January. Oh, January.
On January 22, 2018, my dear friend Michael Anderson passed away from colon cancer. He was 48.
We met each other in Tübingen, Germany, living in the same dorm in college. He’d been there for a couple of years before I arrived, and he showed me all the ins and outs and made me feel not quite so lost. As the two Americans on the floor in a sea of mostly Germans, we talked about home quite a bit – about our lives, about our hopes and dreams. I introduced him to the campiness that was Xena, Warrior Princess, which we’d race down to the TV room to watch once a week, snacks having been acquired just for the occasion, laughing uncontrollably through the whole show. In between, we’d find ourselves in the huge kitchen with his huge copy of the American Heritage dictionary, usually starting out in a serious pursuit of knowledge, and ending up laughing so hard tears would gush down our cheeks – there is some funny shit in the dictionary, yo!
After two years (two of the best years of my life), I went back home to the US. He stayed to finish his Magisterarbeit (Master’s degree). Then he got married to another American he got to know there. They both came back to the US for a bit, during which they celebrated their wedding with friends on this side of the Pond, and I went down to Brooklyn to celebrate, too. We went to the Guggenheim, which was delightful. We ate good food, and laughed a lot. It rained so hard one night, the subways were closed. We walked all over the place, enjoying each other’s company.
I went to Wales to do my Master’s degree, and while I was there, they were in York, so I took the train to visit. It was during the Jorvik Viking Festival. We watched the boat race, wandered through the faux Viking medieval village, took in the sights. Michael had stopped smoking, and his wife had gotten him to start exercising, which I knew he hated but knew was good for him. It was so good to see him then. A familiar face in another foreign country.
We lost touch for a long time after that. He was doing his thing, and I was doing mine. There were good times and bad in both our lives. A couple of years ago, I got a call from him: he had been diagnosed with cancer, he had to find a home for his dog. He’d gotten a divorce some time before. I didn’t know much more than that. He was clearly scared. The diagnosis was not good at all. There was a farm in New Hampshire where his dog would be happy, and he might come out to visit me, and he’d let me know when. But I didn’t hear back.
I emailed a few times, but never got a response. I did check up on him, though. He’d been teaching at Purdue, and there was a listing for him. I figured as long as the listing was there, he was still alive.
A year and some later, I got the word from his partner that he was in remission. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief.
Then he contacted me again last year to tell me the cancer had come back, and it was terminal. I visited them in July. We talked sometimes on the phone, but mostly texted. He taught right up until this past December. I texted pictures, I told him little things about my day, I wanted as much as possible to stay in touch and distract him from his suffering. The semester ended, he went into hospice care. I missed seeing him one last time.
I am so glad I went out in July. I am so glad I took the time to send stupid little texts. I miss him so much, and I wish so much that I had tried harder to stay in touch. 48 is too young.
So, as I said in July, value the time you have with your friends and family. Love them, tell them you love them more often than you do. Try to remember than nothing is static and one day someone close to you and to whom you are close will no longer be there. Spend time with them. Listen to them. Share with them. Stuff is just stuff, dictators rise and fall, aging is unavoidable, but none of this really matters. It’s stuff and circumstances, and the in between is what matters. Life is so, so short. SO SHORT. For some people it’s shorter than it really ought to be.
Photos taken by Zsuzsanna Beard, his partner of seven beautiful years.