The void in my Steam friends list, and why I choose to keep it there.

The first thing I do when I log on Steam is open up my friends list and look for his username. Because of the Kanji characters, it is always at the top of the list of offline friends.

I can’t help myself. Despite knowing that he will never log on again, my eyes glance over to that grayed-out name every single time.

He was only 25.

By that time we hadn’t hung out in a while, and I occasionally texted him invitations that he would politely decline. Those texts turned out to be the only way I could have found out that he had died.

One day I was surprised but happy to see that he was calling me back while I was grocery shopping.

“Hey, what’s up biatch?! You finally gonna hang out with us or what?” I greeted him while waiting for the butcher to finishing packing a particular cut of beef.

The caller turned out to be his mom. I cannot remember everything she told me, but I remember feeling extremely sad for her. How many phone calls like this one did she have to make? Her son had many friends.

Someone said to me once, “We mourn the most when we see the pain of those left behind.”

I put the package of meat in my shopping cart and began to clench my jaw. She told me that her son had passed away two weeks ago, and that she had looked though his phone and saw my many text invitations to him. I began to have trouble breathing, and I could feel my girlfriend looking at me, worried.

When the caller thanked me for being such a good friend to her son, I completely fell apart.

“I’ll be in the car,” I told my girlfriend, and with no further explanation, I walked outside, sat in my car and cried.

— — -

He was only 25.

When we worked together we would often hang out at his house. He made it his mission to get me to overcome my dislike for pale ales, and would often have an assortment of different drinks for me to try. After one particularly drunken night, we found ourselves racing around his neighborhood on bicycles. I was still wearing my work slacks, which got stuck in one of the chains and made a huge rip that exposed one of my butt cheeks. He laughed so hard that I won easily.

Games, competition, and drinking were what we had in common. He was always trying to learn something new, and whenever he found it, he latched on completely. Obsession would be too light a word to describe what he felt.

His capacity for learning was only matched by his enthusiasm to share what he had learned. When he decided to pick up the game of Gin Rummy, he devoured the book One of a Kind, a biography of the greatest Gin Rummy player and three-time World Series of Poker Champion Stu Unger. The very second after he finished reading it, he messaged me on AIM.

piequalsthreee: dude.  duuuuuudeeeee.
genei jinster: ?
piequalsthreee: stu ungar is the fucking MAN
piequalsthreee: what’s your address?
genei jinster: uh, you’ve been here tons of times, don’t you know the general area?
piequalsthreee: only with my car.  im biking over right now.  you need to read this book

An hour later at 11 pm he showed up sweating bullets at my door with the book in hand. His excitement was too infectious for me to deny. Over the next few weeks, we would play hundreds of games of Gin Rummy on Yahoo! Games and then discuss how Stu Ungar was the fucking MAN. We also went through Omaha Hi/Low and Go in similar fashion.

When he lost his job (due to circumstances outside of his control), we hung out much less in person, but much more online. His passion at that time was Counterstrike, so I would hop on Steam with him.

Greater indeed are the pleasures that are shared. - R.A. Salvatore

Anyone who has played a game with a friend knows this feeling.

— — -

He was only 25.

When he turned his attention to competitive cycling, I was updated constantly. He lost thirty pounds in a month, which would have scared me if it was anybody but him. His focus was the stuff of legends. He even stopped drinking (heavily) as part of his training.

After about three months he took a nasty spill which tore off a chunk of his upper arm. He couldn’t even wait until he was out of the hospital before he e-mailed me the disgusting pictures. The estimated time to recovery was about two months.

The problem was that even if his body recovered, his bike was completely ruined. With hospital bills and a lack of a steady job, he lacked resources to get a new bike that would be up to his competitive standards.

Still, I wasn’t too worried. I figured he would move on and find something else to occupy his mind. I underestimated both his injuries and his passion for cycling as he began to withdraw from contact. He was on AIM and Steam less frequently. I never hung out with him in person since the accident. The few times I did have contact with him, he spoke of drinking heavily.

Soon contact with him trickled down to occasional text messages, mostly centered around holidays.

His mom told me that the cause of death was the mixture of alcohol with his painkillers for his arm injury. Apparently he was so drunk that he had forgotten he had already taken his painkillers and took an extra dosage. He then laid down to sleep and never woke up.

— — -

We mourn the most when we see the pain of those left behind. It took a long time for me to realize that I was one of those people left behind, and I was essentially feeling sorry for myself. I had to move on, and to anyone watching me, I seemed to.

Yet I was not prepared to face the digital ghosts of my friend. It started with the Steam friends list, which showed the last time someone had logged on to the account. Three weeks ago, it read. As the days passed I continued to glance at it as it increased in length.

I thought about all the e-mails I had from him. These were more then preserved memories; these messages still existed. They aren’t relics from a past age. If I ignored the timestamps these messages could have been sent a couple of minutes ago. That was very, very difficult to wrap my head around, and I erased and un-erased all of his messages many times.

This is how death works these days. We leave behind a digital footprint that cannot be altered by optimistic hindsight. Our current thoughts, dreams, hopes, and ambitions are perpetuated till eternity, or more likely — a server goes down.

Three months after his passing, I was still trying to decide whether or not to delete his usernames, e-mails, and message logs. Then a pop-up box appeared on the lower right of my screen saying that he had logged on to Steam. My heart jumped even though I knew it was most likely someone simply turning on his computer, causing Steam to auto-load. Sure enough, after a few minutes the account had logged off.

I then did something I was avoiding up until then; I went through all the old e-mails and chat logs with him, and it was the complete opposite of what I had been fearing. Instead of being haunted by these messages, I began to laugh and smile at the memories of all the stupid things we did together.

I found myself once again enthralled by his constant enthusiasm and how he had no shame in sharing it with the world. Looking back on my own life, I had acted in a completely different manner to the world: I tried to hide my passions to avoid potentially being mocked.

Now it is easy to see how stupid I was acting. Sharing my passion for something to another person is one of the most gratifying feelings in the world. Even if others don’t quite understand it, they see my enthusiasm and become at least a little intrigued.

When I realized that I could share the things I loved to the world, it felt as if a great weight lifted from me. I know now that I don’t need to convert everyone (or anyone) to the things I enjoy. Satisfaction comes from not having to hide my hobbies and obsessions due to some misplaced fear of being judged. Often those who pass judgement are themselves guilty of not being true to the world.

These days I keep his name on my friends list to remind me to not be ashamed of the things I enjoy. Every time I log on and see his name I think:

He was only 25, yet he taught me so much.

Rest in peace.

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