Anyone who knows me knows I love this place. Every day I wake up and laugh at life and death and earth and everything in it. It is colourful, gives me some joy, alright? For all the infinite gray one sees in the life of a city, I see many vibrant hues. I love this place and can laugh at the rain.
I have always laughed at the unimportant, the half-seen, the true and the real. I laugh because I am happy in a world that could perhaps use more happy, and I am glad to do it. If someone you knew closely dies, someone you treasured dearly and if I knew them too, and from the back row of the church, you hear a stifled snort, followed quickly by a throaty, smoker's hack and laugh, please do not take it personally. I probably saw something shiny. I saw something shiny and it reminded me of not too long ago when I crushed grass in my hands to feel the texture of life between my fingers. Maybe I laughed because your oh-so-important loved one told me a joke some time ago. I am sorry for your loss, maybe, but I am happy they've escaped to see the next beautiful place. Death doesn't scare me as long as there's jokes to tell and songs to sing in the afterlife (granted there is an afterlife, and wouldn't that be the ultimate joke on me).
So it came as something of a complete shock to my system, about two weeks ago, when a close friend of mine exited this fair blue ball of ours, way sooner than he should have. Out of respect for his family I have omitted both his name and the manner of his passing. I think it necessary to point out that I would not have omitted anything if he, you know, had died peacefully in his sleep.
I've had very little experience with death, but as we get older and the sun spins around our skies, I have been constantly aware that the survival rate for everyone drops to zero on a long enough timeline; indeed, this idea has never been far from my thoughts. The longer I am here, with every song I sing, I know that it's one less song I will ever sing. Our lives are all a series of various countdowns: your next day of work is one less that you'll ever have to do. The next time you have sex with your spouse (or your spouse's sister) is one less chance you have to do it. When a person commits suicide they shorten these countdowns permanently. When a person gets struck by a public transit vehicle on their way back to work from lunch, through no fault of their own, their countdowns are gone. When a person is murdered in the street, they've been robbed of opportunities. I have no idea how to deal with this, no experience to draw from, no frame of reference, and it's fucking me up.
Oh, sure, it's not the first death I've ever heard of I suppose. I guess the difference is that this person has had a singularly profound effect on my life, and while never the closest friend, he was indeed a friend whose substance colour my existence in a very positive way. Specifically there are two reasons, which I'll share.
I taught this young man to play Behind Blue Eyes way back in high school. Days earlier he'd played Jeremy by Pearl Jam for the people so that I could display my considerable vocal talents. He was not shy about himself or about anyone else: he knew my singing would elicit favourable response and had devised a way for me to be seen. Knowing that I had no ego to bruise, I guess he thought I'd impress people. What I've learned from this experience is that not only do I have a gift which I should hone and improve, but that it is alright for me to share it with others, so that they can also improve it.
The second reason is a little more difficult for me to relate. We were sitting in the field next to my school. Many other friends had left for class, or video games, or marijuana. I sat smoking. I had just been interviewed on the news for something (it was on a French station and being that I'm bilingual I was the obvious choice). The news person left. My friend asked me, "Was that the strangest thing that's ever happened to you?" I said no, but it was definitely close. The interviewer had asked us questions about teen pregnancy and teen sex. I told my friend that I'd had pre-marital sex many times and it wasn't weird, but talking about it certainly was.
He proceeded to relate a story to me about a party/get-together/social outing that he'd been on, not weeks before, and he'd met a boy--my friend was bisexual, at least at the time--and they'd hit it off. My friend and his new acquaintance had proceeded to make love under the stars, he told me, and it was sweet and good, the touch of flesh, whatever. He went into borderline obscene detail, but he spoke with a sort of vehement love, a passion which I'd never heard before, in anyone. Also I don't think I'd ever heard anyone use the words "make love" before that day, and I don't think I've taken it seriously since.
I grew up around family of an older generation, a family where women were for cleaning and fucking. I grew up in a family where there were kikes and niggers and spics, people who were below us genetically. I was raised in a family where it was taught--strictly--that faggots were godawful sinners, ill-fated deviants. Why, taught my grandfather, did a man have to fuck a man? Obviously he didn't keep his wife in line, or something. Always there were people who were not white-skinned French-Canadians, fucking up our lot, our holy place on this good earth. The racial epithets and ethnic bias didn't really faze me much: even as a little guy I understood that if you bashed in my grandfather's face with a nine-iron, the same grayish goop would ooze out if you did this to someone who was Jewish, or of African descent, a First Nations person. My mother shielded me as much as she could but you can't shield everything.
However I could come up with no such explanation for homosexuality as a child, probably equally because I'd been sexually abused as a child and understood little of it, but perhaps also because these people in my family--who hated without provocation any ethnicity that wasn't their own, any minority--claimed to be good Catholics, as befits anyone of French descent in the part of Canada that I lived. Basically what I'm saying is that while I had no particular bias towards homosexuals I'd always seen them as something of a waste of time, and effort, even into my teen years, until I'd met this young man who's just died.
He told me this unabashed story of his sexual theatrics without any filter, without any toned-down voice for those who may be listening, and without shame or fear of my, or anyone's retribution, and through this, my previous fears and judgments regarding homosexuality were forgotten. I realized that my friend had killed my presuppositions with a simple story of sexual frivolity. When he first started talking I remember thinking, "Whoa, too much information," but by the end of his story he was speaking with love, with joy and the heat of his young age, and what was more, he knew it was his youth speaking, and that his experiences were but one brief page in a tale still being written.
It is exceedingly rare that we meet people of this sort, who speak what's truly in their mind and heart and spirit, without fear of being slandered or abused for it. It's also rare to meet a person who truly wishes to hear about you, and not relate stories about themselves. It's difficult to not use the word "I" when telling stories, but my friend was one of those, and it's a pattern I've attempted to emulate, and fail at daily.
Even though the circumstances of my friend's death are gruesome, he would want to know that I laugh every day, that I still find the same joy in this world irrespective of his passing. Sometimes when I walk I say, where are you little spirit? Are you there? Are you listening? I have things to say today.
He would want to know that while I mourn his passing I do not cry and weep like some sissy, I've done the right thing: I split a bottle of bourbon with a mutual friend and told stories. At the end we broke out the guitars and played songs, but we didn't play the hurtin' songs. We played the fun ones that make you dance. Here I sit while the earth still turns and my friend returns to the ashes from which he was created: soon enough he'll be in my blood. Sure, the world's a little emptier but Jesus Christ is the sunrise beautiful this morning, and I wonder how much my friend has to do with that.