#829 Smiling and thinking of good friends who are gone

big-feetI met Chris Kim in September, 2005 in Boston.

A tiny Korean guy with thin eyes hidden behind thick glasses under a well-worn and faded ball cap, he looked kind of mousy under awkwardly baggy clothes and behind a soft voice. And even though neither of us drank much, we met at a bar — me speed-sucking a gin and tonic through a needle-thin straw, him warming a well-nursed beer and occasionally taking baby sips.

When he mentioned he was from Boston, I asked about the Red Sox and he played along well enough. “Big win last night,” he offered cautiously. “Maybe still have a chance at the playoffs?” Of course, that launched me on a rant about the bullpen and whether Curt Shilling had enough steam for another big run. He nodded on, listening intently, asking genuine and serious questions, and letting our friendship take root over sports, of all things. Of course, he never watched the stuff, but was nice enough to let me talk mindlessly about it all night.

grand-canyonFull of wry smiles, awkward pauses, and mock-serious faces, Chris was a complex, fascinating, creative person who grew into a remarkably close friend during the two years I lived in the US. He got excited about little things, like caramelizing onions perfectly for an hour on low heat, getting randomly selected to fill out a survey of his radio habits, or learning a new keyboard shortcut in Microsoft Excel.

But it wasn’t the bar scene that helped our friendship bloom. It was the car scene.

hoover-damYeah, when I showed up to school on our first winter morning shivering to the bone in a flimsy nylon coat, my hair wet, my face dripping, Chris asked where I lived and if I needed a ride the next day. As I was at that moment toweling my face off with a fistful of balled up Kleenex, I took him up on it right away. (Lucky for me Chris had signed up to be a senior student in an undergrad residence way off campus, spending his free time for two years chaperoning social events, holding heads above toilets, and editing two or three resumes a night on a steady clip.)

malibuAnyway, he began picking me up every morning for the next two years, probably at least a couple hundred rides, never once accepting money for gas because, as he said, “I’m going that way anyway.” When other students heard about my taxi service, they got in on it, too. It started with a “Hey Chris, if there’s a blizzard tomorrow, can I catch a lift?”, and turned into Chris emailing three or four of us each night, giving us the Bus Schedule, as he called it, timed precisely to the minute for the next morning. And so it went — us piling into his car after he’d spent the first few minutes warming it up for us, tightly blanketed in fat mittens and his trademark big blue hat.

golden-gate-bridgeTwo years later, in Spring, 2007, Chris and I went on a three week roadtrip with our friend Ty, which I’ve mentioned before here and here. Not too long after the trip began, we started joking about how much Chris was text-messaging his friends. It was non-stop, how in touch he was constantly with people. “Jake says hi,” he’d deadpan, his back facing the Grand Canyon, surrounded by people all looking the other way. Eventually, he made a joke of it, letting us take photos of him obliviously focused on his cell phone in front of every big site we stopped at. He absolutely loved the gag and laughed wildly before and after each photo.

chicago-millennium-parkLast year I nervously started up this page, tentatively dipping my toe into cyberspace where anyone could see. Chris of course adopted his Mexican half-brother pseudonym San Carlos and peppered us with comments of support from the get-go. On #1000 Broccoflower, he wrote “My policy is to avoid all foods that look to be from outer space. Eggplant. Mushrooms. And, apparently, broccoflower.” On #885 Paying for something with exact change he wrote “I save all my pennies in my car. And then, the next time I do McDonald’s drive-through, I fling all the pennies into the server’s face. … No, actually, I put the pennies into the Ronald McDonald’s House box right underneath the window.” On #859 Playing with a baby and not having to change its diaper he wrote “I don’t mind changing my nephews diapers. It only got weird when they began to talk. Awkward!”

cn-towerI loved his sense of humor and his way about himself. I loved how he laughed, frequently, at little things, and got so excited about tiny details most people overlooked. Chris and I spoke three or four times a week over the past year, in ten or fifteen minute snippets usually, but sometimes for an hour or two. He’d tell me about the sourdough bread he was going to bake that day, the elaborate meal he had planned for friends coming for dinner, or the New York Times article he read that I should check out. I would ask him for ideas for this pageĀ  — he had plenty — and occasionally go on long rants about sports.

Chris died suddenly this past week. He was 32.

