‘See you in Los Angeles.’
Those were his last words to me, in a Facebook message, just days before he died at the age of early-30-something.
It could just as easily have been: ‘Well, screw you too.’
We were enemies you see, Nick and I, who had always, inexplicably, stayed in touch.
Fundamentally we couldn’t stand one another. In fact, aside from a handful of philandering ex-boyfriends, I don’t think I’ve ever hated anyone more.
Of course, some of the parts of him I hated were simply the parts of myself I so despise. Freud 101. We were, in a lot of ways, two jostling peas in a pod.
Nick was stubborn, volatile, bull-headed, unreasonable, restless, unreliable, and formidable in a dispute.
He was also bright, animated, gifted, persuasive, free-thinking, generous whenever he could be, and crackling with optimism.
He’d enlisted me as a writer for his magazine six years ago while I was working 12-hour night shifts at a bar in New York.
We got chatting as I served him martinis. I told him I liked writing, he read one of my stories on his iPhone, and hired me then and there.
We worked together every day for years, and fought like cats and dogs throughout. Nick and I admired each other’s talents and despised each other’s personalities.
It wasn’t a love-hate relationship (I’ve had those too and I know the difference) – we drove each other batshit crazy, and it’s a wonder we ever stayed in touch after our career paths split and I left America.
But we did – probably because both of us are abnormally incapable of holding grudges – and our last exchange was a good one.
He’d complimented me on a piece of writing I’d done – quite out of the blue – and I’d thanked him, and he had told me he was moving to LA and I’d said I’d be there too for a bit, and then he said: ‘Great! See you in Los Angeles.’
And now he’s dead.
Just like that.
Accidentally fell off a roof.
The news was delivered to me in the most mundane of ways. I was doing laundry when I glanced at my phone to see a message from Asi, an old business associate, via LinkedIn.
A single line: ‘I’m sorry to inform you that Nick passed away yesterday.’
I was quite amazed by how fast and hard the grief crashed through the sky and sat fizzling on my knees – like a comet – and surprised that it even landed near my laundry basket at all.
Psychologists say the first emotion you feel when someone you know dies is denial, and they’re right about that.
My instant knee-jerk reaction to Asi’s one-liner was to think: ‘What a horrible thing to joke about. Is this some sort of experiment he’s doing to see how I’d react? What a weird thing to do.’
Death is a process, like rotting fruit. I’ve lost people that way before. But to be alive one moment and then dead the next? That feels like magic, and I don’t believe in magic.
I’d just spoken to Nick last week. He wasn’t ill. He was full of life. He was going to marry his girlfriend and move to LA. This wasn’t the end of the movie.
As the truth started to seep into my bones, absurdly, I found myself wanting to call him and tell him about it – all this silly madness.
I’ve been in a somewhat catatonic state since. And I feel I don’t deserve to be – his girlfriend and his family do.
But every time he pops into my head (more than 20 times a day), I first think (like a pre-programmed robot) ‘I wonder what Nick is up to’, and then ‘he’s not alive any more’, and then it feels like I’ve just swallowed cold mercury, and it slithers heavy down from my throat and into my feet before dissipating into nothing.
The nothing is haunting.
A lot of people have written farewells on his Facebook wall which he will never see. The following is an obituary he will never read.
I’m not religious or spiritual – and neither was he – but my need to pay him direct tribute beyond the grave is insuppressible. So I suppose that’s a self-indulgence thing, and Nick always accused me of being self-indulgent.
Nick: you lived, lied and loved furiously. You were blunt, as I am being now. How ironic it is, that you were the most indestructible person I’ve ever known. Your mind was like a firecracker. Your resistance to adversity was violent and unstoppable. You got into trouble all the time. To me, you were never a man of your word, but your way with words made you a man to stop and listen to. You remain one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever met. You are the sole reason writing is now my profession and not my hobby. You bent the paths of so many others. Your outlook on life was rare and exquisite . Your abilities were incredible. Your cackle was contagious. Your death makes no sense.
And if you could read this and report back, you’d tell me that my sentences were too short and my paragraphs too copious. That your obituary wasn’t in three acts.
Also, probably, that you liked it and hated it at the same time.
I will miss that.
I never thought I’d see myself write these words, but I’ll miss you.