A sad ritual, and a trip to the fort


Today started off a bit strange and sad, as I went with Boris to the gravesite of his friend who died a couple of days ago. The mother and father and a few family members and friends were there, and the whole thing was just heartbreaking to watch. He was clearly, deeply, loved by his family and friends, and his father in particular was inconsolable.  For one thing, he was the only child.  For another, he was so young, only 33. One of the other things that made it even more sad was that his boyfriend of two years was there, but to most of the family they just thought of him as a good friend. Only the mother and his friends knew he was gay, and in this part of the world it is the norm for the families to remain in the dark about it. So the boyfriend could not really be included in a way befitting the partner of someone who has just died. Everyone took turns lighting candles at the head of the grave, just behind the large tombstone. They sat around and shared remembrances (not speaking Serbian, that is what I assume anyway) and crying and consoling each other and arranging the massive pile of flowers on the grave, and after a while we left. I feel so bad for everyone involved, I had even met this friend of Boris’ when he came to New York a couple of years ago, it is such a tragedy to die so young and so suddenly.

After that, Boris and I went for a meal of heavy crepes, then walked around the old Belgrade Fortress, and then for a drink by the water.

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Next fall reminds me a lot of right now


Of course it is true that our current set of preoccupations and the emotions that swirl around them color our perceptions of the world. The mind wants to find and make meaning in things, and draw parallels, and find similarities. The mind needs to make sense of things. So I accept that, especially in the presence of strong feelings, we are attuned to notice some things more than others. That said, it seemed quite an example of life’s synchronicity last night that I should attend the play “Next Fall” with my cousin Josh and friend Michael. They had suggested last week we go see the play, which was getting some good reviews, and I agreed to go, not knowing the first thing about it. Its main themes are about the contradictions of our belief systems and how they help or hinder our relationships and love of each other. But the key plot point that drives the storyline was a jarring reminder of what happened to my friend Andrew: Much of the character interaction is in a hospital after a terrible traffic accident, where the main character is brain dead and they must ultimately decide to remove him from life support. So many of the elements mirrored what Shaan told me a few days ago, that it was chilling. And it is funny how the mind plays tricks while trying to put things in a kind of order. Although I don’t think the play actually specified what type of traffic accident, I definitely thought it was on a bike. Each part of the plot that revolved around the accident, the last things said before we say goodbye, our state of being when we die, the senselessness of it — each of these things took me back to my current emotional state and my thoughts about Andrew and Shaan and old friends. Against these strong emotions the rest of the play, its acting, pacing and contradictions somewhat receded into the background. It was interesting as far as it went, but somehow seemed awkward or off-key. Whether this was due to my current lens or part of a greater objective truth about the quality or art of the piece is a little difficult to tease out at this point. But I left feeling an odd sense of how connected everything can seem, and how important it is for us to find those connections and make some meaning from them.

Collecting some pieces


Today was a day that was pretty much worthless in terms of work. I just couldn’t focus on anything but yesterday’s news about my friend Andrew’s death. I managed a little bit of catharsis by having several conversations with people throughout the day, trying to reconstruct a bit of Andrew in his absence. First, an hour or so conversation with Saan in the morning, talking a bit about the recent past and how we were connected through Andrew. It was nice to talk to him and try to make a little order out of the absurdity of it all.  I may go to Toronto to meet him before he heads back to London, I think it would help us both. Next, I tracked down friends in Europe that got to know Andrew at the same time I did, back in Paris almost 20 years ago. Starting with Sonia, then on to Karin, and finally to Jonathan — we lamented the loss and remembered silly stories about Andrew and all of us together. The recurring theme in each of my three conversations was of people slipping away, out of sight and mind, holding a vague sense that we will look each other up, one day soon. But then that opportunity is gone forever, and it stares us plainly in the face. It makes us sad and a little guilty. It was important to me to tell them how I felt and that I thought of them so often, even if we don’t speak that frequently. How those years were a kind of special foundation for who we all became, and how they gave me the spark of curiosity about the world that follows me to this day. Andrew was there, a part of that, and I am grateful to him for it, and to have called him my friend.

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.