Today, I received news that a friend of mine from college died. He is a grade above me, but he was on a five-year Master’s course. He was set to graduate this Saturday.
I found out in a message from my sister. Actually, I was asked about it by my sister. I found out from Facebook. I was in the middle of Zara and for a few moments, I couldn’t hold myself up. I considered sitting, but I didn’t want to draw attention to myself so I leaned against a wall, brow furrowed, chest tight. Being eight hours ahead of California means that when I first woke up this morning, RJ was alive. Being thousands of miles away from California means that I had begun a grieving process shared by no one else in this entire city. And you know what I did after that? I kept shopping. I moved from store to store in a daze, then I bought a skirt, then I went to dinner and a movie with my friend. I gossiped and laughed and, in every way, just kept going.
I try not to over-romanticize the dead or the relationship I had to them. RJ was fun, incredibley funny, and always so polite. We partied together frequently my freshman year and occasionally last semester. He always made sure to say hi to me when he was cleaning the tables in my sorority’s dining room (he worked for the chef). I rarely spoke to the other girls in the house, so it was always nice to see him around and say hello, even if all he did was ask how I was and tell me I needed to go out more. He tended to get, well, angry when he drank, especially in the first few years. I know a lot of people who disliked him for it, but I always tried to defend him. He was always kind to me in the big brotherly way that so many Pikes were kind to me.
He was undoubtedly a part of my more debaucherous antics in college, from the frequent no-shirt parties my freshman year to probably too many games of beer pong. I want to say something like “we had a lot of fun then, but I’ll remember you most for inspiring me to be a better person,” but that lie is unfair to us both. What I can say without a doubt is that I always enjoyed myself around RJ. It’s very easy to make me feel uncomfortable, disliked, or ignored, but RJ was always so good at making me feel like at least someone in the room cared that I was there.
I still, honestly, cannot fathom that this actually happened. I tend to be terrible with deaths though. There is no RJ shaped hole in my day or my future. For all I know, I would have graduated/”graduated” and never seen him again. The knowledge that this is not happening because each of us will lead separate yet filfilling lives but because he no longer has the opportunity to do so is difficult to grapple with, especially from this distance. It is moments like this when I almost wish I were still religious. To say “he’s in a better place” or “we’ll meet again one day” and genuinely believe it would make death a lot less painful, but I’m also glad that I don’t try to cheapen a death by convincing myself that, for whatever reason, it’s not that bad or not that permanent. People die and it sucks and they don’t come back and we don’t high-five in heaven. In a case like this, I am comforted by the knowledge that the ripple he made in my life was a positive one and I can only hope that he led a life he enjoyed.
I was just looking for a photo of us to post here and it seems that we haven’t been photographed together in years. The best I’ve got is this one, with RJ in the white tie and hat, flipping the camera off.
It seems somewhat appropriate, in the final week of both of our college experiences, for me to take this chance to remember him as we were when I first met him–inside Pike, well-dressed but not entirely sophisticated, and filled with a verve only felt by the young and recklessly naive. RJ is far from perfect, but he is loved (not was far from perfect or was loved, because I don’t think his death makes him any more perfect or less loved than he was just yesterday) and I will miss him dearly.