Death of a Friend

One day after his 40th birthday, one of my closest Toronto friends was found dead in his apartment.

I feel the need to acknowledge this.

Remember and celebrate him.

And offer this text to anyone who is mourning him right now, too.

.

s 2013

.

[S]’s mother just called me and asked to reach out to let as many people know as possible that [S] passed away. […] Sorry to have to let you know via facebook but I wanted to get the word out in the meantime.“

.

P. sent me this message two hours ago, on Facebook.

But I’ve only read it now – a couple of minutes ago [on Tuesday], 7.10 pm local time, on my laptop, in Germany.

There’s a light summer rain. There are chirping birds. I’m metres from the open garden door, and there are leaves everywhere. In a couple of days, the cherries will be ripe. It’s not hot. It’s lush and green. Inviting.

I need to talk about [S]. I need to talk about this.
.
I cannot imagine NOT saying / typing something: focusing anywhere else for the rest of this day. I NEED to write things down. I don’t need you to read it.

But I need to write.

I’ve been keeping a diary for years. I filled more than 2000 pages. Back in school, I sometimes spent 3 or 4 hours a night, just writing stuff. Recounting.

I have a hard time processing things while speaking aloud, in conversations: Thinking takes time. Processing and reactions take time.

My personal speed of thinking and the speed of my typing / writing / phrasing things on paper are much closer:

I’m a better typer than speaker.

Once I type, I can think.

So please don’t go „Oh: He wrote a letter!“ or „Oh: He wrote a eulogy!“. I’m a freelance journalist. I’m working on a novel. But what I’m doing here isn’t WRITING. It’s… thinking – through typing. I need some time. I want to get hold of some thoughts. Face some feelings.

I want to DO something.

Find some order.

Focus on [S].

It’s not an effort to construct the best possible TEXT. It’s an… act of writing, to calm my nerves.

In early 2008, I applied for internships at various [German Cultural Offices] in North America.

It was late winter (February?), and I knew that I’d be done at my university [Hildesheim: Creative Writing and Cultural Journalism] by next spring, 2009.

I needed another (mandatory) internship for my degree; I wanted to spend some time abroad; I had been at Cornell University in 2006 for a postgraduate conference on young German literature; I had a vague idea what the [German Cultural Office] does and… back then, I wasn’t too resourceful or aggressive:

I wanted to go. I knew that this net of offices is the ONE place abroad where people who ended up in German publishing usually go. I saw the [German Cultural Office] requirements (good English, some experience with didactics and / or event and culture management) and I knew that I had a vague chance.

I’m using „vague“ here quite a lot. Because really: Everything about my plan to live in North America was vague.

I don’t have older siblings. I don’t know many people who are slightly older than me. In school, I always had HUGE respect for people 2 or 3 grades ahead of me.

I was born in 1983. I’m 31 now. I was 26 when I first met [S]. He’s 9 years older. To me, people of that age were NEVER the ones I find the nerve to talk to / see as equals. I didn’t know why someone 9 years older than me should take an interest in me, or respect me more than necessary, or just… stop his life. Look down. Face backwards. Focus on MY stuff.

People who are slightly older lead different lives and have more seismic and complex and relevant problems; and while they wrestle with their personal goals and relationships and grown-up challenges, I don’t want to be the person tugging their skirts, slowing them down, asking them to explain things to me.

So… no one explained the [German Cultural Office] system to me.

No one explained Toronto to me.

I didn’t have older queer friends.

I didn’t have older intellectual friends.

I didn’t have older cosmopolitan / urban / professional friends.

My [German Cultural Office] application was good-natured, but it was done without any research, networking, deeper plan or strategy: I didn’t know anything. I was too bashful to ask.

The same spring, I interviewed a German-Croatian author of [S]’s age, Jagoda Marinic [Link: here’s an essay I wrote about her work] who had spent some time in Toronto as a guest of the [German Cultural Office] and UofT’s MUNK centre. I liked Marinic a lot, but didn’t want to grill / misuse / instrumentalize her, so I just asked „How was your time in Toronto? I’m thinking of applying there“, and she said „It’s a nice little city. The people there [did she mean the people in Toronto? Or, as I was sure later: the employees of the Office?] are all slightly cracked / chipped, in a nice way.“ [„angenehm beschädigt“]
.
I applied to most branches in North America (New York, LA, Boston, Atlanta, maybe even Montreal) through their online application interface and just did a lot of copy’n’pasting. Only for the Toronto application, I mentioned Jagoda and that she said that she liked her time there…

and in the end, Toronto was the only Office that replied.

