Three Years Out

May 29,2011

One of the greatest properties something can have is its uniqueness. There’s a beauty in the special and there’s something comforting in having something that is truly different than the other things. In art terms, uniqueness

People all like to be unique, though I think the snowflake analogy is apt. Yes, we are all different and unique, but ultimately similar and one is not useful without many, many others.

Relationships, for the most part, are like snowflakes.

The truly close romantic relationships have a sexual thing that’s difficult to bridge when it goes away; no breakup is truly mutual. A familial one often is an analog of what families are used to and it is largely based on a forced, shared history. Long-term friendships — I mean long-long term friendships, the ones where you knew someone since you were 5. That sort of thing. — are often born out of convenience. When you’re four years old, your best friend is whoever lives down the street.

Eventually, you get old enough and your social group is work-dependent or exists by happenstance (though, I’ve already established that everything is happenstance); maybe you luckily meet someone through a random connection (often through work). In fact, adult friendships are best compared to those when one is little. The workplace is the street or elementary school: You simply settle for whoever is the best around you. Your best friend works in the cube next to you, which is the adult version of “whoever lives down the street.”

I’m personalizing this too much because I believe certain friendships — those attained in large high schools and any college — that are entirely made of mutual respect, feelings and import. You find groups on campus and you can try out new people without any threats of serious loneliness. There will always be another group, because you’re all alone.

I was lucky to find a group of friends in high school that established itself via mutual character traits, mutual admiration and respect. This was about 15 years ago. We still talk — technology makes this easy for me, as most of the rest of them live in Chicago — and this, to me, proves the lasting quality of this group of people. It means something.

My closest friend — the spine of this group — was taken away from us three years ago today. I can’t speak for everyone else in my group of friends; I tried that once in eulogizing him and failed miserably. I can only speak for me, hence this being on my own site, under only my name.

Alexander Raymond Taft was a truly special person whose presence I cannot shake, no matter how I try. I continue to have dreams about him — a couple a month, normally. In most of these dreams, he has come back from a long journey or was playing an elaborate prank. In some, I’m dead and I’m seeing him in whatever happens when we die (empirically, I know it just goes black, but these are dreams, you know?). In every single one, we’re talking. Conversing. Doing what we did.

The last three years have been, in many ways, transformative. The span of these years largely reflects that of this site. I started it a few weeks after Taft’s passing. Unlike the RS project, this one has been more about me.

And that is by design. This site reflects, in many ways, the hopes for introspection and meaning I can find in my own life. Such is getting older, I guess.

Getting older is a theme of my current project. And that’s what I’ve been doing these three years: Aging. Death scared me and it’s made the world more difficult to comprehend. Chaos rules, of course.

More than my parents’ divorce, more than my uneasy high school days, more than my struggles with depression, more than the largest romances in my life, more than anything, Taft’s passing has changed my worldview so much.

Getting older is supposed to give perspective, but I seem to simply have become more weary. There are times when I look back and try to make sense of it all, but I fail miserably. Losing a friend makes that tougher.

Not a day goes by that I don’t think about Taft. This time of the year always puts me in a place that’s impossible to shake; it reignites my depression in a way that can be debilitating. On some level, this is comforting. The loss of a close friends is nothing something I want to get over, necessarily; I simply wish it didn’t happen in the first damned place. This is why I dream about him all the time.

In a world with Taft, I actually get to chat with him about moving.

Tributes are a silly and very difficult thing right now. When Taft passed, many of his grad school friends used his Facebook page to post memorials — I imagine a lot of that is going on this weekend. The physical gravesite is another gathering place of my group of friends and many of us travel there every Christmas (his birthday) to sing “Happy Birthday” or celebrate his life or whatever.

I never feel super comfortable with this stuff mostly because memorials are meant for those of us still here. I don’t know how to pay my tribute appropriately and those things don’t really feel right to me. I guess this sort of writing makes me feel a little better and, at least, lets me organize my thoughts in a way that feels somewhat satisfying.

For me, it’s a matter of my personal feelings. Taking ownership of his death is ridiculous for someone like me, because my relationship with him was unique to he and I. For me to shout “You didn’t know him like I did” at his grad school friends leaves me open to the same criticisms from, say, his family. Or our other friends. He and I were close. His grad school friends were close. He and his brother were close. We all lost him May 29, 2008. He meant something special to all of us, which was one of his greatest gifts.

Taft meant something very important and specific to me. I don’t know how, exactly, to translate that to other people, so I try and write it. I write about my shared experiences with Taft. Our college years where we ate Pokey Stix and watched Adult Swim and did terrible impressions of his old roommate Howard or of Harry Caray or Al Gore. Or the time we jammed out to “Immigrant Song” in our apartment. Or the times we spent at KCOU and WNTH, the binding forces between he and I. Or the hundreds of chats we had online, post-college, IMing about everything and nothing.

It’s the weekend our friends spent in Cooperstown, watching a Cub (Ryne Sandberg) going into the Hall of Fame. It’s the blog we created, combining our respective baseball blogs into one that has, essentially, gone dark since his death. It’s the minor talks about hockey and other sports, but mostly the baseball conversations. So much baseball. It’s the Cubs/Sox game we went to, his wearing Cubs gear from head to toe and me barely putting on a Sox hat.

It’s the weekend when we attended our friends’ wedding in Wyoming, my last extended time with him. That’s the best vacation I’ve ever taken and one I cherish over all others. I remember every second of it and hope to forever.

It’s the excitement and trepidation he had about going to Los Angeles. It’s the advice he gave to me, every weekend, when I called him to chat about graduate school, girls and life. We talked so much TV and he is the one that introduced me to my favorite shows, 30 Rock and Arrested Development. But, we talked like friends do, with the comfort of a favored baseball hat, molded to your head, drenched with sweat and faded. Showing age, but moreso character. That was our friendship.

As I mention that the 30 years project is a project half-done, I must also say that it is partially one in the memory of Taft. Taft never got to see 28, 29 or 30. I don’t write on our shared site anymore, largely because I don’t have time, but also because I don’t have his push to motivate me to be as big a baseball fan. Taft made life fun in so many ways and he constantly taught me to enjoy things like baseball without self-awareness. It is that gift I will never be able to repay.

So, in lieu of that, I write this here. It’s largely meaningless to anyone but me, but that’s the whole point, right?

On one hand, I have no idea that we wouldn’t have grown apart; getting older makes it such that high school friendships devolve as everyone becomes more of an adult. I have so many things to tell him. Andrew Dawson becoming a Hall of Famer. KCOU almost going under. My getting mugged or home invaded. Bon Iver records. Zambrano’s no-no. My foray into the dating world. The changes in our friends’ lives, as the parade of weddings continues. My softball team. Sea and Cake albums. Our mutual college friends having kids. The Blackhawks championship. Reminiscing about college. The inanity of life. Adam Dunn signing with the Sox and my elation from this fact.

I want to tell him about the girl I fell in love with and how I transposed culture onto that relationship (I am an idiot) after it ended. I want to tell him about my job and the world of Washington. I want to hear about his career that would have, undoubtedly, mirrored Judd Apatow’s. I want to tell him about my trip to Sicily or Barack Obama or politics or my family or his family.

I do, in my dreams. That’s what I have now. Dreams and memories.


Taft (left) and I at a friends’ wedding in 2003.

3 Trackbacks

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