Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A Death In The Family

Last week I found out, through Facebook no less, that an old friend from college died. He was only 42-years-old, less than three years older than me. It was a shock to everyone who knew him. I had only just reconnected with Tim a couple of months ago, surprisingly it was not through Facebook but at a gathering of fellow theatre alums from our school at a bar in Chicago. I hadn't seen him in probably around 18 years and it was fantastic to be in touch with him again.

And then he was gone.

Even though I had just seen him for the first time in that long and we were only keeping up through Facebook, I was really thrown by the loss. Lots of thoughts went through my mind about it. I thought about my friends who were much closer to Tim than me and how devastated they must be. I remembered the noose that I wore around my neck for about two years during college - Tim tied it for me out of stage tie-line (he was a "techie") - that just seemed to fit perfectly with my personality and weird sense of humor. I thought about what a huge (Tim was one of the biggest, most imposing looking guys I've ever known) teddy bear and gentle soul he was. He really did seem to be the definition of "gentle giant" to me. I remembered how Tim would be the first person to talk to me when I entered a room full of fellow majors in my early days there and I always just kind of hung against the wall by myself (I tend to wait for others to talk to me first, a shyness that often comes across as aloof asshole). I also couldn't help but think this was further proof that belief in karma is such bullshit. That a kind soul like Tim would be taken away from this world while the likes of hate-mongers such as Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh walk among us and make millions and millions of dollars pushing their vile agendas.

I also thought about my family.

No, not my blood relatives. I thought about those who I in many ways consider my real family. My college theatre family.

I majored in theatre in college. I would guess that a theatre department is different than other departments when it comes to the amount of time you spend with your fellow majors. Between being in classes all day and then rehearsals all night there was not much other time for the usual social stuff that most college kids get involved with.

We had classes together, rehearsed shows together, partied together, played Frisbee together and lived together. Once we even had to mourn together as we lost one of our little sisters to a car accident in one of my later years there.

I arrived at school as a young man desperately wanting to escape family life. My childhood was not a good one. I didn't expect that I would find a family of my own at college. But for me that is what happened. My closest friends from school are like brothers and sisters to me. Others are like cousins. There were grad students in my early years who were like having cool aunts and uncles or older brothers and sisters around. The kind that got you high for the first time and bought you your beer. A role that I would eventually play for somebody else. We even had our occasional crazy uncle that sometimes made everybody feel uncomfortable at parties and could clear a room. But even that was OK and made our family more colorful.

Of course, for this family analogy to work you need to kind of overlook the fact that a lot of us were sleeping with each other. Or then it just seems creepy.

There are many in this family that I've reconnected with over the last couple of years because of Facebook (the main reason I joined) which has made me happy as hell. Some I hadn't seen or heard from since I graduated 16 years ago - before everyone had email and permanent cell numbers - others I had only lost touch with in the last few years as I kept moving around. Of course there are the several that I've never lost touch with, my brothers and sisters. But it didn't seem to mater how long it was, I feel as connected to them as I did when I was 20. Maybe even more so.

Yes, I've made some fantastic friends over the years since college ended, friends that I cherish.

But there is something about my college family. If I were called to help out any of them who needed it I wouldn't hesitate for a second to do what I could, even for the ones that I don't really even like all that much. I guess that's why it is like family to me. In fact, I can only really think of two off the top of my head I wouldn't be there for. There's the lying thief who stole from pretty much all of us at one point or another. Seriously, if he was ever in your house he probably took something of yours at some point. And the rapist who attacked two of our sisters. I still hope he bleeds to death, very slowly, after getting his penis chopped off.

But anybody else? No question I would do anything I could for them. I have real, blood-related cousins that I wouldn't cross the street to piss on if they were on fire. But for this family? Anything and everything.

I looked at Tim's Facebook page the last few days as people wrote him messages, his profile having been turned in to an odd modern-age memorial. All of the beautiful things people were saying about him, mostly remembering his kind heart. It made think hat might be said about me if I were to go suddenly and before my time. I had this fear my Facebook page would become this bizarre collection of quotes that went something like, "So long Deni, hope you are less angry wherever you are."

Or, "You were kind of an asshole but we loved you anyway."

Even worse of course would be, "Good riddance jackass."

These thoughts made me consider if I've done enough to convey all that wrote above to those who should know it. Just like a real family, we often forget to tell them how much they mean to us. I may be more guilty of that than most people.

If there can be a silver lining to Tim's untimely death - something I don't think can always be found in such tragedy - it will be making me be better at this. Not just for my college family, but for everyone in my life that I should show more appreciation.

Starting now.