[Later, Jagoda told me that she had heard that I had mentioned her in my application; but I never checked what exactly happened while they considered me as an intern: If the Toronto Office people got in touch with her specifically, and / or if THIS is what made them take me, and / or if Jagoda said something nice, and / or if anyone asked any questions.]
.
No matter what exactly made this happen:

I knew that I was going to a place where people are slightly cracked / chipped.

In a nice way.

In the 9 months before my departure, I had a lot of Hildesheim work to do (spring 2008). I took another long internship in Stuttgart, at Klett-Cotta (three of my best, happiest months in life so far), and once I knew that I had to be in Toronto in early January of 2009, I planned my final, incomplete / abridged Hildesheim semester to wrap up all my courses, write final papers, move out of my Hildesheim apartment etc:
.
Autumn was lots of work. While eating dinner, I watched season 2 of „Ugly Betty“ [Link: personal essay on what the show means to me and my writing] and I figured that soon, I’d be a similar person in a similar environment: Slightly clueless, but happy and enthusiastic. A new office guy in a tense and frantic and professional and high-pressure (?) North American office space.

Slightly cracked / chipped.

In a nice way.

I love [S]’s grin. The weird ups and downs of his lips, and they way he can look snappy and sardonic and kind and wise and silly and strong at the same time.

I love how often he’s rolling his eyes.

I love how lots of things he’s wearing always seem like statements. Or costumes. Or little subversive… decoys: He always looked like he was dressing up. Masquerading! He picked things that seemed to state an intention („Look! I’m a leather jacket! I’m worn by snappy people who wear leather jackets!“) while he didn’t state this intention himself („Sorry, leather jacket. You’re trying too hard. And I’m wearing you anyways. You might signal ‘snappy’. But I, [S], will signal the opposite. It’ll be a fun contrast!“)

A lot of people try to fit a role.

Or dress THEIR part.

[S] always seemed subversive in the sense that whatever piece of clothing he wore – checkered shirts, polo shirts, khakis, pyjama pants, jackets, an old „Green Eggs and Ham“-T-Shirt, a new, slighty red-rimmed (?) pair of „aggressive“ designer glasses –, that piece of clothing suddenly had trouble transmitting what it was designed to transmit:
.
If [S] dressed like a tourist, he was DRESSED UP as a tourist.
.
If he dressed Canadian, he dressed „Canadian“.
.
His [S]-ness was stronger than the incidental clothes. The clothes stood no chance. They could not get their points across. Telegraph their codes and signals. They were props. [S]’s [S]-ness outshone them.

And I think he had fun with that.

.

Trouble is: You can’t see that too well on photos. There, [S] often DOES look like a tourist. Or a dopey, beary Canadian. Or some office person. In order to find an apartment in Toronto (while still in Germany), I needed to create some kind of „respectable“ international online presence that prospective apartment-owners / roommates could see… so I signed up on Facebook in December of 2008.
.
I looked for the [German Cultural Office] Toronto staff. But the only person with a profile that I found right away was [S]…

a pale, slim, handsome, nerdy guy with glasses (and a boyfriend!), complicated grin, smart eyes. And often: bland / weirdly tourist-y clothes. I had to think of Alexis Denisof, a – rather hot – actor who played a young, dorky British nerd / scholar on „Buffy the Vampire Slayer“ and „Angel“. Judging from photos, I expected [S] to be very smart.

Distant. Professional. And maybe flirty / sexual.

The real person? Completely different – because of ONE aspect you can’t see in pictures:
.
[S] GETS the joke.

[S] SEES the problems and contradictions.

