw him, and as is typical for people of our generation, I lost touch with him until about a year ago, when we made contact again on Facebook.

I enjoyed Darrell’s presence immensely. He was one of the very few people I have met with the gift of intensely enjoying life within the moment. You knew when this was occurring: often, he had a particular gleam in his eyes, when you could see that he was capturing the sense of just that place and time.

I particularly remember one night when I stayed up with him on the back lawn of Reed. Darrell had somehow latched onto a parttime student job as a night watchman; I suppose somebody had been stealing bicycles or something, and he was quite happy to be paid to sit up and watch the lawn and read French novels; something he would have been doing for free anyway. We were taking karate lessons, and fantasizing about what we would do to the bicycle-stealing punks when they showed up; Darrell accompanying this by round kicks to various parts of the college buildings. At any rate, someone had loaned Darrell a small motorcycle for the evening, and his sheer joy in zipping around on it was something I’ll never forget; I remember thinking that he could be happy in the most intense way, throughout himself, and that it made you happy just to see it. One of his friends posted a short clip on Facebook of him playing the drums, and it was the same Darrell, the same look of complete happiness in that moment, although of course without the added excitement of nearly crashing his motorcycle into about 15 different cars in the parking lot . . . he was not a good driver, although perhaps that changed through the years.

Another thing I found striking about Darrell: he would listen to you. And not with just half his attention, like most other 19-year-olds; he would listen to every. word. you. said., and then analyze it and tell you what you had actually meant to say. He did not, as the saying goes, suffer fools lightly; but he would let you speak foolishly anyway, and instead of changing the subject, he would discuss what you had said as though it really needed discussing. It made every conversation with him a challenge and an adventure, even just talking about whose turn it was to buy the groceries over breakfast, and I can still recall many of those conversations almost word for word. They are still one of the great delights of my life.

Darrell was incredibly brave. We rode several freight trains together that year, and nothing frightened him; he would approach every situation with either complete equanimity or occasional and brief irritation at how I couldn’t quite just figure out what needed to be done, and get on with it. This is also how he advised me, as someone vastly older and more mature (he was a year older); when confronted with the usual 19-year-old male problems in my personal life, he would listen carefully, and then very matter-of-factly tell me what I needed to do. At the time, some of his advice was hard to take, but thinking back on it, it was always exactly the right thing to do.

Darrell, for me, was one of those few people you meet that you carry around with you for the rest of your life, as an internal discussant of how you are doing, what you are thinking, and whether it is all working out. I can still hear his voice, see the gleam in his eye, and cherish the times (not often, but all the better for that) when he thought I had said or done something rather clever. I am still happy that he was my friend at that very important point in my life, and wish I had found him again sooner.

—Randy Johnson ’80

Cambridge, England