November 25, 2018

Four Years, Part Deux

Please read my last post (November 15) for context. Here are more excerpts of messages from Amir's coworkers as well as SAC members:

“Amir and I had a shared sarcasm and his sharp wit and biting sense will be greatly missed. We had joked together about what a (joyful) pain in the butt some of the players here could be. I’ll miss his smile and his voice on the phone. It breaks my heart knowing how much life he had left, but I know he had a positive impact on many.”

"Amir was a part of our community and now there is an empty spot that can't be filled. He never did convince me that baseball isn't the most boring sport ever, but he definitely tried his best."

"I have known Amir for the past year. He was great. He was my go-to guy for information and always an ear to talk to. We often talked about office politics, but he always said nice things. He always kept such an even keel and it seemed he couldn't be bothered by anything."

"I worked with Amir and had a chance to listen to some of his heartaches. He was really a sensitive man who loved and was loved much. I am glad I had the opportunity to meet him. He will be missed."

"I will miss Amir's kindness and sense of calm. A very good man who always interacted with quiet respect and touched our lives. He will be fondly remembered."

"I always enjoyed chatting with Amir. He was always patient with my questions. He struck me as a sweet, gentle person and I will deeply miss seeing him every week. SAC was a brighter place with him here."

"Amir was a good, lovely man. He always had a kind word."

"Amir was a sweet, always-helpful man. It was always reassuring to see him."

"Amir was a special person. I truly enjoyed his company and friendship. He was a good person."

"Amir was the best man to ever work at the tennis desk. I've known him personally for over four years. Amir meant a lot to me; we watched many Blazers games together and we would talk for hours. Amir will always be close to me and I'll never forget the person he was."

"Amir was a wonderful person. I used to chat with him a lot; he was very interesting and nice."

"I had the pleasure of training with Amir a few weeks ago. He was so helpful and patient and I really enjoyed getting to know him better. He had a great sense of humor, too. We will all miss him."

Indeed, we will and we do. Every day.

November 15, 2018

Four Years

Next week, November 22, will mark four years since the day our beloved Amir died. Some days, I still cannot believe he is not here and, on top of that disbelief is the disbelief that I'm still in disbelief. If you can't quite wrap your brain around that, imagine how senseless it seems in my own mind. I miss him terribly every fucking day and as I navigate this life without him, his absence reverberates in countless ways.

I'll be spending the 4th anniversary of Amir's death in Europe (Prague, this time). I am anticipating another bittersweet journey -- I'm excited and grateful to explore a new city and country, while I'm pained to recall how badly Amir wanted to see the world beyond his own and how heartbreaking it is that he never got the chance. He was robbed of so many other chances as well. (Of course, if I start enumerating all of those, I won't get around to what I'd intended to write here.)

As November 22 nears, I want to share the heartfelt and remarkably complimentary things people wrote about Amir immediately after he died. The health club where he worked for several years (SAC) held a well-attended memorial service, at which they circulated a guest book. I'm proud and humbled to share the wonderful tributes SAC's members wrote about Amir*. Some are lengthy, but I hope you will read them and, in doing so, expand and enhance your sense of who Amir was.

First, a note from his boss:
"Amir was an amazing person. He worked hard for me and the club. The members will miss him; they were his friends and SAC was his home. We will forever remember him. He always took care of us. I read an excerpt from Amir's writings. It was an amazing bit of literature that described himself and life. He will always be in my heart and mind and in the hearts and minds of everyone at SAC."

Notes from club members:
"SAC has been a better place because Amir brought a quality forward that is hard to find. A kind and honest spirit that everyone loved."

“He was indeed Amir (which means ‘rich’ in Hindi) – in his talk, dealings and helping others. He was one of my favorite friends at the tennis desk. May he continue to touch others.”

“[He was] a bright star and sharp wit and always so grateful.”

“Amir will be missed for his dependability, level-headedness, insightful thoughts and all. He was a pleasure to know.”

"Amir was a fine man and we really enjoyed talking to him. We were impressed with his maturity and integrity and we will miss him."

"Amir was a great friend. I loved discussing music with him. He was intense and cultured. We talked a lot. The last CD we discussed was Caetano Veloso and David Byrne at Carnegie Hall. He liked talking about his parents and how great they were. He pointed at the fact that mixing cultures was always a plus. I will miss his friendship. He is one we all liked."

"Amir was the kind of guy that took some effort to get to know, but that is what was delightful about him. Through our conversations, I discovered that Amir had lots of layers. One was his dry sense of humor. We were forever teasing one another and he seemed to be always having the last laugh, so quick and witty. We talked of sports, his love of writing, politics and religion. I learned through our conversations how important family was to him. He told me once his guidelines for dating and the one that stood out was that she had to have a good relationship with her family. This was a true example of his kind spirit, unselfishness and soundness of character. There was so much more to Amir than people realized that was hidden because of his quiet nature. But his compassion for life, honesty and strong principles soon became clear as you got to know him. Amir positively affected other people and brought such joy to our lives."