No matter the scene – he’s not just a cast member: He’s also an onlooker with a lot of experience of the “genre” and the genre’s rules. He loves Amy Sedaris. He loves David Sedaris. He loves Kristen Chenoweth and aggressive parodies like her ABC sitcom „Good Christian Bitches“. In the beginning, for about two weeks, I saw [S] as one of the “slightly cracked” and slightly comedic [German Cultural Office] characters I had come to anticipate – angenehm beschädigt:
.
„Es gibt noch [S]“, I wrote home to my friends after the first week, „den verbitterten schwulen Bibliothekar ohne Bibliothek (na ja: vielleicht 200 einsame Buecher, das Allernoetigste halt), weil dem [Office] die Gelder gekuerzt wurden vor zwei, drei Jahren. Ich weiss nicht, was er den ganzen Tag macht. Die Augen verdrehen und sich von den Kolleginnen den Arm tätscheln lassen.“
.
„There’s also [S] – the increasingly bitter gay librarian without a library (there aren’t more than 200 lone books, nothing more than the bare essentials) because two or three years ago, there were cutbacks. I don’t know what [S] does all day. Roll his eyes and getting his arm patted by his female colleagues.“


The  core staff isn’t big. I worked there for three months, in a group of the always-same 8 or 9 people. But there ARE lots of (mostly: closed) doors. Lots of fragmentation / individual projects / specific pressures. People liked each other – but no one was overly chummy or personal. A Teutonic atmosphere.
.
There was a weekly „jour fixe“ meeting on Monday morning where everyone circled around the isle of the tea kitchen, and THAT was the sole moment when I saw [S] and heard him talk and react.
.
He shrugged his shoulders, a lot. He rolled his eyes. Smiled his smile.
.
And had his arm pat by ze German Frau Kolleginnen.
.
It was January. Very dark. Very cold. Flourescent lights. Grey carpet. [S] seemed sad. The place seemed sad. All of Toronto seemed cold and cozy and calm and cracked under all that ice and winter – in a nice, but VERY grey way. John Updike died. The first few weeks, I didn’t have too much to do. I read morose novels by Margaret Atwood.
.
That suave gay librarian guy that I had stalked on Facebook…?
.
He turned out to be a LOT more mellow, in person.

Calm? Tired? Apathetic?

It took until the second or third „jour fixe“ meeting that something caught my eye:

When there was bullshit in the room… he sensed it. When someone lied… he knew.
.
Whenever anyone made excuses. Or tried to fool anyone. Or just used a weird phrase or term or made some silly judgement… HE caught it first. HE registered stuff.
.
If this was „Mad Men“, he was reading between the lines. If this was „Ugly Betty“, he got the hidden jokes and hypocrisies. It wasn’t „Mad Men“ or „Ugly Betty“. It was „middle-aged German people talk about risk and duties in a small part of a smallish Toronto office tower in Toronto’s rather small downtown core area… while their sole male Canadian co-worker looked for contractors and worked on building a new, more impressive library and calmly did his thing… behind the blinders of his office.“

[S] had worked in New York during 9/11. [S] had been in a relationship for nearly a decade. [S] had travelled the world, read TONS of books, knew HUNDREDS of difficult Germans and their idiosyncrasies and treated them with respect, flair and charm. To me, my [German Cultural Office] internship seemed like a big and exciting new step. To him, it was one of many dark, cold and rather dull Toronto winters that he spent working on getting his library back in shape. Eventually (2012?), he hung a gigantic „Keep calm and carry on“ print over his corner of the office.
.
[S] saw humour. And excitement. And drama.
.
Quiet fun. And quirks. And silly nuisances.
.
But he wore his role, „elegant librarian at the not-very-elegant German Cultural Office“ with the same wink / ironic distance / occasional smart and devastating grin as he wore his clothes:

The [German Cultural Office] wasn’t his life – but something he checked out every day, like a goofy soap opera that he was very, very loyal too – just not as engrossed as the soap opera producers would have hoped. His German was excellent. His assessments were spot-on. He understood this office and these characters and the rhythms and neuroses and fallacies and cultural problems. He helped steer that ship. Balance cross-cultural issues. Keep it afloat. He was graceful and professional and calm and very, very respectful and aware. But it wasn’t his big scene. His huge dream. An exciting part of life that he was excited to have a part in.

