October 20th, 2014
W., on October 3rd you broke my heart. On October 3rd I learned the impossible and shattering fact that your physical presence had left us all the night before. All I heard- braced for some kind of news I knew I didn’t want, in my cross-legged position on the sidewalk in front of an LA health food store- was that you had died in a motorcycle accident the night before, only four hours after you and I had parted ways with a hug, a cell-phone photo, and a promise to meet up in a few days during CicLAvia.
With one hand on my heart, crying hysterically, passersby’s eyes prying to understand the nature of my ailment, I politely told the newsbearer, M., on the phone I had to go as I ended the call, wailing as tears shot unnaturally from my face. I sat there for maybe an hour, unable to do anything but that, save call my mother in search of some kind of grounding for the spinning that my world was doing. I didn’t feel an ounce of calming until my mother burst into tears along with me and admitted there was nothing she could say that would make it better. The amount of tears and disbelief is re-created here as I try to type this paragraph, more than two weeks later.
October 3rd and beyond, 2014
W., I’m unable to recount all the time you and I have spent together in the last eleven years. I’m unable to recount all the expectations I had for having you in my life- a lifelong friend I knew I’d always have, no doubts about that- even as our temperaments and geography brought us sometimes closer together and sometimes farther apart. All I’m trying to remember right now is the time we spent together on your last day alive- the night of Wednesday, October 1st and the morning and day of Thursday, October 2nd, 2014. We spent seventeen of your last twenty-four hours alive together- some of them sleeping, some of them waking- all of them mysterious and precious to me now, an inexplicable gift sealing our friendship.
Even after we had hardly talked for the last three years, I was so happy to be able to be in Southern California for your 36th birthday dinner, on Wednesday. I had been bothering you by phone, email and text for at least a month beforehand, making sure you were free to see me and even planning a get-together I could join for that night. Looking back, it’s funny to me how adamant I was about seeing you. I only knew through sporadic phone calls what kinds of turns your life had taken in those three years, but the heart connection that was guiding me to be with you for your birthday had no concerns about that. You ended up sending out an email the day before your birthday, still now in my email inbox, indicating where and when we were all to meet you for dinner.
I left Pasadena that night at 5:30pm, heading towards West Covina to join you and I didn’t know whom else for food at One World Vegan. I gave myself more than 2 hours to get there. I had texted AND called you that day to see if you were free before dinner, so that maybe we could hang out before. But you didn’t get back to me. You had set the dinner time for 7:40pm- why? I thought it was strange.
The traffic was hellish. I was on the 210 freeway for an hour in 5mph traffic due to an accident further down the road before my phone battery died and I had to get off in some urban-sprawl hell in I don’t know what neighborhood to try to find an outlet to charge my phone so I could get further directions and find you and your friends. I went to several stores trying to find an outlet- who knew everyone hides the outlets these days?? After almost 40 minutes searching, I finally found an outlet in the kitchen remodel area of a Home Depot (on a powerstrip for the consultants’ computers.) I wrote down the directions I had further to take and then made my way out of the store. I now had only half an hour left to get to you.
There was a beautiful bouquet of flowers for $9.95, originally $19.95, by the exit of the Home Depot. I held the flowers in my arms for a few seconds, almost turned around to the cashier to buy them for you. Then I realized that I am the one who likes flowers. I imagined you would probably not be thrilled by conventionally-grown flowers wrapped in plastic- not a man who spends so much of his life energy making ecologically conscious choices and helping others to make those choices. I figured driving my car would be enough to get a raised eyebrow from you- so I put the flowers back in the bucket of water and continued on my way.
It was all I could muster to not walk into the restaurant with a frown after the traffic. When I approached the table and gave you a hug, your friend moved over so I could sit right next to you.
“Here- sit next to the Birthday Boy!”
“Thank you,” I gratefully accepted the seat next to you.
You didn’t give me a raised eyebrow about driving. We ordered appetizers and main entrees as more people arrived to the table. All ten of us were talking amongst ourselves during the meal, and piles and piles of food kept coming out- how much did you order?? You opined that we wouldn’t be able to eat it all, but a few latecomers helped and we did it. Not a piece of tofu, broccoli nor potato was left.
You and some of the dinner guests who work at your company were joking about the “waiting to the last minute” that happened in your move to your company’s new (and former) location- that you had just wrapped up the move that day. Now I knew why you hadn’t replied to me about spending some time before dinner. You and M. B., a fellow Regen resident and co-owner of one of the Regen houses with you were joking about how he had recently “kicked out” all the Regen residents from your shared house, because he wanted to live there only with his girlfriend. We talked about how he and his girlfriend had known each other for many years- since the 80’s?- but had just gotten reconnected a few years ago, after having other partners and families.
I insisted we play a “game” of trying to name every county in California because I was convinced I could bring the Northern California pieces to the puzzle. Even though some of your friends (and maybe you) seemed less than thrilled about playing a county-naming game, I kept it going- because I’m socially awkward. When we ran out of counties, you pulled up a list from online and read off the counties we had missed. I forget now which ones they were.
When I asked if anyone from when I lived at Regen was still there, your mom and M.B. and you described for me the process of asking Regen member O., who moved in either during my time there or shortly afterwards, to move out. I was impressed with how accommodating the community had tried to be during what sounded like a very uncomfortable time.
