Gone in an instant


I sit here writing this in a bit of a shock. A longtime friend of mine is dead. He died in one of those silly, could happen to anyone, sort of ways. He and his partner Shaan were riding bikes home from the pub in London. They bumped into each other, and Andrew fell and hit his head on the curb. And he died. It happened three weeks ago, about a week after we had last spoken.

I first met Andrew back in Paris, in the office of an architect who I was working for briefly. Andrew had, similar to me, moved to Paris to look for work as an architect. I was living in a tiny apartment near the Bastille, and I couldn’t afford it. Andrew was looking for a place to live, and we became roommates. Later we would move into a larger apartment in the hills of Montmartre, sharing with our friend Karin. There were so many nights we hit the town, played around, danced, got drunk and then stumbled home on foot, back up the rue St Denis, past all the whores and hush of late night/early morning Paris. It would take us an hour or two to make the walk, but it had a kind of glorious quality to it, and we shared many confidences along the way.

About the time I was leaving Paris, Andrew was teaching at the Bauhaus and moving into film production. Andrew was Canadian and moved back to Toronto not long after that and we lost touch with each other.  I saw him once or twice in the next few years, briefly running into him in Toronto, where I was visiting a mutual friend. I think that must have been 1999 or so. It is funny how the years can pass and how easy it is to lose touch with people, especially if you are as mobile as we were.

That was nearly the end of our association, not out of any ill will, just time and distance and circumstances having made us ever more invisible to each other, out of sight and out of mind. Years passed.

And then, for no good reason I can think of, I had an urge to reconnect with Andrew in early January, 2008. I had been reading an article about that very architect in whose office we had met, and my curiosity was piqued. This being the age of facebook, it was a cinch to do a search and voila. There was a profile, not showing much info, but I had a feeling it was Andrew and sent him a message.

We reconnected over Skype, and had several video chats, getting caught up on each other’s lives. The years that had passed seemed to bring us much closer together, and to have given us a greater connection and affinity than we had in the past. We talked about flying to see each other in person one day soon. It was always one day soon. Perhaps I would fly to Toronto, or later to London where Andrew moved with his partner. Perhaps he would come to visit me in Mexico, or later New York. We continued to video conference and chat often, and even though we hadn’t been in the same place physically in many years, I counted Andrew as a good friend. I knew this would be the year we saw each other.

I hadn’t spoken to Andrew in about 3 or 4 weeks, and I had only noticed that he hadn’t been on Skype. And with a lot of work on my plate recently, I hadn’t really thought much of it.

And then a few hours ago, I see that I received a chat message from Andrew, except that it wasn’t from Andrew. It was from Shaan, his partner. He said, “Do you know what has happened? Has anyone contacted you?” I had a slight sense of dread as I answered the call. I listened dumbstruck as Shaan recounted to me how Andrew had died in his arms. I felt kind of sick and confused. I was completely befuddled and had no idea what to say.

I don’t know Shaan except for the occasional hello when he would pass behind Andrew’s camera while we were chatting. I didn’t know what to say at all, or how to say it to him. I had only spoken a handful of words with him, and all of them over the internet. I felt really inadequate and bumbling. I hastily wrote down his contact info and apologized for not being able to talk. I thanked him for telling me and hung up the phone.

And for the past few hours I have been in a kind of sad daze. I find it hard to believe I will never speak to my friend ever again. I want to know so much more, wish I had been able to share in his memorial. I have sent messages to some old friends in Paris from that time. I feel the greatest need to talk it over with them. I feel like I need to get to know Shaan as well and to try to come to terms with this. I can only imagine the hell he must be going through, picking through all the pieces of their shared life.

It is funny that one of the things that Andrew and I spoke of often since reconnecting was about the fragility of life, and how it could all be gone the next moment. He was interested in my mid life crisis and traveling of the past few years and was very sympathetic and encouraging. I tried to offer support for some of the professional frustrations he was encountering in London. And even if we didn’t speak every day, it was nice to know that I had a friend in Andrew, and that he was out there somewhere. I’m really going to miss that feeling.


  1. Holly says:

    I am so, so sorry you are going through this. I lost a friend very unexpectedly several years ago, but I was able to attend her funeral and gain some closure. I still miss her. I hope you can find a way to connect with other friends and get through this. It sounds trite, but you will be in my thoughts.

  2. Ed Sinclair says:

    Thanks for posting this Stephen. You don’t know me either but I suppose we had Andrew in common. He was a friend to many people and with friends from all over the world. I knew Andrew first in Toronto, after the time you and he hung out. He and I were both into film-making and we would often talk about working together. I decided about four years ago to move to the UK and I did a year later. Andrew and I lost touch, as people do who suddenly find themselves separated by much distance. Facebook was a new thing to me and I was adding people a bit at a time. It was only this past year that Andrew and I reconnected and of course promises of “I’ll come see you in Wales / I’ll come see you in London” flew back and forth between our messages. Even a week before the accident he sent me a sweet message of reaffirmation that we should see each other more often as we now live in the same time zone. That message had and still has a big significance for me, as you mention the fragility of life and all that. It reminds us all that we must embrace our friends and never lose touch with the ones who mean the most to us. I miss Andrew now and still can’t believe he’s gone. The world is a bit less fabulous without him.