After a few days, I signalled that I wanted to work with him. There was no real library and nothing for me to do. But before the end of January, we went to an art bookstore in the Annex that was about to close – David Mirvish Books – and [S] picked some bargain titles (art history and catalogues and illustrated books) for the [German Cultural Office] library.
.
While we were waiting at a cross-light near the Robarts Library, I worked up the nerve to ask him for cafés to sit and read after work: I had been using a Starbucks at Church and Wellesley nearly every day. „Are there any other cafés that are good for reading? Like maybe… gay ones?“

Did we become friends because we’re both queer? Because we’re big readers? Because we were the lone men in the office? There were TONS of things that made [S] attractive to me: his wit. His calm, civilized, never-petty sarcasm. His grooming and sense of being „proper“ / ordentlich.
.
He was raised in Saskatchewan, on a farm, and when my ex-girlfriend came to visit me in March, we saw „One Week“, an all-Canadian road movie starring „Dawson’s Creek“’s Jonathan Jackson who’s heading for the Pacific Ocean on a motorcycle, starting in Toronto. The Saskatchewan scenes of the movie feature a stark and calm, no-nonsense, luminous female middle-aged horse trainer who seems to speak nothing but the truth.
.
[S] is honest. Direct. Aware.
.
There was no point in bullshitting him, ever.

I met his partner on a Saturday in their condo on Queen Street East. He had made waffles with bacon even though he’s not eating meat himself. There were cocktails. Whipped cream. Blueberries. Two older cats, Kafka and… Tilo. Lots of well-curated books. Pillows. Lots of EXTREMELY well-curated music. A kitchen that was the center of the room; the center of their lives. A Dr. Seuss print. (Or was it an original?). Lots of small, personal, beloved and well cared-for tokens / souvenirs / talismans.
.
The [German Cultural Office] world and the [German Cultural Office] squibbles seemed to wash over [S]. They held no importance. Here, in his condo loft, EVERYTHING held importance. Everything made him enthusiastic and proud – most of all his smart and calm and beary and nerdy and even more professional and well-balanced and amused-by-the-small-smart-daily-contradictions partner.

We had brunch. [S] and me had occasional lunches. I found a boyfriend. [S] hosted a dinner party for the four of us. His partner talked about „Dr. Horrible“ and Isaac Asimov and the Talking Heads and Lamb and MOMA and Broadway, my boyfriend talked about Matthew Barney, we all talked about Björk, I can see [S] chopping tiny tomatoes. Crushing ice. Frying prawns. Or just using one of these fizzy gas Sprudelmax water thingies to carbonate our drinks.
.
I think I’ve had 15 to 20 lunches or dinners with [S].
.
All but once, he paid the bill.
.
To say thanks, I got him books. He was ALWAYS intrigued and thankful, and nearly always read them soon, and his opinions were surprising and exciting and never quite what I expected.

Since 2009, I have been in Toronto every year, for three months each, early February to the very end of April. [S] got his new library – and it was smart and elegant and well-curated and a HUGE step forward in making the [German Cultural Office] into an inviting and relevant place.
.
When I was in town, I came back to visit the Office quite often [the young female Canadian office manager, H., is one of my favorite people in the world, too] and met [S] for coffee or lunch every 4 or 5 weeks. He also let me know about gallery exhibitions or concerts or readings or anything Cory-Doctorow-related that happened in Toronto: Both me and his boyfriend are fans, and we NEVER managed to attend the same event, together.

When I asked for gay cafés, [S] was too surprised to give any recommendations (and then: I don’t think there ARE any particularly reading-friendly gay evening places in Toronto apart from the Church Street Starbucks, anyways), but a couple of days later, he gave me a library discard from his stacks: a book called „Secret Toronto“ full of – outdated – Toronto facts and recommendations. It wasn’t meant to be a super-helpful book in itself (too old / outdated), but as a gesture, it made me understand: „This person is listening to my questions and concerns. And if he has input, he will give it.“
.
He always did, for 5+ years.
.
Links to articles. Goodreads recommendations. Videos on my Facebook wall. TONS of likes and quick „Liebe Grüße! XX [S]“ comments in my news feed. In 2009, he proofread an English translation of my „I am Clark Kent“ essay for a magazine in the Philippines. In 2010, he introduced me to Björk’s „What is it“ video and I hummed the song all year. He read from my novel and ALWAYS saw me as a writer starting out, not as a dubious person-who-might-or-might-not-become-an-actual-writer. And he knew Rikki Stock, director of the German Book Office, and always told me that he’d LOVE to introduce us / set something up once I was ready.
.
I never felt ready / accomplished enough.