“I always enjoyed chatting with you and discussing basketball. I remember you as a very kind and cheerful person.”

“I will miss our chats. I will miss your dry sense of humor. I will miss your patience with us members.”

“You were my secret friend. You helped me through the darkest period of my life, simply by being you. For months, I would come to string racquets, just to have something to do other than obsess about my circumstance. I was always glad when you were here. Even our long periods of quiet in that small room were never uncomfortable. I knew we could pick up a conversation where we left off any time. You got the play by play. You knew my secrets. You were wise, tolerant, patient. I truly treasure that time spent with you. You weren’t perfect. You had flaws like we all do. But you were the perfect person at the perfect place at the perfect time – for me. I will miss you, secret friend.”

*These comprise only a small selection of the tributes in the guest book. Please stay tuned... I look forward to posting more soon.

September 6, 2018

"Found Treasure"

I have not posted anything in several months, as I've been doing more private writing lately, leaving me with 5-6 drafts I want to post here eventually. Nearly four years after his death, I am still adding to my collection of notable tidbits to share with those of you who knew Amir and savored his unique wit and sense of humor.

Another Labor Day has come and gone, a holiday that each year prompts me to reflect on my most recent time spent with Amir. Labor Day weekend 2014 was the last time I would ever see my sweet brother. We created some great memories that weekend, talking, drinking, taking long walks and relaxing with our parents. Fortunately, we had the chance to spend a few precious hours talking alone, during which we covered some important ground. I will always be grateful to have had that time together.

At the close of our lovely weekend together, I hugged Amir goodbye at the airport and watched him walk away from me, his tall, lanky, backpacked frame breezing through the automatic doors and disappearing into the terminal.

"Terminal" seems a sadly appropriate word now, doesn't it?

A few weeks ago, Amir's friend Ian sent me an email he titled "Found Treasure," in which he excitedly reported his recent discovery of some ink drawings Amir had created when he was 18. Fittingly, Ian labeled the series "Human League Hangman," which I imagine Amir would find entirely appropriate. After all, I can't think of any subject Amir would have been more inclined to designate for a round of hangman than "Musical band."

Upon opening Ian's email and checking out the photos, the first thought that occurred to me (as I smiled) was that I'd fucking forgotten Amir could draw so well.

How the fuck could I have failed to remember this one of his many talents? I need to search my own archives for more of these priceless objets d'art!

"Signed original!" Ian exclaimed in the email, declaring Amir's drawings among his most treasured possessions. And now they are among mine, as well.

Post-script: In spite of its user-friendliness, Blogger doesn't provide many options for tweaking the page layout so that photos appear the way you want them to. So be it.

April 25, 2018

April 7

April 7 was Amir's birthday. I wrote this piece at the time but decided to keep it to myself for a while.
My dearest brother, today, you SHOULD be 42. But you are not here to turn 42. That fact never gets easier to believe or write or say or think. The shocking sadness of that first year or two has subsided into a dull, relentless ache that sits on my chest and doesn't demand much in the way of grief. Sometimes it feels as though it will never truly sink in for me that you are not here. How is it possible? Fuck, you'd be so disappointed in yourself and the universe for letting you slip away so young and sharp and full of countless items left to check off your ever-growing "To Do" list. Like me, you'd feel fucking cheated and indignant at the world for stealing so many years from you.

The other night, I began thinking about how many regrets you'd have had you known your life would be cut short. I've thought a great deal about regret over the years and I have always tried to live my life such that, when my end comes, I have precious few true regrets about how I lived, loved, learned and treated other people. Still, as much as I've thought about regret in my life, I've never considered it more than I have since you died. What regrets did you have? What would you have changed, in haste, if you'd known your days were numbered? What would you have told me? What would you have written down or recorded for those of us who love you to find?

One thing that brings me peace in thinking of you is how proud and happy you were to have been able to be a confidante and counselor to me over the last year of your life. After years of frequent leaning on Yael and me for guidance and support, you had entered a period of stability and maturity in your life that allowed you to be there for us -- a welcome flip of the playbook, as you put it. You talked with me for hours, offering advice and support, and I know you felt proud that your guidance was trusted and helpful. Just two months before you died, the last time I saw you, you confided in me about some issues that had arisen in your life. In retrospect, I realize you may have admitted these things to me in the hopes that I could help or guide you, though I don't know if you'd have accepted help. I don't know if you actually needed help, nor whether you'd have realized it if you did. You wanted my advice about your girlfriend and your job, throwing in a confession about your having recently "dabbled" in some pills to help with your anxiety. You told me it was a minor sidestep off your chosen "clean" path and that you weren't willing to jeopardize your health, job or relationships to fall back into the inviting haze of self-medication, however much it beckoned you.