Then, I suggested we go around the table and state what we appreciate about you- it was, after all, your birthday! Your friends admired so much about you, but I can’t remember what we all said. I told you I appreciated how much you bring people together. I didn’t get to finish what I wanted to say, because in the middle of my sharing the birthday song came on the restaurant sound system and they came out with a cupcake for you in addition to the two pieces of vegan peanut butter chocolate cake you ordered.
Your most-recent-former-partner, M. W., who I hadn’t yet met, came bearing a chocolate birthday cake she made for you. It looked delicious, but the restaurant wouldn’t let us eat it there. Your attorney friend from when the co-op was raided in 2003 came bearing funny clothes for you to wear at Burning Man and a card with an elaborate (semi-fictional) story about your generosity of LED lights to others and how it saved the world.
At one point, you turned to me, “Hey, I was counting the other day, and more than 300 people have lived at Regen at one point or another!”
“Holy shit, that’s a lot of people, W.! I’m one of them,” I smiled.
Your attorney friend joked that maybe this meant that you had not succeeded in keeping 300 people around- that they were all sent on their way by your personal failings. We laughed. Some of us wanted to split the bill for dinner, but your attorney friend refused to let anyone else pay.
When we were leaving, I awkwardly avoided hugs with your friend and our former housemate A. S. and your former partner M. W. because I was feeling overly-tired and just wanted to leave. I followed you and your mom in her new electric Volt to the freeway and then I passed you and made my own way to your house, but I stopped a few houses short because it had been more than three years since I visited you there and I forgot how far down the street your house was. I pulled over so you and your mom could pass and show me where to go, but you stopped next to me like I might want to talk and I (again: overly-tired) impatiently waved you on to go forward so I could follow.
After your mom dropped you off and continued on to your office to spend the night, we walked across the street together.
“So, do you enjoy tea-bagging?” You asked.
Rolling my eyes, I answered, “Yes, I like tea. Not so much tea-bagging.”
Probably thinking I didn’t get your joke, you continued, “I’ve been tea-bagging quite a bit in San Francisco lately. It’s really nice.”
Rolling my eyes again, I said, “Don’t be dirty, Sanchez,” in reference to the short film “Billy’s Dad is a Fudge Packer,” which we both loved when it was at Outfest 9 or 10 years ago.
“So do you want some tea?” You asked, apparently serious then, but not responding to my joke.
“I think just water will be fine, thanks.”
When we came into the house, three of your young housemates in the co-op were hanging out and talking. You introduced me as a resident of the coop from 11 years ago and we cut into the cake M. made for you. You had a bite and I took a small piece but could only eat a few bites because we had already had cake at the restaurant. One of the housemates handed you a card from the house, which told you to look in the fridge for your birthday gift. It was a half-gallon of your favorite soymilk, which apparently had been hard to find recently. The carton read “Will’s” across the side. You excitedly opened it and poured yourself a glass. Your housemates started asking about what it was like to be in the co-op when the raid happened in 2003. We talked for a few minutes, you asked me if I was included in the lawsuit against the agencies that raided the house, and I reminded you I wasn’t.
You brought up C., our housemate who died while visiting the Hesperia hot springs in 2004. I had already moved out of the co-op by then, but she lived in the co-op the summer and fall I lived there. I only have vague memories of her now.
One of the young housemates seemed surprised someone could die of hypothermia at a hot springs. You explained about the lack of preparation you witnessed as C. and her boyfriend left that night, about how C. had panicked once the snow started falling and then lost her way from both where the cars were parked and from the hot springs, all while being underdressed and still wet.
I started talking to one of your housemates about something, and then I noticed you weren’t in the kitchen any more. My exhaustion hit me once again, so I left the piece of cake I couldn’t finish in its bowl on the counter and mumbled something to your housemates about usually being more social, before I made my way upstairs to your room. You had already asked me a few times downstairs to give you a few minutes so you could straighten up your room, but I busted in anyway. I was tired! You seemed to really not want me to see the piles of clothes on the floor, scraps of paper on your desk. You wanted me out for a few minutes, so I gave you a hard time about finding a clean towel for me, so I could leave your room and take the shower I really wanted before crashing.
We walked across the hallway to the bathroom, where you offered me a towel hanging there.
“I don’t want that towel because you probably dried your butt on it and I put my face on the towel, W.! Find me a clean one!” I was giving you a hard time, but I was serious. I like clean towels.
“No, this one is clean! I don’t use a clothes dryer.”
“Exactly. It’s supposed to be crunchy when you air-dry it. This one is not crunchy, so you must have used it!”
“No, when it hangs in the bathroom for a long time with the steam, it isn’t crunchy anymore.”
I sniffed the towel, which smelled like dirty laundry to me. “Not buying it.”
So you found one in your clean clothes pile in your room and it smelled to me to have the same not-so-clean scent as your other towel. So I gave you a jab about not using soap when you wash things. I’ve seen you just rinse dishes and not use soap when you put them back on the dish rack. I hope you knew that- while I was making a serious critique about you and not using (much) soap- I love you anyway.
So I abandoned your room with the questionable towel for the shower. Before I left, I mentioned I had my sleeping bag with me because I wanted to be clear I was sleeping on the floor- I didn’t want to impose so much as we used to “impose” on each other, always sleeping in each other’s beds in our 20’s- now that we’re in our 30’s, we need to have clearer boundaries, right? When I returned from the shower, your room was all picked up and you were climbing the stairs to your room with a very thick inflatable camping mattress over your shoulder. You put a pillow out for me.
“Wow, your room is totally picked up!”