The most important books [S] introduced me to were by David Rakoff, a gay essayist – and when my relationship fell apart in 2011 and I went on my first date with a new Toronto guy – a fashion journalist and self-professed book lover – in 2012, the new guy said that he ALWAYS carried a book around. „What do you carry around NOW?“ – „I don’t know if you’ve heard of… David Rakoff?“
.
I loved Rakoff’s first collection, „Fraud“, best, and since my new to-be-boyfriend hadn’t read it, I wanted to buy him a copy before our second date. But then, no bookstore in town carried it – and I was THIS close to just ring [S]’s bell and ask him if I could have his copy for the night and replace it later.
.
[He would have said yes – but chances are that his copy has an inscription, and is holy to him. So I didn’t ask and, in the end, bought another queer acerbic smartass book instead, Josh Killmer-Purcell’s „The Bucolic Plague“. My new relationship worked fine for two Toronto winters… but when Rakoff passed away that same summer, it seemed like a horrible omen.

[S] liked cruises. [S] loves his family and his energetic young sister, and he loves MY energetic young sister, mostly by proxy / because he knows and loves that kind of sibling dynamic. [S]’s German was great, and he respected both Germany and Canada and their achievements and power plays on the global stage to a MUCH bigger degree than me.
.
[S] liked gardening and nature and hammocks and casual drinks.
.
[S] LOVED hospitality.
.
And if anyone made an extra effort or gave an extra bit of thought or attention, he was the first to notice and applaud it.
.

.
[S] loved eccentric TV cooks like the Barefoot Comtessa.
.
[S] hate-loved 70s kitsch and 70s TV.
.
[S] shared links to segments of „George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight“ and Rick Mercer’s Grafitty Alley rants / monologues that, to me, made no sense🙂
.
I don’t know if he was genuinely patriotic… or just thought that Canada, by and large, made less of a mess than all the other industrial nations (which I agree).
.
There was an awful lot of loyalty and love for his home and culture… and at the same time, he was quick to say that he „survived“ his super-rural home town. I’m sure that, by that logic, he „survived“ his university time in Konstanz, his 9 (?) years in New York, his time as a [German Cultural Office] employee and his time as a condo-owner on one of Toronto’s loudest and least predictable streets, too.

In 2011, he seemed tired and absent-minded. We saw each other a couple of times – and I attended a great meeting of the European Book Club in [S]’s library, where Erol Boran hosted a discussion on Jenny Erpenbeck’s surprisingly awesome „Heimsuchung“ / „Visitation“ –, but something was off. There were plenty of Facebook chats and comments over the summer, though, and when he decided to visit old friends in Germany in mid-January of 2012, I could not WAIT to pick him up at the Frankfurt airport.
.
We drove home to my mom’s place. We arrived by 8 am.
.
My mother had breakfast with us, [S] was immediately smitten with her and the life she had built, and for two days, the two of them had lots of conversations and effortless bonding.
.
I showed him the empty farmhouse that I use as a writing space, and it was pretty drab (January! German village!), but his first comment was „Go look outside! Gosh: What a great view! And there’s even an evergreen tree! So there’s green even now. You’re lucky!“
.
[His second comment was „My partner refers to this farmhouse as ‘The Masturbatorium’ because that’s what we think you’ll most likely be doing here, a lot.“]

My mother, my younger sister, [S] and me had dinner at a traditionally German restaurant in Bad Wimpfen. The next day, I saw him off at the Heidelberg train station – and before that, we had Prosecco at the Rossi. The weather was harsh. The days were too drab. And still, his visit was a big success, and I was sure that this all needed to be repeated soon. In a better season. With more time and energy.
.
[S] loved it. My mother loved it. They both left HUGE impressions on each other; and since then, there is no message from [S] that doesn’t include „say hi to your beautiful mother / goddess of a mother“.

