No Stranger to Death

A couple of months ago, my nanny boss dropped me off at my apartment after I'd gone with the family to the USC bookfair. Because my work and my home are 30 minutes apart, I had been able to successfully keep my professional and personal lives pretty separate.  But in this moment - this oh so brief moment - these worlds were about to collide, and I was slightly nervous.  Nonetheless, I cracked a corny joke, wished the kids farewell, and proceeded into my humble apartment to celebrate the half-day's worth of freedom that I had earned.

As I walked into my apartment, I was greeted by a boy named Robert, a hometown friend of my roommate who had been living on our couch for the past couple of weeks.  Fresh to LA and the grueling job hunt, Robert looked like the poster child for sleep deprivation.  During these dog days, Robert's eyes were perpetually bleary, his hair in a constant state of dishevelment, but he always managed to have a smile on his face.

As Robert sat there on the couch, bookended by our two Siamese cats - whom he had christened "Eyes" and "The Other One" out of his pure detestation of them - I daintily announced that I was about to drop an atomic deuce that I had been repressing for the majority of the day (he was living on my couch - we were waaay past formalities at this point).  Robert, unfazed by my utter repulsiveness, bid me good luck.

Fast forward ten minutes later, still in the heat of The Heat, I hear a heavy pounding on my screen door and the anxious call of a familiar voice.  It was my boss, returning to my turf, and my body went numb.  My sanctuary of a bathroom had been transformed into a war zone, and I was still in the throes of battle.  She can't be here.  Not now.  Not today.  

I shamefully emerged from Fukushima and made my way warily to the front door.  Robert and I exchanged bemused glances and he raised his heavy eyebrows, saying, "Yeah, no way was I going to get that."  Thank god, because my boss is always trying to pry into my love life and if she witnessed a tall, handsome guy open my front door, her investigating skills would crank into overdrive.  

I stepped out to see Boss Lady and Mase, her 4 year old son, standing awkwardly on my withered lawn.

"Mase has to go to the bathroom and I don't think we can make it home.  Can he use yours?"

Boss Lady nudged Mase forward, but he sunk his heels deep into my parched soil and whispered (a la Sixth Sense): "I'm scared."

And he should have been.  He was not only about to enter the apartment of three single financially unstable 20 somethings and a couch dwelling vagabond (a world far from the cushy existence that is Porter Ranch), but he was personally about to enter the Lion's Den that was my toxic bathroom.  There was no turning back.

As Mase tentatively crossed the threshold, I saw him take in the room.  Up until this point, I know that Mase had assumed that I lived a parallel life to what he knew back in the comfort of his gated community.  But, now, he saw mismatched, cat-scratched furniture where there ought to be white recliners.  He saw a single strand of old Christmas lights where an ornate chandelier should be.  He saw a chalkboard with a penis sketchily drawn on it in place of a pristine whiteboard with a detailed grocery list.  And then he saw a Robert on the couch where a husband ought to be.  

They regarded each other with the same degree of skepticism, not quite sure what to make of the other person and definitely too disinterested to find out.  After Mase bravely endured a Poo-Pouri doused bathroom experience, he was on his way and I remember collapsing in a tattered arm chair next to Robert and thanking god that someone was there to share this weird moment with me.

A week ago, Robert never woke up.  His coworkers found him dead in his Santa Monica apartment, a victim of "natural causes" - whatever that means for a 27 year old.  There was a certain stillness that came with the news of his death.  He was just here, we just saw him a month ago for lunch, and now he was gone, without any warning.  

This isn't my first exposure to Death.  We've been acquaintances for quite some time now.  But I never can get used to the  idea that life keeps going on just as it has even when someone so important has left this world.  Everything seems the same and yet there's someone missing.  

I didn't know Robert that well, but what I did know, I loved.  I knew that he would go to the movies sometimes just to eat the popcorn.  I knew that he, like me, had a fierce competitive streak and a knack for trash-talking during the game...even if it was only mini-golf.  I knew that he irrationally hated Fall, because he hated wearing layers and the promise of "new beginnings" (the irony here is not lost on me).  I knew that he would have rather had a thousand root canals than take my roomie's intense barre class once.  And I knew that he could always make me laugh. 

I can't be mad that he is gone, because that is the way that Death works, and there's no point in trying to  justify why one person should stay and another should go.  But I am incredibly sad that I didn't have more time with him.  I could tell that it was going to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

We never know when Death is going to come for us, but we can't sit here and worry about when that day will come either.  All we can do is focus on today and surround ourselves with people and things that make us truly happy right here, right now.  And right now, as I sit on my sunken couch next to "Eyes" and my mismatched furniture and my sad string of Christmas lights and my vandalized chalkboard, I realize that I don't want to be anywhere else.  

I only wish that Robert could be here to sit next to me. <3