A friend of mine died last weekend.
I know that these sorts of issues are like a burlap sack filled with angry cats. I get upset when my words provoke the worst in people, and I’ve found that any talk of religion or God generally does provoke the worst, not the best. But a friend of mine died last weekend, and I don’t understand why.
Andy was among the best people I ever knew. His presence banished murky thoughts during law school; when we were trudging beneath the weight of our textbooks and student debt, he would let loose that brilliant smile and make us all remember where we were going, what we were doing. In the sad silence of the library basement or the front lobby where we’d catch our breath between classes, he and his California charm would remind us that there are some genuinely good people in this world.
That’s the thing — he was just genuinely good. He had no anger, no fear, no backstabbing thoughts in such a backstabbing profession. Andy was a Good Person. If something were going to happen to someone, it should have been someone else. He went to church constantly, thanked God profusely. He’d made T-shirts our first year of law school that had his initials and “2028” to show us his political ambitions. He moved back to California after school and married to a lovely girl. Maybe five seconds after they got married, he found out that he had aggressive cancer. Stage IV. Ten percent chance of survival.
“It’s a ten percent chance, but it’s Andy,” I said to my best friend.
“Yeah, it’s Andy,” she said. We took comfort in that. It’s Andy. Nothing bad can happen to Andy.
It’s always the people you love who are supposed to be among the few who survive, who back-flip onto the stage from behind the curtain and bow before the screaming crowd. They are the outliers. You know them, they are dear to you; therefore, they are safe.
Next thing I knew, I received a text. “If you have something to say to him, now is the time.”
I hadn’t sent a card. I hadn’t called. In such a short amount of time, he’d gone from “Andy is Happily Married and Living in San Diego” to “Andy is Dying an Agonizing Death.” I’d only texted, to which I hadn’t received a response. I’d been too scared to hear confirmation of what I knew was happening. After receiving that text I tried again, asking if he could video chat with me.
His friend or his sister, I’m not sure which, responded almost immediately — a video chat could happen, but Andy wasn’t responsive. He could hear, but he couldn’t speak.
He’d been fine. He’d just gotten married.
I was at work, but I called him anyway. His hospital room was occupied by his friend/sister, another friend/relative, and his wife. Andy was listless, some sort of tube in his mouth that snaked down his throat. He didn’t look at the camera, but I could see his goddamn eyebrows moving in response to my words. He always had Charlie Chaplin eyebrows, so expressive. Even hours before his death, he was Charlie Chaplin.
I didn’t know what to say. What I’d thought was going to be a “how the hell are you” call turned into a faltering final goodbye. I told him I didn’t know what to say, that I should know what to say, but I had nothing. I told him I loved him. I apologized for being a terrible friend, for not talking to him earlier. I told him he had to get better so he could visit the East Coast again. I trailed off, not knowing how to continue.
You’re dying, I thought, staring at his ravaged face. You’re not supposed to be dying.
I spoke with his wife then. I told her I didn’t know what to do or what to say. I felt like a character in a sham soap opera. How could this be happening?
“Just tell him you love him. Go to your loved ones and hug them, because you never know when it’ll be the last time.” She was looking only at him. “I’m going to kiss him all over his face, and I’m going to hug him and not let go.”
I’ve been wrapped up in my own bullshit since graduation, especially since the second car accident. I was drowning and forgot that above the water the world continues on — and the people I love, it takes them. His suffering was so much more than my own, so much realer and more profound, but I was too self-involved to see it.
I didn’t realize he would die so soon after I spoke with him. Looking at his face, I knew it was going to happen; I just didn’t know how quickly. Not more than three hours later, he passed away.
He was my first friend in law school. He’d just gotten married. I can’t wrap my mind around that. He had just gotten married. His young wife is now a widow, and they’d done everything right. He was a Good Person. He went to church. He volunteered. He thanked God and believed wholeheartedly in his religion. He ate right. He never gossiped. He never belittled anyone else. He was only kind. He had plans to run for office. And he still died a horrible death that nobody deserves. His body betrayed him.
That is the eternal question. Why do we live the way we do? Why do we die in horrific ways? My father recently called to tell me that my second cousin got out of his car, slipped on the ice, hit his head, knocked himself out, and froze to death.
Froze to death. Alone. Mid-fifties. What is the point of that?
Andy was one of the best people I ever knew, and now he won’t have skinny little kids running around like miniature beams of sunshine. He won’t run for president in 2028.
I loved him. I failed him.
I’m still voting for him in 2028.