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As word spread of Brian Archie Jr.’s death, those who knew him tried to reconcile conflicting realities. There’s the Archie with which they were familiar: fun-loving, compassionate, academically driven and devoted in extremes to his 5-year-old son.

“He just was a really cool kid,” said Tomarris Bell, Archie’s track teammate at UB. “We met freshman year because we became roommates. Just from there he was very energetic, high spirits, always laughing and goofing around, so we just meshed really well. Just a great guy. He would do anything for you.”

The facade Archie presented to friends, family and acquaintances masked an anguish swirling within. No one close to him sensed the extent of his unease. Any clues he may have dropped concerning the depths of his depression were too vague to draw notice or sound an alarm.

On April 22, alone in his campus apartment, Brian Archie, former state high school long jump champion at Niagara Falls, Academic all-conference in track at UB and the effusively proud father of Jayden, took his own life. He was one academic year shy of graduating with majors in international business and Spanish with a minor in education.

“I was stunned,” said Jon Robins, who coaches track at Niagara Falls. “This was a kid that had everything going for him. He was going to make it out of Niagara Falls and make something out of himself. It was a good point in his life, you would think.”

“As far as making heads or tails of it, I don’t think we ever will,” said Brian’s father, Brian Archie Sr. “I’ve still been trying. I try every day. What did we miss? There’s a point I guess where there’s a change in the individual. It’s subtle. But we missed it. We missed it totally.”

“Sometimes that mind just gets the best of us at times,” said Brian’s mother, Olympia Glasco. “It just takes over and I think that’s what happened.”

A speedster born to run

Brian Archie loved to run. When barely a teen he challenged Olympia, a former track athlete herself, to races in the macadam parking lot of their old apartment complex. She’d beat him time and again, unaware that her conquests were cultivating in Brian a fierce determination.

“He was about 12 or 13. He could never beat me in a race,” Olympia recalled. “Never. Never. I was pretty fast myself. And one day he just came to me and said, ‘Mom, I’ve been practicing. I’m ready.’ I’m like, ‘Aw, you need a head start. Come on. I’ll give you one.’

“He said, ‘Nope. I’ve been focusing. I’m going to beat you.’

“Next thing I know, swoosh! He took off like the wind. All I could see was like rocks and grass and dirt hitting me in the face. I’m like, ‘OK, you got it. You finally beat me.’ ”

Brian took his emerging speed to the track at Niagara Falls and became a practitioner of the long jump and the triple jump, events that evoke images of tall, long-legged athletes churning down runways before hurtling toward sandy pits. The prototype didn’t fit. Brian was all of 5-foot-4. But he built an advantage out of speed and his passion for technique. He won the state indoor long jump championship as a Niagara Falls senior, and that spring broke the 22-year-old Section VI record in the outdoor event.

“The kid I know was just the happiest, loved what he was doing, loved being on the track team,” Robins said. “I really thought some day he was going to come back and coach. He loved being around kids and working with them and teaching them things. That was his thing in life. That was the thing he was good at.”

Olympia told her son the same thing as he slid into his education minor and began speaking at area schools as part of his classwork. As she shows a collection of “Thank You” notes sent by grade-school students it becomes evident the kids connected with him. Brian also made it back to Niagara Falls, speaking to a class at the high school some six weeks before his death.

“I saw him in the hallway and we talked for about five, 10 minutes, and that was it,” Robins said. “That was the last time I saw him.”

As Robins said, a life as a teacher or coach seemed Brian’s destiny. He yearned to acquire and share knowledge. And he had a knack for hitting it off with children, his son Jayden foremost among them.

“His son was his world,” Bell said. “Since the first day I met him I knew he had a son. That’s one of the first things he told me about himself is that he had a son. He was proud of it. He was like, it happened, maybe not the way he wanted to, but he was proud of it, he really didn’t shy away from it or care to hide it. And he always would do everything he possibly could for his son, give his son everything. If his son had a birthday he would figure out any way to give his son everything he wanted for his birthday.”

“His son called him from here to come all the way from Buffalo because he wanted a Happy Meal from McDonald’s,” Glasco said, smiling at the memory. “He drove all the way to Niagara Falls from school to get him his Happy Meal and drove all the way back.”

“He was a great father” said Jayden’s mom, Jasmaine West. “He was the ultimate great father. Jayden needed anything, he went and got it. Period. No ifs, ands, buts. He just had everything. Love, everything. Almost like the perfect person, the perfect father. …

“I’m guessing it was all a little too overwhelming for him. But I just don’t understand why he would do this to himself, to my son, because now my son is left without a parent. Especially when he started baseball. Like everyone’s there with their fathers and I’m there …

Her voice trails off.

“I didn’t get it at all. I still don’t get it.”