When we met again – mere two or three weeks later, in Toronto – he introduced me to HIS mother, and we talked about Saskatchewan, and I could not wait to see the whole family dynamic of these smart, alert, charming and no-nonsense people playing out, eventually, at some later, bigger event, down the line.
.
There were dozens of small future plans:

Once I’m back in Toronto, we NEED to finally visit Bistro Zocalo – your favorite 2012 restaurant discovery.

Once I’m done with the novel, we NEED to raise hell and find me some North American writing gigs.

Once there are new plans for trips to Germany, we NEED to make more time!

Once my Mom can see herself on a flight to Toronto, she NEEDS to say hi!
.
We haven’t yet watched the Cremaster cycle.
.
I haven’t met his father or sister.
.
He hasn’t met the fashion journalist ex.
.
I got a cold in 2012 and couldn’t even attend a stupid George Stroumboulopoulos taping.

He lent me his copy of Kamal al-Solaylee’s “Intolerable” in 2013… and I still haven’t read it.

His parter lent me his copy of „Fierce Invalids Home from hot Climates” in 2009… and I still haven’t read it.
.
I read and loved „Natural Oder“ by Toronto author Brian Francis in 2012 – and there was no cheap second-hand copy of the novel on German Amazon.de EVER, and I kept on looking every 3 or 5 months, and I HATE that I could not get that book into his hands for 2+ years because it is the most [S]-like and [S]-appropriate and [S]-appealing book that I have ever read.

So…

I knew that there were health issues. It took some energy to ask „What’s wrong? Are you okay?“, and [S] replied „No. All is fine. Just tired.“ But not more.

It took more energy to ask a second time and get the same answer.

I must have asked 6 or 8 times – but it was clear that he did not want to talk about the specifics, and since he was SO happy to be treated like a healthy, energetic person, I just offered help and said things like „I hope you’re well“ and „have a good week!“ in the broadest and least specific terms, again and again.

I still don’t know what was up in a medical sense, and even if I had pressed harder, I don’t think I would have gotten a direct answer.
.
But then, I ALWAYS got a direct answer if I asked about his outlook, plans, happiness – and for the time being, that was okay: We did not talk about the elephant in the room. But there was TONS of other beautiful and smart and fascinating and darkly funny stuff in that room, and we encouraged each other to talk (and celebrate) THESE things – and for someone you only see five to eight days a year, that seemed… appropriate.

I don’t have older siblings. I STILL don’t know many people who are slightly older than me. And my friendship was [S] was one of the most effortlessly thrilling, intellectually exciting, goofy and well-tempered and mild-mannered and big-hearted and drama-free friendship dynamics I’ve ever had: I felt blessed. Respected. Cheered-on and thought-about. And I NEVER had to question [S]’s sincerity or intention or direction.

I’m bisexual. I’m a writer. A loner. An eccentric. Without a lot of money and without the clearest plan for the future. I might live in North America. I will make it as a German author, eventually. I want to be part of the [German Cultural Office] machine and spread enthusiasm for literature and stories and politics and national identity politics and the construction of „home“, and I often feel torn and homeless myself – until [S] makes it clear that I DO have a home in Toronto. And a home here, with evergreen trees right outside my desk and a goddess of a Mom.🙂

[S] was sure that I was working things out, and that I’m going places, and that I CAN become a Torontonian or New Yorker – as well as a novelist. He believed in me so hard that I would not have dared to question my energy in front of him: To [S], it was a matter of time. He saw my life expanding. And I hate that he’s not there once / when / if all these things will have been starting to work out, one by one.

Parts of my confidence and happiness are HIS credit, and in so many small ways (his hosting! His wit! His temperance and his aloof office survival skills!), he’s been a role model.
.
I loved the books. I loved the home. I loved the relationship. I loved the way [S] and his partner celebrated the… quiet dignity that comes from leading a good life. [to quote ‘One Tree Hill’]
.
I’m starting to get to know a good number of librarians (…and they’re all pretty awesome!) – but I still don’t have many friends who are in their late 30s or older. And I’m still nervous to ask people who are 3 or 4 steps ahead of me for advice. I’m still afraid to slow them down and bore them. And – this is super-important: I don’t know more than 5 or 6 great queer couples.