“Well, your place is always spotless when I come to visit…”
“I guess so.”
I pointed out a few things in your room, you described them for me. A large framed photograph of your niece on the wall, your love for her so clear. A painting a friend of yours’ boyfriend gave to you when you admired his work. A photograph of Paris.
“I was in France for a month this summer, W.! Such a great time. Especially Paris. Have you been?”
“Oui! Parlez-vous Français?”
“Do you speak French?? I didn’t even know that. I’ve never studied French, but after a month there and knowing Spanish, I can understand it a bit.”
“Oui? Combien de temps etais-tu en France?”
“Temps?” I said out loud, trying to decide whether it meant “time” or “weather.”
You made a motion to help me understand your question, but I put up my hand.
“How much time? I was there for a month! I can understand you, I just can’t answer you. I don’t know how to say ‘month’ in French.”
“Pretty good!” You offered a compliment. “Check this out,” you then said, handing me first one and then a second large orange-ish cardboard piece, covered in geometrical patterns showing the development of the geodesic dome idea in 3D, with some LED bulbs coming through the cardboard for I’m not sure what informative purpose. “A high school science project. I won an award. It turns out you are more likely to win awards when your project has blinking lights.”
“This is really cool, W. It took me a few more years to get interested in the geodesic dome idea… and I never made an award-winning project about them.” I smiled to you. “I’m impressed you still have it!” I gave you the project back.
I turned my attention to your shoe rack, bearing several pairs of Nike fashion shoes, all in different colors. Since when did you wear clothes with urban street cred? “W., you have a bunch of cool shoes. You aren’t supposed to have cool shoes!”
“Ha, I know!” You accepted my jab.
“Seriously! I thought you just wore your running shoes to everything,” I added.
“Well, I still wear them a lot,” you agreed. “Hey- this is cool, too,” you said, putting down the science project and picking up a small remote control behind us. You turned off the main light in the room and started to show me the LED strip above your bedroom door as we both sat on your bed. I asked you if you had plans in the morning, if you could take some time away from work to hike. You said you could probably hike. We continued to sit there in the dark room, admiring the colors of the LED strip. I shared my preference for the peach or the violet, for beauty purposes. You shared your preference for the red, since it was gentler on the eyes at night, preserving night vision.
I made my way down to the air mattress. We exchanged a few words before I drifted off to sleep for a few moments mid-conversation, then awoke with a start back to wakefulness. The red light was still on.
“Sweet dreams, W.,” I said, signaling that I was just about out.
“Sweet dreams,” you answered.
I awoke two or three times in the night, noticed the red light was still on. It probably kept me awake, in fact. But I didn’t know how to turn it off. I fell right back to sleep, woke up fully once to go pee. Around 7am in the morning, we seemed to both awaken at the same time, stretching in our spots- you on the bed, me on the bed you set up for me. I complained about my back pain as I began the exercises my chiropractor recently prescribed. You asked if it would be better to lay on the bed. I said I didn’t know. I crawled over to your bed and into the spot next to you that you had left empty as you moved closer to the wall. As I stretched out and noticed the sinews and bones of your shoulder, I said,
“W., you’re so skinny!”
“Don’t make fun of me,” you said, sounding earnest and sad to me.
Feeling regret because of the tenderness of your request, I added “I’m sorry. I just worry that you don’t get enough nutrition.”
Your phone pinged and you answered it, your voice still sounding like you had just woken up. It was an engineer asking about the details of some job for your company. You hung up with him, called an employee, and asked for the details the engineer had been requesting. You asked the employee to call the engineer and clear things up.
“Remember what a pain in the ass M.R. and S.D. were?” You asked me.
“Well, I remember M.R. gave you a hard time,” I admitted, frustrated that, even 11 years later, you still bring up the guy in our co-op I was romantically entangled with and who ended up being one of the most difficult housemates you had ever had. “But I didn’t know S.D. was so bad.”
“Oh- she was the worst. She was the most disruptive, inflexible person to ever come through Regen.”
“Seriously?? Wow. I had no idea,” I said, feeling even worse, because I was pretty sure S.D., a fellow graduate of Pomona College, heard about Regen from me.
I looked at you for a few moments, wondered to myself if we would ever be physically close again. I wondered if the maturation people undergo can sometimes bring two people who have grown apart back into compatibility. I didn’t wonder long before you decisively shifted the energy.
“Let’s go hike,” you said, eyes still on the ceiling. “Bonelli?”
Relieved at your clarity and desire to go outside, I still gave some pushback, “I don’t like Bonelli. Too flat, too close to the freeway. Claremont wilderness?”
You humored me, agreed to what I wanted. You left the bedroom and I heard you downstairs, water flowing and dishes clanking, as you cleaned the dishes your housemates had left in the sink overnight, and maybe the bowl I had also left.
I dug around in my bag looking for athletic clothes. I laid them out and started to change quickly, in case you came back into your room. You came in when I was only wearing my shorts and sports bra, facing the windows away from the door.
“Oh, sorry,” you said.
“Not at all,” I said, “It’s just a sports bra.”
When we both went downstairs, I grabbed my leftovers box in your fridge from earlier the prior day and I was ready to leave without eating breakfast, since it takes me a while to get hungry. But you poured yourself a bowl of plain oats and soymilk. I was almost irritated when I sat in a dining room chair to watch you eat, until I realized that any and all eating on your part was something I supported. When you added a big piece of M.W.’s cake to your bowl, I smiled. You ate quickly and washed your bowl and we left.