Amir, you were one of the most intelligent, funniest, brightest, sharpest human beings I have ever known. Those things mean nothing when it comes to susceptibility to anxiety, self-doubt, unease, overthinking and self-medicating. In fact, your brilliant mind and unique outlook on the world likely contributed to your inability to quiet the racing thoughts in your head when you needed to. Why isn't that a skill taught in school? Wouldn't the ability to quiet your mind and its relentlessly-swirling chatter be more valuable in terms of life skills than fucking algebra or chemistry? Why not teach children and teens the much-needed skill of calming their anxiety via meditation or journal-writing or deep breathing or even exercise? As someone who often falls victim to racing thoughts and endless brain chatter, I'd certainly have benefited from training in self-calming methods that don't rely on drugs or alcohol. I would wager there are few people who wouldn't benefit from such training.

Yet, there's still a horrible stigma around mental-health issues, no matter how slight, including the common misconception that it's a personality or character flaw. I have decided I need to make an effort to help people suffering from mental illness or addiction in any way I can. You'd be intrigued by my occasional toying with the idea of becoming a therapist or counselor, but you'd also relate to my uncertainty and agree that it may not be the best path for me. You would also likely support my longing to help people in other, smaller capacities, which I'm focusing on now. I have a unique and rich perspective on relating to people struggling with mental-health issues, including addiction. I can empathize with their battles and I believe that empathy, along with compassion, will get me farther than years of schooling and training to be a certified counselor. I know you would encourage me and support me in my efforts, limited as they are for now.

Back to you, brother. It's your birthday today and you should be here. You are so terribly missed. You might not have believed it had you known just how many people miss your presence in this world. Your absence is voluble every single day. I often wonder what words of wisdom you would impart to me? How would you guide me? What hilarious emails and texts would you send me daily to keep me laughing? How would you be celebrating your birthday? How much contempt and scorn would you muster for the absurdity of our political landscape?

On your birthday, I will listen to music you loved, read things that spoke to you or made you laugh, talk about you and celebrate you, as I do on so many days that are not April 7.

February 27, 2018

The Lunatic Lumberjack

A few weeks ago, I shared excerpts of some letters Amir had written his good friend Patrick in the late '90s, when he was 22. I've started a few other blog posts since then but nothing I'm ready to share just yet. In lieu of something new, here is a further amusing glimpse into Amir's mind, courtesy of his own detailed writings to a friend:

October 1998:
To the normal observer, Arcata [CA] seems to provide little food for thought. That is to say that it seems like a slow, ordinary, uneventful town. But Arcata's true eccentricities lie below its dank-nug, lumber-lined surface. There's an underlying text to McKinley's domain.
I'm sure you remember our friend who runs Hutchin's Liquor Store. Up until recently, I still held him in high esteem for the fact that he was the "strangest" guy in Arcata. Well, he's not. In fact, he's not even the strangest liquor store clerk in Arcata. I live downtown now, so my local beer supplier is Arcata Liquors, on the plaza. Every night when I go in, I am treated to the presence of the shifty, angry mountain man behind the counter. This is a big bearded man, with exploding pectorals and a neck the size of a small house. He's got narrow, threatening eyes and sometimes breathes heavily through his nostrils as if he were a wild boar.
Most of time, all you can get from him is an indifferent "How's it going?" or other empty salutation. He just sits back there, arms folded, looking like he's about to tear the world a new asshole. Sometimes, however, he's Mr. Joe Social and talks up a fucking storm to anybody who walks in. I think he's on coke, or maybe speed, when I see him act like this. He'll be pacing around, babbling to customers about bourbon, hunting elk, and how if one more damn hippie pays him for beer with pennies, he's going to declare war on this whole tie-dye clad group once and for all. Clearly, this man has a bone to pick, an axe to grind.
One night, I walked in... all I wanted was a bottle of vodka and some O.J. Well, the lumberjack probably just snorted a line out back because he was totally revved up and I could have sworn I saw veins popping out of his neck and his face was all flushed and he was doing that whole nostril-breathing thing again. I asked him how much for a 375ml bottle of Smirnoff and he proceeds to go on a tangent about vodka and the difference between brands. So I humor him for a moment: "Which one do you like best?" I ask.
Before I know it, he's got 4 or 5 bottles out on the counter and he's extolling the virtues of each one. "The Smirnoff is good," he says. "But Sky vodka is the cleanest."
"Really?" I mumble.
"Fuck yeah," he says, getting excited now. "Shit, man, last weekend some buddies and me were shooting birds down at the marsh and I got so fucked up on that shit that I almost had to crawl home on my hands and knees."
"Sounds like good shit," says I.
"You bet your ass it's good shit. Turned that marsh into Bosnia for a while, if you know what I mean." I didn't, and I was scared to ask.
[A few days later], I paid another visit to the aforementioned liquor store. This time, I was in line behind a gutter-punk street guy who asks of the lumberjack, "What's a good warm drink for a cold night like this?"
"Cyanide," the lunatic answers. Then, he looks at me, laughs (because I was chuckling at his recommendation) and rings me up.