No amount of the usual closing rhyming couplets or fist-to-the-sky proclamations are going to bring him back. But I know he’s in a peaceful place and would want us all to just be happy, keep plugging, and enjoy our lives as full as we can. So thank you, Chris. You’ll always inspire me.

And you’ll always be so incredibly awesome.

This entry is in The Book of Awesome

chris-and-his-sourdough-bread

282 thoughts on “#829 Smiling and thinking of good friends who are gone

  1. I’m very sorry for your loss. Chris must have been an amazing person. I’m glad to have had even this small glimpse into his life.

  2. This post made me shiver & sob.
    This was an amazing and inspiring post & im sorry for your loss. The good people always leave too early =(
    He sounds like a great guy, I’d love to meet someone like that in my life.

  3. That was beautiful.
    I read this blog everyday, send the entries to my friends, and I will be sure to send this one to those who make everyday of my life awesome.

    Thank you for sharing. We all wish you the best, and it seems as though through your loss, we all have missed out on someone who could make this life all the more great.

    I am so sorry.

  4. Thank you for this one. This site has made me smile to myself a lot, but this article hits home. I lost a good friend a year and a half ago, also named Chris. This is the first time I’ve smiled while thinking of him in a long time. My best wishes are with you, and I’m sure your Chris would be very happy to read this.

  5. I, like many other people, never felt compelled to comment before this post. What an amazing,unusual, beautiful tribute to your friend. It’s so, well…awesome to read about such a touching friendship on this site. Kudos to Chris for being such an amazing person, if only we were all lucky enough to know him. Rest in peace, Chris.

  6. Neil,

    I’ve been coming to this site since a little post about the smell of gasoline (#977). Every week I look forward to what this site has to offer. I enjoy your style of writing; its openness and honesty. This post was a nice moment of reflection, and a fitting tribute to someone that made an impact on your life. I wish you all the best in your loss.

    JL

    R.I.P – Chris Kim

  7. This entry brought to my mind a dear friend from my younger days. We didn’t hang around all the time, but when we did, we did everything together for several days.
    Kevin was in Phuket, Thailand when the 2004 tsunami hit. His whole family got lost in the waves, himself, sister and parents.

  8. I’m so sorry your friend passed away. Your story brought tears to my eyes. It reminded me of a friend who passed away unexpectedly five years ago this April. I read your blog but never comment, but I felt compelled to leave a note so you know those of us who don’t comment are out here enjoying your great posts!

  9. Beautiful. Just beautiful.

    This is an amazing tribute, but I hope I never live to see my friends die. This almost made me cry, it was so amazing.

    Awesome tribute.

    My condolences go out to you for the loss of your friend, and to Chris’s family for their loss.

  10. When I saw there were 64 posts on your piece about Chris, I don’t know why I assumed that there would be 64 posts from people I would know, or at least that Chris would know. Reading the blog didn’t make me cry (just smile, because it was perfectly Chris). But reading the posts did, because it meant even more to me that people who didn’t know him were so touched. Thanks to all for what amounted to a great big hug.

  11. Like Dave, I read and admire your blog but I’ve never posted a comment.

    I have a lump in my throat and this makes me think of all the awesome people out there like Chris. People who are just good, good to the core and who impact your life.

    Ugh..I’m in class. I have to go before I start to cry.

    But thanks for that posting. It was incredible and truly touching.

    Thanks and I’ll keep reading.

  12. Neil,

    You always capture things so spot-on in this blog, such a way with words.

    Reading this made me smile as I remember our friend Chris.

  13. Neil – Beautifully written and a wonderful testament to the amazing person Chris was.

    Chris – We will miss you dearly. Rest in peace.

  14. A friend of mine was killed in a car wreck the day you posted this, but I only just got round to reading it today. Aside from the quirk of timing, I very nearly just cried in the office. Really touching post, thanks.

  15. Neil – C. J. and I have been thinking about you! What a beautifully written tribute to Chris! He will certainly be missed. Thank you so much for putting into words what many of us have been feeling and thinking. You couldn’t have described Chris more perfectly!

  16. Another reader who never felt compelled to comment before–but I’ve been reading for a while now. I’m very sorry to hear about the loss of your friend. You’ve written a beautiful tribute to him, though, and for that you can be proud.

    Cherish your memories.

  17. Hi Neil
    What a beautiful post; a wonderful tribute to an awesome person. I’ve been thinking a lot about you lately. I hope, in time, your grief becomes peace.