I drove my car and you drove yours to Pomona College, where I attended school until the fall of 2002, six months before I met you. At Pomona we dropped off my car and you would later drop me there at 10am when I would be meeting with my friend who was my boss at my work-study job when I was in college. We drove in your new electric RAV4* (Is that what it was? You spent several minutes telling me about the new generation of electric cars you and your mom and some other friends of yours were driving.) When we approached the parking area for the Claremont Wilderness, you told me they had started charging to park there. We commiserated in our displeasure about this fact.
“Not that I don’t believe in levying fees for driving a car,” you admitted.
“But still, it sucks. Maybe it will cause more people to ride bikes up here, anyway.”
Before we even parked we noticed there were signs saying the wilderness area was closed due to extreme fire danger. I was sad about this, because there was a certain trail I wanted to walk, with ample shade to lessen the intensity of the heat-wave that was still lingering in Southern California. You and I flowed together, as we always did, and just parked anyway and determined to go walk to the main entrance, just to make sure- to have a “look-see,” as I said. You paid for the parking permit at the machine before I even noticed what you were doing.
Cars that had driven up to the parking lot at the trailhead of the Claremont Wilderness were driving back past us as we walked towards the trailhead, motioning to us that the trail was closed.
“We’re just taking a look-see,” I stated to the drivers with windows down.
We walked all the way up to the closed gate, noticed that we could easily walk into a side gate where some sort of construction was happening and around this gate, and stopped for a few moments to think about it. We decided we would not go against the “extreme fire danger” warnings and instead do as others were doing, and walk on the Thompson Creek trail that runs along the base of the Claremont Wilderness.
The Thompson Creek trail is largely sun-exposed and paved in asphalt, for bicyclists. You talked about a bike ride a housemate of yours regularly does, from Regen in Pomona all the way past this place and up to Baldy Village in the mountains. I was impressed. I asked you if you were going to be at CicLAvia the coming weekend, in 3 days. You said you would be there, and we agreed to find each other.
Somehow vegan food came up, and I mentioned to you that the monasteries I attend serve vegan food.
“Why vegan food?” You asked.
“Well, this particular Buddhist community interprets the precept of non-harming to imply a vegan diet.”
“But Buddhist vegan food is different than just vegan food.”
“Oh?” I asked, curious what you knew about Buddhist cuisine.
“Buddhists intentionally don’t make their food very exciting.”
“Not necessarily,” I responded, but then with deeper reflection, I added, “Well, Buddhist monastics vow to not seek out ‘fine foods,’ not to sleep on ‘luxurious beds,’ but lay Buddhists don’t have such strict requirements.”
We walked in silence for a while. Then you monologued about the idiocy of the giant concrete-covered waterway alongside us, how its approximately 8 feet of depth will only ever see maybe 2 feet of water in a storm, because we are so close to the mountains that the runoff at this point is never very dramatic.
I pointed out that I’ve seen the LA River, which is also concretized, flowing at near-capacity- and it has an enormous capacity.
“Yes, but that’s after receiving the influx of water from so many waterways like this one.”
“Oh, I guess, huh…” You seemed to know about everything.
“What time is it? I need to be back at Pomona College at 10.”
You looked at your phone, “Almost 9.”
In synchronicity we both said something about turning back when we reach a nice place to do so- somewhere with shade or a drinking fountain.
You brought up the house that you own with M.B., the one who wants to only live with his girlfriend.
“He wants me to sell my part of the house to him,” you said.
“So, are you going to?”
“Well, it wouldn’t be a smart choice, investment-wise. I mean, there’s nothing else I could invest in right now that will make the 12% interest that house is making. So, no, I’m not going to sell my part.”
Surprised, I queried, “Well… wouldn’t it be uncomfortable owning a house with someone who is mad that you didn’t sell your half to him when he wanted you to?”
In your usual nonchalance, you shrugged and said, “We’re working it out.”
I moved the conversation in a new direction, “W., I don’t think I could ever live in Southern California again. The traffic is depressing for me! And I love the forest, I really feel more at home in it.”
“So, where do you want to be?”
“I love Northern California, but I actually found a community this summer that I want to join in New Hampshire.”
“What’s so great about that community?”
“Well, have I ever told you I want to start a Buddhist or mindfulness-based boarding school? Their community is a great place to start that project.”
I wasn’t sure how to answer your question. “Because… that’s the tradition I practice? Because the whole idea would be to have the educational environment infused with the mindfulness practice, just like if the students were visiting a monastery. Except it would be a school.”
“But couldn’t it just as easily be Jesuit, or something? I mean, they are also contemplative, right?”
We had reached a grassy area with ample tree shade, and I pointed to it and suggested we stretch. As we did so, you got another business call. You were clear to the caller that you were hiking and would be back in the office in an hour or so. As you were talking to the person, I noticed a woman walking an Australian shepherd that looks like one of my favorite dogs in the world, so I went and asked her if I could pet her dog. She agreed ambivalently, stating the dog generally takes a long time to warm up to others.
Before long, the dog was leaning into me, licking my hand. You were off the call and looking at me across the small lawn, so I began to stop petting the dog. The woman then began to confide in me that she was on her last chemo treatment for cancer, that she had surgery for it scheduled in a few weeks. I tried to commiserate, commenting that it sounded scary to be facing cancer treatments. She waved that notion away, stating that the circumstances weren’t that bad, that it would all work out, she was just tired of doing the treatments and wanted to return to her normal life. And then she continued to talk about the treatments, in spite of my multiple cues that I was drifting back to where you were.
