Goodbye and Godspeed, Buddy.
Yesterday I found out someone very important to me had passed away.
He wasn’t just a friend, he was the first adult I had in my life as a young person that talked to me like an adult and treated me like one. He acknowledged that my situation was bad and that there were things I could do to change it, when all the other adults around me just told me to ride it out because one day my mom would die and things would sort themselves out.
He and I hadn’t spoken in several years; the last time we stood face to face I was telling him I’d miss him. We were both in tears and I was hugging him as tightly as I possibly could, because I think deep down I knew it would be the last time I ever saw him.
“No you won’t. If you did you wouldn’t be throwing me out.”
I loved my friend, but things came to a head when he’d come from San Francisco to work at a job I’d found for him. I told him for two months before he came not to do any weed, because they’d have to test him before he’d be able to start working.
He didn’t listen; in fact he lied for weeks about being clean, and the next couple months were absolutely terrible.
He argued with housemates, stole food, sat outside day and night next to the door smoking even though he knew the house was smoke-free. He wouldn’t work, wouldn’t kick in for community meals, and kept talking about how the People’s Revolution was coming any day now.
“Workers are going to rise up! This situation is intolerable! You work 15 hour days on those content mills! You need to unionize!” he told me one morning over a cigarette as we tippy-toed our way around the giant fire ants in my backyard.
I remember looking him square in the eye, being so pissed about hearing another goddamn speech. “You talk a lot about workers but you won’t fucking work.” I shouldn’t have said it, but it needed to be said.
The older I got, the harder I found to relate to this person I had looked up to for so much of my life. Maybe this is how normal people feel about their parents, I don’t know. All I knew at that point was that I had a 62-year-old teenager hanging out in my living room 24/7, eating my food, using up my wi-fi, being an argumentative shit-disturber.
During one fight I told him I needed to go back to my room, because I had to go work; honestly, I just needed a break from the constant arguing.
“You’ve changed man, you’ve changed. I remember when we first met we would talk for hours, you always had time. Now you have to work.”
When we first met I was 16 years old, I didn’t have anything else to do but talk.
It was so hard dealing with him now, because everything in my life was up for debate; my worsening agoraphobia, what I was eating, how I “raised” my cats, how I had the hot water heater turned down to save on energy.
It was so draining, so terrible.
After weeks and weeks of this, I had to ask him to leave. It was one of the hardest things I’d ever had to do.
We talked twice after he left, and then never again. Just never seemed to connect and after everything that happened I don’t know if either of us really wanted to bother with it anymore. Seems like an awful way to end a 13-year-long friendship, doesn’t it?
But this isn’t how I choose to remember my friend, because he was so much more than a bad time.
My friend was a prolific writer; he never sold much but that never stopped him. I remember him ranting one time that “If persistence worked for Nixon, it’ll work for me!”
He was also fantastic storyteller, telling me about how his grandfather escaped from a concentration camp during the Holocaust because his wife was a Catholic and there was some kind of mixup that let him get free; they escaped to Mainland China and lived there for several years even after the war. His grandfather would order their takeout in flawless Chinese when he was a kid, something he wish he’d learned.
He told me how he was once sexually assaulted coming home from work by some maniac that had dragged him from his apartment hallway into a janitorial closet. He told me all he could do was scream and cry, he couldn’t fight the man off. A woman happened to be walking by and heard him and burst into the room. Kicked the ever loving shit out of his rapist and helped him to his apartment; “I may be an atheist but that woman was a goddamn angel.”
I remember being shocked, asking if he went to the emergency room or called the police; “Men didn’t ever admit to that kind of thing in those days. The cops would have just laughed at me, still would, probably.”
He told me sometimes he regretted not having children, but looking back on his own horror-show of a childhood he was glad he hadn’t. “What would I know about being a father, anyway?”
When he’d say that I would sometimes tell him that I thought of him like a surrogate dad, and he’d smile. “You’re a good kid! Your parents are poison, they didn’t deserve you.”
He claimed to have insulted a very young Barack Obama at an anti-apartheid meeting for being a “fake African” at NYU in the 80s; told me that he felt so ashamed for doing that (“What a fucking bourgeois thing to do, who cares even if he was someone that just adopted an African name?”) but beamed with pride because he’d almost had a fist fight with a president.
Sometimes I wasn’t sure if the stories he told me were true, straight-up lies, or if the real truth lay somewhere in-between.
I still love those stories and him all the same.
His passing makes me wish he’d written down his personal stories, or even just shared more of his fiction work. He was always working, always creating, but never sharing. Too afraid that someone would steal his ideas or judge his work harshly. I remember the last time he tried to sell a story to a publisher and they told him that the work was too “classic”; code, he said, for “Old shit in a shiny new wrapper”.
Maybe all of our lives and stories are just “old shit in a shiny new wrapper”, but that doesn’t make them any less worthy of sharing. I want to write for myself, for the people that I, too, will have to leave behind someday.
So here’s to Emmett! He spent his entire life reaching for the stars, dreaming up fantastical ways of escaping this rock and finally did. While he didn’t believe in an afterlife, I bet if there is a heaven he’s up there enjoying the revolution, and finally getting range time with all those big guns he could never afford.
Goodbye buddy and Godspeed.