I had a coworker who died a couple of years ago on Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. He was in his mid-thirties. Even before he died, I used to tell stories about him. He was unlike any other person I knew: At the point when anyone else would listen to their instincts to stop, take stock, and back away from a situation, that instinct only spurred him on. If he were driving and hit a cement wall, he would sooner hit the gas and try to drive through it than go into reverse. My friend who also worked with me and I devised a visual joke one day, she printed out sign that read: "Progress Begins Here! It's been ______ days since our last arrest, car wreck or serious injury." Not realizing that we would be resetting the count to zero ridiculously often, roughly every two weeks.
Sometimes after work, the three of us would go over to his apartment and watch a movie, or meet one of a variety of strange, vaguely sinister but altogether vulnerable people from walks of life I never encountered before and haven't since.
In that apartment we watched movies by the half. "Walk of Shame", which was too bad to finish; "Divergent", which was fine the first time around, but the DVD player didn't have a remote so when it inexplicably skipped and had to be restarted none of us could bear watching it again; "That Awkward Moment", also terrible; episodes of the first season of "Orange is the New Black" - but we didn't do much of that because it made him uncomfortable. Oddly enough, "Broad City" went over the best, in a room full of people of different races, different religions, different genders, different sexualities - we were all rolling on the floor, laughing hysterically at the antics of two cute stoner Jewish girls. His apartment was also where he turned to me mid-movie, about a month before he died, and said he'd seen a trailer for "The Grand Budapest Hotel" and thought that it looked like a movie I'd like. I had already seen it in theaters and I did, in fact, like it. I was impressed that he knew my taste at that point and I remember thinking, Okay. Yeah. We're pretty much friends now.
Stories about work and my coworker used to go over really well. I got to share the experience of being in the orbit of someone whose actions belonged in a movie. This crazy guy. This crazy guy who feared no one, who let his instincts determine every move he made. Then, after he died, I told that story, too. I couldn't help it. There was a part of me that knew he probably wouldn't live long - he'd already gone through seven lives by the time I met him - but it didn't change the shock of him disappearing one day.
I still work at the same place. I used his office for a couple of months before I got a promotion this year. They're going to be tearing it down soon, replacing it with something new. Things aren't crazy anymore. I don't tell those stories anymore. I also don't feel the need anymore to tell strangers about this larger than life, generous, infuriating, self-sabotaging, creative, resourceful, generous, kind person who I used to see every day and never will again. I don't think about him much anymore, really; I thought about him so much in the weeks and months after his death that the memories started to feel like carbon copies, like maybe I couldn't trust myself to remember him as he was. But I pass that apartment almost every day and when I do, I send a salute to his memory, hoping that I won't forget.
Thoughts with Alisa
Current writing on pop culture. Also known as my post-graduate school writing motivation.