Several minutes later, when I finally got myself extricated from the conversation, I walked over to you and apologized. We began to walk back towards the car, on the dirt and gravel path along the concretized waterway. The woman with the dog was walking the same way, only about 30 feet away, separated by greenery from us and walking at a slower pace.
“She started telling me about her cancer treatments,” I whispered to you, “I couldn’t walk away. Sorry.”
“Do you know her?”
“No. I think she just wanted to talk.”
We walk in silence for a while.
“You know, my dad accomplished a lot as an activist,” you said.
“You might not know about it, but he didn’t only do things related to air quality and electric vehicles.”
“Yeah?” I wasn’t sure why you were talking about your dad. We had never really talked much about your dad, who had passed away during the nearly 3 years since I moved away from Southern California and out of regular contact with you. Losing your dad was one part of your life I didn’t hear much about before, and my cultural upbringing to not pry into painful areas prevented me from ever enquiring about this loss, or about your breakup with M., or about the botched buy-out of your first solar company. These were areas that I knew, when you first shared each of them with me, carried pain. I didn’t want to bring them up, if you didn’t.
You continued, “Yeah. My dad led a campaign to improve the water quality on the Orange County coast. The water was always testing as unsafe for swimming, and the beaches would be closed. At the time, the Orange County sewage was only treated to a certain degree- and there were several more stages to which it could have been treated, but the local government wouldn’t do that. They kept saying-kept getting their paid-off ‘scientists’ to say- it was from dog feces on the beach or something stupid like that.”
Feeling the urgency with which you wanted to share about your dad, I encouraged, “So what did he do?”
“Well, he got some half-baked ‘scientists’ of his own and a few other concerned citizens to get together and bring the facts to the public and pressured the local government to change their practices, to treat the sewage fully. And they won. My dad got the government to fix the problem, and there hasn’t be a beach closure for years since then.”
“That’s super cool, W. I didn’t know your dad did things like that. So, was he basically a full-time activist? I mean, with all the EV stuff he did…”
“Basically. I mean, he really knew what he was doing. My dad didn’t let the government or the corporation off the hook. He knew how to create tension, how to put them on the defensive. That’s what it takes to be an effective activist, that’s what I learned from my dad. You need to destabilize the opponent-“
“Really? Why?” My non-violent communication and Buddhist roots were confused by what you were saying.
“So they have to prove themselves. Otherwise, it’s just more lies and half-assed green-washing gestures. When they’re on the defensive, they have to get more specific about their commitments to the technology. For example, my dad tore apart their plans for the Volt.”
“Really?? I don’t get why he would do that.”
“So they would have to make a public commitment to the cars.”
I started to understand, “So, instead of creating the EV-1 only to destroy them a few years later, now they have to show that they created the Volts for good- as a real effort at making a viable, serious commitment to the electric vehicle market?”
You nodded, “Right.”
“That makes sense.”
“I mean, he got the chairman* of GM to talk to him- who talks to some guy hanging out every weekend with a bullhorn and signs? It may have not looked very sophisticated, but he got to them. My dad and the chairman of GM literally had a face-to-face debate*.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“And then, when GM was publicizing the Volts*, they were using copy from a website that my dad and I wrote years ago about what features the electric cars should have… even though we were pretty sure they weren’t actually putting those features into the cars!”
“Yeah. It was practically word-for-word what we had written, in places.”
“It’s like they got free consulting from you!”
“Yeah, except we were pretty sure they weren’t actually delivering what they advertised. So my dad criticized the Volt mercilessly.”
“But doesn’t your mom drive one?”
“Yeah, well, it’s still a good car. The criticism was political, like I said. My dad was also a big supporter of the preservation of the Ballona Wetlands. Of course it was developed anyway, but my dad knew it was going to be a disaster.”
We had arrived back at the car.
“Hey, thanks for agreeing to get out and get a workout with me this morning- I know you have plenty to do at work and stuff,” I said.
“Of course. Though it was hardly a workout.”
“I know,” I admitted, surprised you never did try to shame me into a more rigorous workout, feeling really accepted by you even though I only wanted to walk, “but it’s as much of a workout as I’ve been doing these days.”
On the way back to Pomona College, we talked about my friend I was going to be visiting, about how I’d probably also be visiting the organic farm on campus where I used to volunteer when I was in school.
“Hey- where are you going to be next Tuesday?” I asked.
“I don’t know. Maybe San Francisco. Why?”
“I’m going to be at A.’s place in Berkeley. If you’re in the Bay, will you meet us there?”
“And on Sunday you’re going to be at CicLAvia, right?”
“Yeah. Let’s meet up there. If you have time later, come check out our new old office and warehouse.”
“I’d love to, W.!” I wasn’t sure, because I had other plans that afternoon, but I wanted to extend our time visiting and I was feeling happy that we both seemed to have the time and intention to reconnect after a few years of growing apart.
You dropped me off at my car and I changed out of the workout clothes into a sundress for my visit with my friend. After about two hours with my friend walking around Pomona College, checking out the new, lavish art building and the organic farm, catching up with what has been happening in our families, I stopped at the juice bar in the Claremont Village. While waiting outside in the brilliant and penetrating sunlight for my juice I called my friend in LA I was supposed to meet in the afternoon and asked him if we could just reschedule for my next visit to LA, because I didn’t think I would be able to make it in time- and, besides, I’d be having to go east again to Pasadena after that and I would prefer to just visit you at work and then go straight to Pasadena. My friend said that would be fine.
