In Memoriam: Wiley Birkhofer Remembered by Ari King

I met Wiley Birkhofer for the first time on the Stanford campus but it wasn’t until he arrived in New York City that we became true friends. Our connection was due to the fact we had a great friend in common, Nick Dantzker. Wiley was in New York to attend the creative writing program at NYU and I was there doing what most twenty-somethings do: have fun, try to get by, and figure it out as I go. Wiley approached New York with open eyes and an open mind which were two pillars of his vast and amazing character.

On one hand, Wiley and New York City seemed like a match made in heaven. Millions of people, millions of adventures and secrets, and always twenty-four hours in which to make discoveries and to create. On the other hand, there is not a more jarring, unforgiving city that uses all twenty-four hours in a day to make you feel lonely, overwhelmed, and insignificant. Paradoxically, New York City was both the perfect and worst place for Wiley.

Although I did not have the privilege of being Wiley’s classmate, I was, on occasion, able to spend time with his peers and professors and absorb their thoughts and feelings on what it was like to be around him in an academic setting. Wiley included me on some of his presentations and we shared ideas for papers, assignments, and poetry. I can attest-albeit slightly-what it is like to be in the presence of a creative genius who possesses a brain that is, for better and for worse, on a different level. While witnessing Wiley write, think, draw, paint, sing, rap, and just be, it was evident that his brain was wired differently. Wired in a way that was undeniably magnetic and drew friends, lovers, and strangers to his soul.

Too true that I could list numerous examples of what was so enjoyable about being around Wiley. He was like no other. He almost was not all human. As I close my eyes and imagine looking into his, I can see the faint twinkle. As if his eyes were grinning at me. It’s as if he were part man part angel. As if he was trying to give me hints but couldn’t actually say it.

Although he was a Californian (skater, hiker, skier, surf boarder, basketballer…), Nick York piqued Wiley’s interest immensely. Every borough, bodega, side street, and summer time park gathering was of interest. After he was able to settle in, his friend circle began to grow and expand. Classmates of NYU, guys he played basketball with in Brooklyn, “these girls I met on the sidewalk”, the tourists from Switzerland in Prospect Park…

Few things were as exciting as the buzzer going off in my Brooklyn apartment and knowing Wiley had arrived. The adventures out in the city were tremendous, yes. But, when hanging out with Wiley indoors, and having the energy and spirit honed under one roof, that was special. The Wiley spirit was infectious and something I will always long for. You and Wiley could have fun anytime and anywhere. He found value and worth in everything and everyone. His levels of sympathy and humanity were remarkable.

I shall miss our friendship terribly but believe my sentiments are shared amongst all that knew him. Our loss is collective and endlessly deep as our hearts suffered an irreversible break. However, what our hearts experienced during all of Wiley’s days, and not just on his last, shall be what carries us onward. It is the Wiley spirit which shall be forevermore even though his physical body is not. It is that Wiley spirit which we all loved and the world needs more of.

Love you, brother.