How will I live – 10 years from now? How can I be happy – with a woman or a man, but most likely: without kids? What can these relationships look like? What makes a fulfilled life?

I’m high-strung and crazy ambitious. [S] is about balance, awareness and often calls himself a „creature of comfort“. We’re on different paths – but it still is SO empowering and relevant and great for me to see grown-up people who respect each other and work work work work work SO hard on their relationship and their home.

I don’t need caricatures like Cameron and Mitchell from „Modern Family“ when I can see the strains and dynamics and pratfalls and triumphs of [S] and his partner. Not that they over-shared, or that I asked too much: It FELT like it worked beautifully, for nearly 14 years. Seeing that helped me a lot.


In 2008, a viral marketing campaign for „The Dark Knight“ featured stickers, buttons and campaign posters for the fictional Two-Face character: Merchandise / ads that said „I believe in Harvey Dent“. In the movie, Harvey turns into a dangerous, volatile moral monster.

So I’m careful to say „I believe in you“.

Maintaining a life takes effort and energy and hope.

And some of these things – in ways I don’t know and for reasons I don’t know – ran out within [S].

I think this can happen to anyone. Especially if there are medical factors involved. But every time there WAS any energy and hope, [S] created something beautiful. A life that, to me, seemed plausible. And graceful. And attractive. And fair.

Last fall another Toronto friend came to visit me for a couple of days. I left for New York – but she decided to stay behind with my mom, in the village, as her guest. They talked in German and English, and spent nearly two weeks with each other… and it all happened because [S]’s quick visit one year earlier made me believe that – yes! – even to someone who loves TORONTO, even to someone who has COTTAGES and the Canadian wilderness, even to people who don’t particularly love smallish German villages in non-summer months, my family home can be a good place to catch breath. Get some perspective. Rest. And start anew.

Three weeks ago, I messaged [S] on Facebook: „please ask for anything you might need. literally: anything. I’m here. and others are, too. you’re not alone. if you need a time-out in Germany: anytime. seriously. for months, too.“
.
Two weeks ago, I messaged him again: „please: get in touch if there’s anything you need worked out!“
.
Three days ago, [S] turned forty. I did not write or message. But my mom did – with another invitation to just come here and live with her.

For years, [S] told me that I HAD to see his family farm in Saskatchewan. And I had zero doubts that this will happen, eventually. That it’s just a matter of scheduling and some elegant timing / serendipity that will signal „Yes: NOW, it does make the most sense!“
.
In the same way, I keep on telling North American (and Hildesheim / Berlin) friends that if they ever have a breakdown or need some nature or just a quiet place to heal, they are invited to work here, for a while: My farmhouse / writing space is not the most comfortable or complete LIVING space – but friends like [S] told me time and again that, if anything happens, I am welcome on their couch. And I know how much this feeling of being welcome somewhere else helps me every time I feel like I have NOWHERE else to go.
.
Would I have gone? Eventually, yes.
.
But for years, knowing that I COULD go was comfort and excitement enough. And by repeatedly inviting him, I hoped to instill the same sense of comfort / security in [S]: There is a place for you in Germany. Always. No questions asked.

It’s dark and clammy. There’s a moth banging against the window pane.
.
I’m still at my grandparent’s empty place. Six hours of writing have passed.
.
Sometimes it’s great in here. Sometimes it’s horrible. Sometimes it’s great to be me. Sometimes everything seems THIS close to spiral out of my grasp. I don’t think that this kind of spiralling can ever be prevented. I don’t think it takes much for a life to shatter – and I don’t think anyone is to blame.
.
This will happen again. And every time, it will feel brutal and senseless and like a tragedy in that old Greece theater sense of „It took SO many factors for this to happen. If SOMETHING would have been aligned slightly differently, everything would have changed.“

A cat just randomly jumped against the window.
.
Crouched on the ledge. Peeked inside.
.
I opened the door – but it won’t come in.