I went back to your house and took a shower. I put on my favorite dress, one that I had been wearing weekly all summer. I texted you from your room, asking if you were available for me to come check out your office and warehouse. I didn’t hear back from you as I loaded my car up with my computer and overnight bag I had left in your room. When I came back into your house, I called you and you answered. We spent a few minutes trying to determine whether I should drive to your office, which was less than a half a mile from your house, or walk. I didn’t want to be in the hot sun any more, so I was going to drive, until I realized you had bikes in the living room. I asked you which bike and helmet were yours.
I put on your helmet and I was about to leave the house on your bike when I realized the rear tire was almost flat. So I gave up the waffling over walking, biking, or driving and just drove my car to your office.
When I got there, my aversion to the sun meant that I took the only parking spot that had shade, which was next to a charger. There was still an empty spot next to my car where someone could reach the charger, but I still felt a little rogue parking a gas car in a charging spot… at S. S. P.
When I came inside, you greeted me warmly and we began to walk around. You showed me the cherry-stained beams throughout the office space. I actually couldn’t recall how the front office space had looked the last time I had visited you there, with my mother, in maybe 2007 (?), but I could tell that you were proud of the new construction and I shared your happiness. You showed me the kitchen, the bathroom (with a shower!), the floor to ceiling storage in the warehouse, full of inventory that you had just, the day before, finished moving from your former office into this one.
We went outside, and you showed me the trailer with a solar-powered wood-chipper and a beautiful mural painted on it. I asked who had painted the trailer, and you said it was one of your employees. I commented how great it is that you welcome your employees’ full spectrum of talents- how some workplaces would never make use of someone’s artistic ability, if it didn’t correlate directly to increased profits. You nodded agreement.
We went back into the office and upstairs, and on the way you pointed out the loft that you had asked an employee to build. Along the way, you had quick exchanges with several employees about things to which I didn’t listen closely. As I remembered from many years ago, you were still the ridgebeam upon which all the other elements- people and otherwise- of your business touched and relied upon.
When we got upstairs, you pointed out a door to one of the two bedrooms you had constructed in your office.
“Why bedrooms, W.?”
“In case someone needs to stay over, like L.”
“Oh, right- your mom sleeps at the office.”
You talk about the ordering of the windows for the upstairs, their weather-proofing keeping the heat of the outside and the warehouse out of the offices. You point out the ample light from the sun-tubes in the roof.
“Sometimes my employees forget we even have lights. I have to suggest they turn a light on if it looks too dark, because we use them so infrequently.”
“That’s such a great design!” I concur.
You stop to show me the problem of the side windows and how they don’t open. You spend about a minute banging with your fist around the frame of the sliding window, checking to see if it will open today. It won’t.
“Can’t you let the installers know they messed up?” I ask. “I mean, they didn’t install them that long ago, right? They should function.”
“Maybe I will,” you shrug again.
We walked past the desk of your fellow homeowner (who wanted to not be a co-home-owner anymore)’s desk and you stopped to point out the photo he had of his girlfriend, from back in the 80’s when they had first met. We went through a doorway into your office, and you sat at your desk. I stood for a few moments before sitting on a nearby chair. I noticed a beautiful photograph of a rainbow over mountains, mounted on a piece of wood.
“Where is this from, W.?”
“My friend T. I met him a few years ago on Grindr, and we’ve had a bunch of adventures since then. We had this amazing trip to Sonora in Mexico. When we got there, there was no one else. The desert was so quiet and beautiful, pristine. When the rangers were locking up for the night, they told us we had the whole park to ourselves.”
“That sounds awesome. I should go there! Where is Sonora?”
“Just south of Arizona.”
“Ah. Did you guys cross from California into Mexico and drive east, or drive to Arizona and south?”
“We crossed in California. I avoid Arizona, if I can… I’m a conscientious objector to the scary states. Like Arizona and Texas,” you joke.
“Well, I think there are some cool pockets even in states like that. So you and T. met on Grindr?” I asked, not entirely sure I knew what it was. I mean, I thought it was just for guys to hook up, not to become adventure buddies.
“Yeah…” you look a little sheepish. “You don’t know Grindr?”
“Kinda, but not exactly.”
“Do you know Tinder?”
“I’ve heard of it.”
“It’s kind of like Tinder, but for guys.”
“So women can’t be on it?”
“Well, I’ve seen a few women on it, but not for longer than a day or two. People must report them.”
“So you guys met there… did you guys have a relationship?”
“No,” you said, concretely.
“I mean, a sexual relationship?”
I believed you.
“We just have a lot in common. We went to Glacier National Park, too.”
“Oh, I want to go there! What state is it in, again?”
“Montana. Well, kind of on the border with Canada.”
“That all sounds awesome.”
“That’s a nice dress,” you complimented.
“Thanks,” I smiled. “It’s my favorite dress this summer.”
“What era is that?”
“I don’t know. I mean, it’s from this year- it’s Patagonia- but it reminds me of the forties.”
You nodded in agreement. “So, there’s this guy sleeping in one of the bedrooms in the office right now,” you offered.
“Yeah? Who is he?”
“He’s the son of some megachurch pastor in San Diego. His parents kicked him out for being gay. I’m just giving him a place to stay.”