January 13, 2018

On the Outside of Normalcy

2018 is upon us and still I struggle to accept that my brother is not here. The complexity of grief can be distilled into a simple fact: I miss him every day. There's always something I wish I could share with him, something he would find uproariously funny, something he would guide me through. Just last night, I watched a movie taking place in 1995 that featured a song Amir had introduced me to (and, as a side note, was not actually released until 1996, making it misused in the film). Sigh.

A few weeks ago, Amir's close friend Patrick Crawford sent me copies of a handful of letters Amir wrote to him in the late '90s, when they were in their early 20s. The letters are hilarious and dripping with Amir's typical flavor of sarcasm, angst, wild descriptions and intense cerebral navel-gazing. With Patrick's permission, I'd like to share some excerpts that offer a particularly deep dive into Amir's mind.

First, an intro from Patrick:
Your brother and I were frustrated writers...we emulated the Beat correspondence of the 1950's as pen pals in the late 1990's.
I sent him 4 letters and he responded with 4 letters.
I have those four letters and they are awesome.
I have cherished these letters for years because they are so honest and real and just really funny and a snap shot of the times.
They are also dark and dry and talk of depression, drugs, and loneliness.
These are personal letters only meant for me to read. However, I really feel you need to read them because they will give you another glimpse at his fantastic brain and sense of humor.
Amir's letter to Patrick, October 1998:
Now and then, I'll strum the guitar, jot down some lines, or have a sick silly time getting drunk with Berman and Levy and these activities are my respite from dull reality. My love life is in a state of quiet desperation as all of the wistful eyes those college girls turn to me soon look away, and my reaction is usually to laugh and say something cynical and mocking to myself to try to dull the wound. But the fact is, loneliness only comes in short spurts for me--most of the time I'm content to be absorbed in music and books and gratified by wordy exchanges with fellow slackers.
Yes, it's good to be on the outside of normalcy. Respectable life is far too sterile. I bring this up to you because you and I are educational misfits... we are self-taught stylists and the more we cultivate our own art, the more artistic it becomes as all great art (grand statement) is the result of individuality.
I've just completed a long day of work and am relishing the silence of solitude... One thing I can say about the last few months is that I've become real chummy with our dreaded friend loneliness. Solitary living has become an uncomfortable reality. When I'm not at work, I spend all my time reading and writing. I've actually become quite diligent in my writing practice. It's really the only thing that keeps me sane. But I do love good novels, and lately I've been devouring one book after another, sometimes reading all night long.
Some recent favorites include: Rand - The Fountainhead; Hemingway - A Farewell to Arms; Steinbeck - Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden; Kerouac - Vanity of Duluoz; Kesey - Sometimes a Great Notion; Wolfe - Short Stories. I am truly addicted to the written word, almost to a fault. It's gotten so that I almost substitute the fantasy world of novels for real-life experience.
"Addicted to the written word"... there's an addiction I have shared with Amir since we were kids. It's an addiction we talked about for hours at a time, one we shared with Yael and one I'm proud to have retained over the years. My life would be sorely lacking without it.

But it's Amir's line about being "on the outside of normalcy" that I carefully ingested and, holy mother of shit, do I relate to it. In myriad, infinite ways. Since I was very young, I could recognize the feeling that I existed somewhere on the edge of what others perceived as normal or typical. I never felt completely at ease with other kids, apart from Amir. Even at a young age, I could sense that he shared my feelings of not quite belonging; of being fascinated by geeky things like maps and encyclopedias and astronomy; of being an inveterate introvert in a world of extroverts.

I agree that, the majority of the time, it IS good to be on the outside of normalcy. I welcome it. However, Amir and I talked occasionally about how much easier and less anxiety-filled our lives would be if we could experience life inside that boundary of normalcy, if only temporarily. But we agreed we wouldn't be happy existing in that sphere for long. I have always believed that, in spite of its pitfalls, the outside of normalcy is a far more interesting place to dwell. I like it here.

The superb Joan Didion once said: "I am a woman who for some time now has felt radically separated from most of the ideas that seem to interest other people." I relate to this in every way possible, knowing too well that strange longing to connect with what I imagined (and have learned) were a precious few others in the world who felt similarly. Amir was one of them. And how fucking lucky does that make me to have had him as a brother?

More letters to Patrick at a later date. For now, here's to a happy 2018. xo