I’ll still leave the door open.

I feel a strange and cheap euphoria: It’s quarter to 1 at night, and I made this text.
.
I needed to react. And I channeled my reaction into something that appeals to my Protestant-raised worker mentality: a task is complete. Something HAS BEEN DONE. Nothing is better. But I FEEL better – because I did something that can be shared.
.
I don’t know if it NEEDS to be shared. And if, in any way, this makes anything WORSE, for anyone: Please let me know. I’m two steps (and one ocean) removed from the people [S] REALLY loved. The people who FOUGHT for him. WORKED for his health and safety and happiness. I’ve had some meals and coffees with him. I’m a distant, fair-weather friend.
.
But there was hardly a day in the last 5 years when I didn’t think „I wish [S] was closer. I wish that there was more of [S] in my everyday life.“

And I don’t think there’ll be day that I won’t miss him.

Thanks for taking the time to read this.
.
If you have an empty farmhouse – or some other kind of open door:
.
Please make sure to signal that it’s open!

.
STEFAN MESCH

June 18th, 2014

.
One hour later, PS:

I spent a lot of time talking about PLACES here.
.
Mainly because that’s how my friendship with [S] worked. He made me feel welcome in Toronto. His Facebook presence and his many likes were a constant reminder that – no matter where I am, globally – I have a Toronto friend keeping a close watch on me, cheering me on. [S]’s visit to my mom’s place / my local village made me re-appreciate the farmhouse and my family’s dynamics. And a lot of the conversation between [S] and me was one of us telling the other one: „You DO have a place here. You CAN come here. You ARE welcome.“
.
I’m still ambivalent about the [German Cultural Office], and I love that, theoretically, it is a place to connect Germany to the world, and make visitors feel welcome: I understand the big appeal / raison d’etre of this net of open, public Offices all around the world. [S] worked for more than one decade to make these places MORE open, MORE welcoming. That’s a great cause, and a career well-spent.

Much of MY personal everyday blues / unhappiness / sadness comes from being stuck in places I don’t want to live for too long. I don’t make enough money to freely decide where I want to live / make my home, so I often feel like I’m at the bottom of a hole, fighting my way up.
.
Every time I leave and live elsewhere for a period of time, my self-image and my outlook on life change a LOT. If I’m sad and I leave, the whole chemistry of my emotions changes, and I cannot imagine being suicidal in one place… and then switch the place… and still be suicidal. Since University, places are like lily pads. I need to able to jump. I’m afraid this farmhouse will pull me down if I get too comfortable / phlegmatic here.
.
But: As long as there are other places, I know that NO weight or ballast that I carry around can truly pull me down.
.
That’s why these invitations and signals and Facebook messages matter to me. A lot.

But of course, that’s MY life. And MY preoccupation. [S] was sick. Something was up. A change of place would not have been his solution. He had a great home and a great relationship. Whatever made him choose to die was not a lack of… farmhouses or specific places where he’d feel welcome. He KNEW that he was welcome in many places, and he KNEW that he was fiercely loved by many, many people.
.
I know that MY outlook on life improves (or sometimes: completely changes) once there is a person who says „You are welcome here. Come by. I want you around!“ But I can’t treat every personal desperation with Facebook messages saying „Drop in! Stay as long as you want!“
.
[S] made me feel welcome. Every year. Every time we met. And that was… incredibly helpful and relevant, to me. For years!

I tried to make him feel welcome. I know he DID feel welcome. But that’s not the solution to his problems.
.
In the smallest and most surprising of ways, [S] was a role model. Someone who always had my back.
.
Being his friend felt like a HUGE honor.
.
Meeting him improved days. Sometimes whole weeks. [S]?
.
You will be missed. Hard.

.
s 2013.
.

3 comments

  1. Hi, Stefan – thanks for leaving the link to this on Shawn’s wall. Your description of his smile and rolling eyes made me both smile and brought tears to my eyes, because that is so exactly Shawn. Like you, I write things out, so I completely understand the impulse behind this. I hope it helped you work through some of your feelings, it can be so cathartic, and good memories can be bittersweet, but ultimately a balm.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s