or, when old friends die young
A friend of mine died last week. We’re too young to die but we die anyway, the way everyone just dies anyway.
I saw him a year ago with who I assumed was his girlfriend. I don’t know if they’re still together or if they ever were. Before that, I hadn’t seen him since our other friend’s funeral back in 2015. Before that, I don’t think I’d seen him since my going away party, a few days before I moved to Korea back in 2010 where the partybus my friends rented abandoned everyone (including me) at different parts of the city, only returning three or four total people back to where it all began.
I lost track of him. I lost track of a lot of people. These things happen, especially when you spend the years following college bouncing around East Asia and Europe in search of an interesting life.
I spent many weekends at his house howling through the nights and watching the sunrise over the detritus of a party that never seemed to end. Sometimes I was there every weekend, or he was at my house.
Our university didn’t have frats, but he’s the kind of guy people would have referred to as a frat boy. Never mind that he could have gone to a school with a frat—there were a few nearby, even within walking distance—but chose not to. I don’t think the existence of a fraternity was a deciding point for him, but still. And even had he been a frat boy, he was still a lot of fun. He was the kind of friend I valued a great deal in those days.
I remember his smile very well. I can see it now. Can hear his laugh. The way his eyes lit up when something sparked joy, his face wildly expressive. I remember talking nonsense with him late into the night. I remember saying almost nothing to him while we were in the same crowded room with dozens of people.
I remember big couches and dark rooms. Friends and almost-lovers brushing past one another. I remember so many people that I haven’t seen in over a decade. So many people that I loved and longed for and then simply never saw again.
I didn’t forget them, but kind of I did. They forgot me too. At least a little bit.
I have an essay about death that I started months ago when my son asked me if he’ll be dead when he grows up. I keep meaning to return to it. To write about conversations with my father about his will, about what he has planned for my mother.
We plan his death together and I begin to plan my own, secretly, inside my head.
I always thought I’d be dead by now. I never expected to be thirty. It was the bonedeep belief in me that I’d be dead by now. But I always thought 35 was the absolute last birthday I’d ever see, even if, somehow, I made it past 30.
I turn 35 in a few months. I don’t much feel like dying anymore.
But I feel it in me. I hear death calling me. I’ve believed in my own death for too long to just logic it away.
Probably I won’t be dead in a few months or even a year. I would prefer not to leave my sons fatherless. I hope to know them for many years.
In a different life, I was an altar boy. Because we lived close to the church, my brother and I ended up being the altar servers for nearly every funeral at that church, of which there were many. And so I’ve been to a ridiculous number of funerals. Mostly for people I don’t know. People I never knew.
But I have known many people who died. People who died too young. Too soon. I’ve lost many more who still live.
Life is such a fragile thing. I think often of Kazuki Tomokawa’s words at the end of that video up at the top: it’s like holding a ghost.
I often feel responsible for everyone and everything. I always should have done more. Could have done more. Would have, if only this or that hadn’t gotten in the way. And then I tell myself that those barriers are only justifications to comfort myself. I could have and should have.
My newly dead friend was a joy to know. He was fun and funny. During some of my darkest days, just being around his buoyant energy made me feel better. Made me feel like life really was worth living.
We were never the kind of friends who shared deep talks or came to know the heart of one another. He was a different kind of friend. One who made me happy to be alive. One who reminded me that life is pretty dang fun. And so for the hours and weekends and years I spent with him, I stepped out of myself and just enjoyed the night.
I remember singing loud and out of tune to indie bands that kind of sucked but that meant so much to us. I remember basements sticky with beer and thick with smoke. I remember nights that never seemed to end until we were stumbling home, laughing, wondering who we were just hours ago, how we got to where we now were.
My friend is dead. I wasn’t there to see who he became in the twelve years between, but many were. In a few hours, I’ll be seeing many of them again. Some for the first time in a decade. Or at least for the first time since our other friend died, so young, so long ago, just months after I got married.
And we’ll remember Brad. I’ll learn more about him today than I knew while he lived.
Death comes for us all, but first we live.
So live well, because life is slippery.
It’s like holding a ghost.
Our songs will all be silenced.
What of it?
Go on singing.