“Huh. What’s his last name? I grew up in a megachurch in San Diego… Mike MacIntosh was the pastor.”
“I don’t know. He’s kind of secretive. I don’t know much about him beyond what I already told you.”
“Understandably secretive, I guess. But aren’t you concerned about having a stranger staying in the office?”
Again with your nonchalance, you shrugged.
“Ask him what church his dad pastors,” I coached.
You pulled out your phone and texted. Almost at the same time, we said,
“He’s not going to answer.”
When your phone pinged, you read his answer out loud to me, “Why?”
I rolled my eyes. “Tell him I went to Horizon Christian Fellowship and I’m curious if it’s the church he was raised in.”
You texted the guy again.
When he wrote back, you read me his response, “No.”
“It seems like a weird situation to me, W.”
“I know,” you said, as you got up to enter the neighboring room, where your employee and co-house-owner M. had returned to his desk, a full Styrofoam plate of fried zucchini and ranch sauce sitting next to him.
You gave him some kind of hard time about his food choice.
- turned to me, “So you must be the person who parked in the charging spot?”
“Yep… it was the only shady spot in the lot!”
- said something about it being okay this time.
You offered me some of M.’s zucchini.
“W., you can’t offer other people’s food,” I said, salivating at the sight of the fried zucchini. A few moments later, I reached out and snagged one. You and M. discussed whether the fried zucchini was vegan. You opined the batter probably had eggs in it. I snagged another one, you abstained.
“So, you want to go to lunch?” you asked me. It was after 2pm.
We somehow concluded we’d be going to the Vietnamese place a few blocks from your office.
The three of us sat a while longer and talked about my friends I had just visited in the valley, and how they could use some S.S.P. help- they already had a Leaf and a charger in the garage, but their house needed more weather-proofing. You passed me a flyer from M.’s desk. I perused it. I noticed my friends could benefit from some greywater and energy efficiency lighting help, but what my friends and I had been talking about when I was with them was weatherproofing for their cheap-construction 1950’s house, in order to save on air conditioning and heating use. Of course, they could also go solar.
“Hey, you guys need to offer weatherproofing,” I suggested.
Both you and M. raised your eyebrows at me.
“We offer enough,” M. said. You concurred, stating that other companies can do weatherproofing.
You had M. pull up your past client records to see if my friends’ car charger had been installed by S.S.P. You thought their name sounded familiar, but you didn’t find the record for them.
We took our leave, passing through the kitchen. Your mom came in as you had the refrigerator open and you cut a giant slice of agar agar, held up the package offering me some.
I turned up my nose, “Eck, no thanks. That’s what they grow bacteria on in bio labs, W.”
You popped the whole giant slice in your mouth and began to chew.
“We’re going to go get lunch,” you told your mom. I can’t remember what else we said before heading into the lobby of the office.
You and two of the people in the front office talked about packages that needed to be sent, about whether the repairman was done fixing the toilet in the bathroom. You wanted the door to the warehouse to get weather-stripping on the bottom. Your employee said she would let the repairman know.
We exited the front door, and it is very hot outside. I remarked that I didn’t want to be walking around in the bright sunshine and heat. We were standing next to my car, so I went to open the car door on the passenger side for you.
“Well, how far is it?” I ask, willing to tolerate a minor amount of heat and sun.
“Something like four blocks,” you answered, looking at me to see what I would prefer to do. “We can probably find shady stretches to walk on the way there.”
“Okay, I can do that,” I agreed. I closed the door to my car again.
We began to walk, and only half a block away, walking in the sun, you noticed we had missed a chance to take an alley that was shaded instead of walking on the main street. You offered to backtrack a little bit and walk the shady way. I shook my head, touched at how seriously you were taking my desire to avoid the sun. As we began to cross the train tracks towards downtown Pomona, there was a piece of litter- a small crushed, empty cardboard box with Levitra written across it.
“Ha, looks like someone was getting ready for something…” you insinuated, pointing at the box.
“I don’t know what Levitra is,” I admitted, “but I’m guessing it’s like Viagra?”
“Clever name,” I observed.
As we crossed over to the trendy shops of downtown Pomona, you said something about downtown Pomona not being all that bad.
“What do you mean?” I was mystified. “It’s so cute! I love downtown Pomona. I have ever since we used to walk over here as a community for the artwalks!”
“Yeah, it’s alright. But not very practical.”
“For example, there aren’t any hardware shops. You need to go quite a ways to get to the nearest one.”
“Oh, I see. This place is funky,” I said, pointing to a store with vintage furniture and other odd things out front.
“Yeah, that’s a cool shop,” you answered.
“Is this the Pomona Glasshouse?” I asked as we walked by a storefront I vaguely remembered from years past, a line of Latina young women out front, standing in line and primping themselves, texting.
“Yeah,” you answered.
“There must be a show tonight,” I observed. “But it’s only 3pm, I can’t imagine they’re waiting already to get in?”
We had rounded the corner and were entering the Vietnamese place.
We sat down and the server brought us both large glasses of ice water and a whole pitcher of ice water.
We ordered summer rolls and vegetarian pho to share. I ordered a whole coconut to drink and eat the meat.
When the rolls came out, I excitedly told you I had just learned how to make summer rolls at my friend’s house in San Diego. You shared my excitement. I imagined I would have to make some for you the next time we hung out.
Once I drank all the coconut water and couldn’t scrape any more coconut meat out of the small opening the cook had made, I asked the waiter to cut it open better for me so I could get the rest of the meat.