Pain buried on in the inside

The letter Brian left behind offered no insights as to why he took his life. He had been undergoing counseling for depression but friends and family say that for the most part his actions and behaviors were the norm. He didn’t come around on Easter, which West found unusual. But hours before taking his life he made an appearance at the West home, found the family upstairs and played with Jayden and West’s younger son. 

“I left to get something to eat and when I came back my mom said he’d already left,” West said.

They talked briefly by phone later that night – about a video game.

Perry Jenkins, the men’s track coach at UB, said it was practice as usual that week although, having turned 22 on Thursday, Archie asked to be excused from Friday’s competition.

“The whole weekend he wanted to spend time with his family and son because that was his birthday week,” Jenkins said. “I had no problem with that. We talked about it and he was excited for the following week, getting ready for his final competition.”

Whatever tormented Brian Archie Jr. was buried on the inside.

“I would say, without really detailing it, I think he got to a breaking point,” Brian Sr. said. “And his salvation was death. ‘There is no other option for me at all, regardless of what anybody says, regardless what a doctor or physician may prescribe to alter my mind, I am in a place, I have bottomed out emotionally, and this is my release. And now I’m free.’ ”

“Just struggled with depression and it got the best of him,” Olympia said. “It’s amazing going through what he went through and he functioned so remarkably.”

“All the while it’s the camouflage for the issue,” Brian Sr. said. “It doesn’t make it go away but it makes the person, I think, feel as normal as possible, to be able to function in society and around people. But while they’re by themselves obviously it’s a different ball game. It’s just you with you.”

They wonder if they missed spotting signs that could have alerted them to Brian’s feelings of of hopelessness. They wished he would have reached out but know, deep down, that their son had boundaries to his relationships. He wouldn’t share feelings that he felt would give others cause for concern.

“I think if Brian felt it would hurt you, really hurt you, he wouldn’t tell you and you would never find it out,” Brian Sr. said. “That’s one thing that just would not happen. If it would make you look at him in a different light, if it would make you have an opinion of him that was not good or he felt it would just turn you in some way, you wouldn’t know it at all. It just wouldn’t happen.”

Close with his teammates

Bell might find solace in those words. He, Brian and William Cole bonded just about as closely as teammates can. They talked all the time. They encouraged each other to voice all their troubles and concerns. Brian put up a front of strength, sharing none of what was evidently festering inside.

“Nothing at the moment, nothing when it happened,” Bell said. “There was times before when he was worried or depressed but that was just something like school or classes, just the normal thing, nothing too big. And we talked about everything, so if there was ever really a big problem he would come to me and talk to me, or he would talk to Will.

“I just truly think he had to have this thought or the dream of this happening for a long time. He had to think about the moment of taking his life for a long time. I don’t just think that something just happened overnight, which is maybe why we didn’t see the signs because it had just been something that’s been going on in him for a long time.”

He pauses.

“I don’t know. I don’t want to go crazy just thinking about, like, could I have done more, or did I miss something? I feel I did everything I could to show him I was there for him and I hope that I just prolonged his decision to do this because there’s no telling when he really thought about thinking about this.”

So many questions will go unanswered and in time so many more will emerge. West explains that for now Jayden possesses a young child’s understanding of his father’s absence. Told his dad is now in heaven, she said, he responded, “Oh, like my goldfish.”

“He knows Mothers’ Day just passed and now he’s like, ‘Now’s the time for Fathers’ Day!’ I don’t know how to respond to that. It’s hard. And he’s like, ‘Oh, he’s up in the sky now, he’s a superhero.’ And like, yeah, he’s your superhero.”

Jayden’s more probing inquiries will come as he ages and his curiosity matures.

“He’s going to ask a lot of questions but I’m going to make sure I tell him how it was,” Jasmaine said. “I’m not going to hold back any details. He was a good father and I want him to know that. So I’m going to stress it. He’s just always been here from the very first second he was born. ”

Jasmaine says support from her family and Brian’s relatives ensures Jayden will be well-cared for. Meanwhile, Bell has established a fund that thus far has raised $5,600 for Jayden’s college education. Contributions can be made at www.gofundme.com/foreverabull.

Following Brian’s death, Bell stood up at a meeting of the track team and spoke of the importance of sticking together, of reaching out, of being attuned to what might be going on in the heart and mind of a teammate. Be there for each other.

Reminders of life’s fragility come in many forms, sometimes expectedly, sometimes unexpectedly. And oft times those reminders create a heightened awareness and retooled outlooks.

“A lesson is to be learned,” Brian Sr. said. “We must communicate. We must embrace each other, look out for one another, pay attention to just the small details. Don’t turn a blind eye to what we think is nothing.

“But you have to have faith also,” he said as if speaking to his son. “Have faith that regardless of what it is, everything will be all right.”

email: bdicesare@buffnews.com