I now know where the phrase “the bitter end” comes from. Ends usually are bitter. Sometimes, they come in the form of a phone call. Yes, you know the type – where your close friend’s next-of-kin calls you to tell you that said close friend passed away an hour and a half ago, while you were oblivious, blissfully enjoying that first morning kretek, feeling the strength of South Texas May sun juxtaposed against the near-record chill in the air.
Those ends are more bitter still when they come as a complete shock. As of two weeks ago, all parties involved were unaware of the growing malignant mass in said close friend’s chest.
Suddenly, the news of this friend having driven himself to the ER early one Saturday morning turns into follow-up information that the chest pain is due to one of two possible forms of cancer, one of which gives him an average of 5 years to live and the other of which only gives him 6 months.
The biopsy revealed the less aggressive of the two, but as of this morning, that didn’t matter. He passed on anyway, having stopped breathing at some point before 7.45am, when he was pronounced dead.
This friend was my partner’s best friend, a friendship of 27 years that budded via ham radio and bloomed from there, albeit in an awkward and unconventional way, given the personalities involved. This friend was the type of guy who finally got a driver’s license at 28, had sex merely one time before he was 35, wore Coke-bottle glasses, and walked into the living room in stocking feet, sipping on a glass of milk, listening to Metallica. This was a guy who, upon finding out I liked to download music, scoured every Newsgroup (remember Usenet, circa 1999?), nabbed everything he could find, and painstakingly put all the pieces together, no questions asked. All it took was a request from my partner, who at that time was my boyfriend of maybe 2 months, and this friend could see that he (my partner) was smitten (with me, as I was with him). Not ever having been in the same position himself, this friend got right on my partner’s request without skipping a beat.
This friend also came to our wedding, from over 900 miles away, by himself, dressing up in Halloween costume and everything, and despite coming alone and not socializing easily with strangers, he enjoyed himself. I remember going out to dinner with my new marriage partner, his sister, and this friend the day after the wedding. We shared a conspiratorial meal as “just us kids”, staying out later, because all the parents and relatives were gone. Never mind that I, 32 at the time, was the youngest one in the group.
And I remember his trip last year, in which he took unpaid time off of work and drove 1200 miles to work all night for several days hooking up our complicated office phone system. When it was done, it was pure wizardry, a box with dozens of cords coming out of it like a spider with too many legs, spanning infinity. And it was beautiful – everything was grouped, organized, and properly labeled. It was a work of art and it works flawlessly. He did this pro bono, and without the slightest complaint.
I know that I’ll never get to repay him, or tell him what he meant to us. He’ll never know I’d crushed on him a little, innocently and without manifestation, but a little crush just the same. I hope he does know that he truly meant something to someone, and that people will remember him. His life and his death do matter and they did have impact, more impact than even he, as brilliant as he was, could ever hope to comprehend.
I feel for him, for many reasons that I don’t feel comfortable spilling here, because despite the anonymity of this blog and especially this post, I don’t feel like airing anybody’s dirty laundry, especially at a time like this. Suffice it to say that if he simply gave up this morning, I wouldn’t blame him. He hasn’t had it easy, in any sense of the word, at any point in his life, and it’s possible that he just wanted to be done. I’d grant him that wish and that right. I just hope his passing was (and continues to be) peaceful and that his family and friends can find peace as well.
CBP, you’re already missed, and this is just the beginning. Maybe it’s not just the ends that are bitter; some beginnings are, too.