As best I can reckon, it has been a little shy of eighteen years since you died. You died in 2001, days before 9/11 — not of a terrorist attack, not because of some horrible hateful maniac with a gun, but of natural causes, an undiagnosed medical condition that took your life within a matter of minutes.
There hasn't been a month since then when I haven't wondered what you would have made of all this. Knowing you — or maybe better to say, reconstructing you from what I remember of you — you would have shaken your head and wondered, why the hell do people have to be so goddamn mean?
You weren't the brightest guy around, and sometimes you were thoughtless and annoying. You were imperfect and sometimes pretty immature. But you were also young, and those were all things I believed you still had a chance to grow out of.
If you said you were going to be there, you were there. If you were sorry, you said you were sorry, and you meant it. I valued that then and I do now, more than ever, because there are shockingly few people who have even that much in them.
I don't like to say to myself, you were lucky because you didn't have to endure any of this. It's tasteless and unfair to envy the dead. Unfair to the living, because it's they who deserve our sympathies first.
Plus, it's not like you didn't have your own share of bad times to live through. You were just as jittery about the first Gulf War as I was, and for good reason. But that doesn't stop me from wondering just how you would have looked at all this and shaken your head and wondered why we fell so far and so hard.
I mean, I could list all the reasons. They're not hard to enumerate, and they're not even all that hard to do something about. We just live in a time of strategically enacted political paralysis, where all the workable solutions to our problems are locked behind a firewall of selfish, hateful men busy lining their pockets, tricking other people into doing their murderous dirty work for them, and preparing their escape hatches from the world they're despoliating. The why and the how of all this are not mysteries. They only require people who are bold enough to address the problem to be in positions of power. This has not happened.
I know how hard it is not to look this far back in time at a memory of someone and not project. Maybe after 9/11 you would have shown colors I wouldn't have wanted to see, and which existed all along. But maybe I would have found the gumption to challenge you on them, to insist that decency is something we have to extend to others as a default, and that prejudices and xenophobia are more like chronic illnesses to be managed than life-threatening situations to be overcome once and for all. Something I was still in the process of learning about myself when you died. And maybe you would have turned out to not need any of that, that you would have been able to manifest decency naturally, the way any of us ought to.
I don't like to project, but I do wonder. I worry that the basic decency you had would turn out to have been the same kind of basic decency that a lot of other people have been found to only have in a conditional way. That the bad times would not so much have broken you but exposed you. That the good in you, the thing in you that made me call you a friend of mine to begin with, would have turned out to have all the tensilary strength of a piece of chalk.
And that I really shouldn't be thinking about a dead friend that way, whatever his known shortcomings.
But that's where I am now, living in a world that has left me questioning every assumption I could ever make about it.
And all I have to remember you by is the part of you that remains forever incomplete.
Take care of yourself, and I'll do my best to do the same.