Six years ago today, a friend of mine named Chris passed away. We met when I started working at my very first serving gig in a restaurant that doesn’t exist anymore. Everyone there was like family, and until this day, at all the places I’ve worked, I’ve never found friendships or bonds like the ones we created there. If the place was still around today I’d probably still be working there. I keep in touch with a lot of those old friends via Facebook and meeting up from time to time.
Chris was a wiry, scruffy guy who looked like John Lennon (though he hated when people pointed this out). He was a true dank hippie, loved jam bands, was a huge fan of Phish and The Grateful Dead, and did all sorts of drugs not to get high, but for the existential experience. That sounds like some old stoner who was a teenager in the 60’s, but he was actually only 30. He could tell a story like no one I’ve ever met, and his tales of ‘enlightenment’ were so mesmerizing I believed that I, too, could drop acid and see the face of God (I’ve never done acid, btw). He had an incredibly interesting life and had done so much in his short thirty years it boggled my mind. He also had so many friends it was surreal–and not just acquaintances, honest-to-God friends. He was known and loved by everyone, a truly gregarious and outgoing person, and he always made everyone feel equally important.
He was spastic, a prankster, and loved to make people laugh. He was a trickster with a heart of gold. He was one of my best friends, a brother to me, and we had so many good times together. One of his last pranks, which will live on forever, is that he would change his birthday on Facebook every day so it would alert all his followers that every day was his birthday. Because of this, some people now believe December 27th is his birthday (his real birthday was in July, like mine). It’s bittersweet, because when I see that notification pop up on Facebook it reminds me of his humor, but it also reminds me what the next day is.
He was a writer, too. He was working on his memoirs, Triumphs of An Open Mind, most of which contained stories I’d already heard from his mouth. Since I was a writer too we constantly shared ideas and advice. He was my writer friend and everyone knew us as ‘the writers’ where we worked. He hadn’t gotten published yet, but he was working on it. We both had big dreams of bestsellers and stardom.
Then, a few months before the end of 2010, he was diagnosed with Graves Disease after suffering heart palpitations and weakness. I was adamant that he was fine, and reminded him of this when he’d get down on himself about it or start feeling hopeless. I remember saying “You’re not going to die!” about a hundred times. I was convinced he wouldn’t, that he’d have a long happy life telling wild stories and bouncing off the walls.
A few days after Christmas, he proved me wrong. (Some of my friends still joke ‘he died to spite you’ because it’s the sort of joke HE would make.)
I’d worked an early shift that day and came home, turned the ringer on my phone off, and took a nap. When I woke up I had about 16 voicemails and missed calls from different people, and none of them said anything more descriptive than “call me.” I knew something was horribly wrong. I picked my friend Jodi as the one to call back, and when she answered she was crying and said “Chris died.” He’d passed away in his sleep the night before, from heart failure, at the age of 30. I remember being so disoriented I got up and tried to get dressed and couldn’t figure out how to put my clothes on. Absurdly, Jodi and I went shopping and called everyone we knew before they got the news second-hand. We didn’t know what else to do.
His funeral was massive. I had never seen so many people at the funeral of a person who wasn’t famous. We actually closed the restaurant that day so everyone could attend. I remember thinking ‘I want to live my life in a way that I end up having a funeral like this.’ The place was huge and they still couldn’t fit everyone inside.
A few months later, I had the opening line of his novel tattooed on my arm. I think he would appreciate it, and it gets me through the dark times in my life.
I had a dream about him Monday night, amazingly. We were sitting and talking like we used to, and suddenly I said, “I know this isn’t real, but can I hug you? Because it’ll feel real for a minute.” And of course, it did.
We were both huge fans of Carl Sagan, and so I post this today in honor of him, our favorite essay by Mr. Sagan:
I hope you’re still out there jamming across the cosmos, Chris.