As he walked away with the coconut, you suggested he might be upset we weren’t ordering more, spending more money. I said I thought we were ordering plenty- the place was so quiet, with only one other table being served.
You admired the simple but efficient air conditioning ducting in the restaurant. I looked up to see what you are pointing out, nodded my head. When the coconut had returned, I scooped several strips of meat into your hand, told you to eat it up. I took secret joy in feeding you some fatty coconut.
When the check arrived, I made a dramatic gesture for the $14 bill. I’d be damned if I wasn’t going to buy you SOME kind of meal in the general vicinity of your birthday. You graciously allowed me the pleasure of buying your day-after-birthday lunch.
“I didn’t get a chance to pay for part of last night’s dinner, so thank you for letting me give something now.”
“Yeah, I wasn’t sure who was going to pay for dinner last night. I wasn’t sure if it would be me, since I invited people together?”
“What?? Of course not!! When it’s your birthday, your friends buy you dinner. Of course.”
“Well, I didn’t know. But it was nice of my friend to buy for everyone.”
“I know! I would have rathered several of us contributed, but she was super generous.”
We left the restaurant, you said goodbye to the waiter.
“I come here a lot,” you explained.
As we walked back by the Glasshouse, there was a tour bus parked in front, and a barricade had been set up across the sidewalk, making a walkway from the bus to the entrance of the venue. Some burly guys were standing near the barricades, a Justin Bieber-looking guy with a sideways baseball cap, little-boy features, a sucker in his mouth, was walking backwards, waving, into the entrance as the group of about 15 young women were yelling at him, holding up signs, “I love you, Jacob!” one girl exclaimed as the guy went behind the glass doors.
We smiled at each other. I stopped in front of a woman texting on her cellphone, probably a mother one of the girls.
“Who is that??” I asked, pointing to the guy.
Without barely looking up from her phone, she answered, “Jacob Whitesides.”
“Never heard of him,” I said to you, as we continued walking, on the street along the perimeter of the tour bus blocking our passage along the sidewalk.
“Me neither,” you answered. “Ils étaient tous des filles.”“Filles?”
I paused… “Girls? Yeah, it does look like his fan-base is mostly girls.”
When we got to the vintage store, you stopped to look at a strange, industrial-looking chair.
“Must be a dentist chair,” you stated.
“No, it’s too big for that,” I opined.
The owner, just a few feet away from us dusting a coffee table, came over.“Yeah, it’s an old dentist’s chair. From the 50’s.”
“Really? I would have guess the 60’s,” you said, motioning to the fabric, “based on the color of the material.”
The store owner pointed out that the motor in the base no longer worked, so that it would really just be for a unique seating choice at that point. We walked into the store and checked out a few of the lamps before leaving.
When we got back to your office, it was almost 4pm. I had plans to meet my friend at 6pm at the latest in Pasadena, so I said goodbye to you. We hugged. I was about to leave, with a reminder that I’d be seeing you on Sunday at CicLAvia, when you stopped me.
“Hey- let’s take a photo,” you suggested, pulling out your iPhone with a cracked screen.
“How does that even work?” I asked.
“Not that great,” you admitted. “It’s old, anyway.”
“Which one is it?” I asked, packing an old iPhone, myself.
“A 4, I think?”
“No way! Is it possible I have a more advanced iPhone than you? I got a pre-owned 4s this summer.”
“Oh- a 4s, that’s right,” you stopped your coworkers and we took a 4-person photo together.
Then you and I took a photo, just the two of us. I pushed my glasses up onto my head and put my arm around you. I am usually the one who suggests photos. I was glad you corrected my oversight.
We said our goodbyes and I got into my car, fiddled with my own phone for directions to my friend’s place in Pasadena, and drove away.
One day later, after dragging through most of the day in a haze of grief, I impatiently awaited as M.- your employee, friend, and co-owner of the house he wished to own outright, the one who had kindly pursued me by text and telephone to make sure I knew what happened before I saw it somewhere impersonal, like on Facebook, forwarded me the photos you had taken of us and of your birthday dinner from your cell phone.
I cherish that photo of the two of us, like it’s a photo of me with the biggest movie star I ever loved, except that it’s a personal cherishing. It’s a snapshot of this day out of time I had with my dear friend, at the delicate and precious time at the end of his life, a time none of us could have known was going to carry that kind of weight. It’s a reminder of this gift I was given to feel our friendship again, to feel the way we flowed through time together, exploring our stream-of-consciousness thoughts and moving through whatever landscape we encountered with curiosity and humor.
I will always love you, W. Thank you for the uncountable gifts of friendship we shared over the last eleven years. I am still reeling from the shock of your death, but I know it will only be a matter of time before I build my own versions of the gifts you shared, build them into my life and my way of facing adversity, of giving open-heartedly to others, of living each day fully and with dedication to my purpose and passion. I am determined to pick up some of the added value you brought into this world as my duty to now create, in your physical absence. And I know I am one of many who are making the same determination, in your name and memory.
*I don’t recall the exact terms you used, W.- I’m doing my best to remember, and some of these parts of the conversation I wasn’t even paying very close attention because it was about things I don’t understand that well and don’t feel a need to understand that well. I guess this is an area for me to grow- listening deeply, even when it doesn’t seem personally relevant to me. I hope that my effort to capture our words and time together in this last day we had is a testament to my desire to understand and to remember you and your gifts, to the best of my ability.