  18. It’s tough, to lose a person who means so much. Thanks for sharing just a small part of Chris’ life and his impact on your life. Sorry for your lose.

  19. Neil, thank you. I’ve been quietly trying to come to terms with the weight of all this, hoping Chris is at peace, and remembering that I probably never thanked him for being a big part of what got me through business school. You capture him perfectly. That wry smile and his endless patience with my sarcasm are fresh memories. He will be ever missed.

  20. I’m sorry you lost such a great friend. I’m glad that such a beautiful person had the chance to touch you and others in his brief time here. This was a lovely tribute, and makes me want to be the kind of person that is warmly remembered when it’s time to go. Thanks for sharing.

  21. Also, this proves that life is too short to truly guarantee we’ll live 74 years, or whatever they say now. We just can’t ensure that.

    All condolences.

  22. I’ve always agreed that most items on this list have been awesome, but I felt compelled this time to comment. The story was so heartwarming and then the end so crushing. Chris sounds like an amazing man. Awesome.

  23. Last year my friend Tony died. He was hit by a car while walking home from the pub. He left behind his family, his friends, his girlfriend and his baby. Hopefully they will be smiling about him now, the way you smile about Chris.

  24. Losing a friend is one of the worst things someone can go through in life – but what an amazing way to remember him. Inspiring man.

  25. I can only hope that my friends will say something half as sweet as what you said about your friend. He sounds like a great person. If only we were all so lucky to have someone like that in our lives…

    Consider yourself hugged.

  26. I love thinking about those things aswell. This entry reminds me of my father and the boy who I was first madly in love with who rang me up as soon as he found out about my father’s death and was on the phone to me for 8 hours most of it saying nothing but that was the best. That boy also passed away and I always love reflecting on the moments that those two really shaped my life.

    Great entry.

    You’re right

    It’s AWESOME!

  27. how lucky you were to have had such a beautiful person touch your life. chris seems to have reached maslow’s level of self actualization in his oh too short life.

  28. Thank you for sharing. I sporadically check out your AWESOME sight and was really touched by this entry. Cheers, and here’s to Chris.

  29. I am so sorry to hear about the loss of your friend. One of my classmates from both of my high schools passed away too soon. I have fond memories of both of them, and every time I see a gazebo, I think of Jimmy. Whenever I flip through the channels and see anything military related, I think of Phil….

  30. Wow… I love this site but I had not been on here in a while due to work and stuff. Great story and quite sobering. I am really sorry for your loss, he sounded like a great person. Really gives you perspective about the people in your life now who are important. When with people that are close to me, I always make a point of saying goodbye to them like it will be the last time I will see them, even if its only my wife heading out to the shops, it costs me nothing and in this life none of us know when the last time we will see someone will be, so make every time with them count.

  31. You’re right. Good friends who have passed on are indeed a sad thing, and thinking about them are…sobering. Somehow, this entry was, and still is one of the best so far even though all my friends are still alive.

    To your friend Chris,

    *raise mug of coffee in admiration*

  32. Thank you for making me smile on a day where I’ve had little to smile about.
    Chris sound’s like an amazing guy, one of those people who’s realised that you can get thru any situation and be happy if you can still smile.

    I’m sorry for your loss

  33. I saw this site on digg today and came across this entry. Very touching and a wonderful tribute.

  34. A wonderful tribute. I’m sorry for your loss but I’m glad you had the emotional strength to write this so you won’t forget him. Rest in peace, Chris.

  35. One of my best friend’s father committed suicide last week and I immediately forwarded this post to her. She got a laugh out of it and I think it reminded her to think about the great times she had had with her father, not on the sorrow of losing a loved one in such a horrible way.

    Thanks

  36. This post meant a lot to me because recently I was in my mother’s bedroom and found an opened sympathy card on the floor and read it. It was from Kathy and was sent a year after my mom’s mom’s death. Kathy wrote in the card: “I know you still miss her.”

    Thank you for the beautiful tribute to Chris.

  37. A friend just emailed me this blog and truthfully I was just scanning though….only reading the headlines. But I stopped on this post, the title touched me even before I read it. All I have to say is thank-you. Like many, I also had a good friend that suddenly passed away after much reflection I realized that it’s not the amount of time that they were in our life, it’s the quality of the time that we spent together.

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