#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 page  — 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


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

  1. It’s been a while since this happened, but I’m still very sorry for your loss. Chris must have been an awesome guy. Thanks for this tribute (my cheeks just had their morning shower)

  2. I just wanted to comment to say that someone is still reading about Chris, even years later, and feeling really sad that he’s not still around, being as awesome as you described. #829 Chris Kim.

  3. While a rather sobering post, I do share your affinity for smiling and thinking of friends who I no longer see or talk to on a regular basis. For someone who has moved frequently, I have pockets of friends in different parts of the world. Invariably, doing/seeing/hearing something may remind me of one of the many people I’ve come across. :-)

    With Love and Gratitude,


  4. I have lost many people in my life, but when it’s “sudden” it’s different. Today is the anniversary of a friend’s 15th birthday, who died “suddenly”, just weeks later, in 1976.
    Recently, while having a total recall, GUILT included, an individual said to me, “If you were there, I know you would’ve done something, if you could’ve!”
    Talk about a lift and I saw my dear friend’s smile.
    Peace be with all.

    1. Just this past week, 3 more: a child and 2 serrogate moms…
      like “Tears and rain”… and every year I get better in some respect about the importance of staying in body; having compassion for and nourishing self. Being with positives and doing good things for others in their memory. I blast “Hallelujah”, “Hey Jude” and “River Deep, Mountain High” dance, cry, walk-about with nature; sing, remember and then smile for I’m pretty sure this is what they want to see.
      This site- this # for sure, has really helped me with this. Thanks=)

  5. My brother commited suicide a few months ago, and I’ve been thrown into one of the darkest periods of my life. I’ve always wondered why someone would choose to leave this life when there are so many simple pleasures to be enjoyed. Keep sharing these little inspirations, it’s the little things that matter.

  6. So sorry for your loss.
    I’ve said this before in this site, but I’ll say it here again: Best book ever written, “Unattended Sorrow” by Stephen Levine.
    You have the strongest colour, true ~ Purple.
    Peace be with you, Cindy.

  7. I am so sorry that you lost your friend at such a young age of 32. Just terrible for somebody to be gone so early in their life.
    I lost my best friend three years ago. We were friends for over 20 years. I think about him at least once a day. It doesn’t ‘get better’, but it really helps remembering the good times and laughing about things he said. I feel like as long as he’s still making me laugh a part of him is still here.

  8. I am a friend of Emmeline, Chris’s sister. Thank you for writing such a beautiful piece. I wondered at first at the pictures and loved enjoying his humor through your words. Thank you for sharing.

  9. What a beautiful tribute :)….. Wish I knew Chris beyond his early childhood years when only getting to know his older sister who has grown to be one of my best friends of all time… I’m very happy she shared this, as I know how much the loss of Chris still affects her every day.

  10. Wow he sounds like he was such a cool guy. You are blessed & lucky to have had him
    In your life& I am glad you appreciated that. Xxx

  11. …its very first time am reading this blog…well ‘death is certain, life is not’…but uncertainty is worth element when you have such freinds and such friendship…AWESOME!!!

  12. …well ‘death is certain, life is not’…but uncertainty is worth element when you have such freinds and such friendship…AWESOME!!!

  13. You got the chance to meet an angel up close and personal. Do know that he stills inspires you to look at the little things.

  14. I was just introduced to your blog via PostSecret. (I hope you keep your posts up even though you are “ending it”.) I just read your post about your friend Chris. Yeah, I am 6.5 months pregnant. But your memories and photos were so artful and lovely. I cried. Am trying not to cry. Good luck to you in all that you do. And thanks for bigging up the awesome.

  15. This made me cry. I’ve never read your blog, though now I wish I had! I found it through PostSecret. He sounds like a amazing guy, and I think you were both so blessed to know one another. I can only hope my best friend would even consider writing something so touching when I leave this world.

  16. This post made me laugh and tear up. May your friend’s memories live on and continue bringing joy to those who knew him.

  17. I loved this… I find myself wishing I had a friend like Chris! You were lucky to have known him! <3

  18. Hey! I came here because it was linked on Post Secret. I know where those stone legs are in the top picture. My brother and his friends painted socks on them shortly after they were built. Many have repainted them since, but they were the first! Surprising to follow a link on PS and see that. Small world.

  19. Incredible. I have lost several people that have touched me, and I try to focus on the beautiful memories they have left me with. I have read this entry several times over the last few years, and again it hits close to home. Thank you for the reminder to laugh and love the time we had with those who’ve moved on.

  20. Every good person in my opinion is named Chris, my grandfather Chris raised me and this story made me smile, because now I’m pregnant and on his death bed I told him my child boy or girl would be named after him. I’m happy to be bringing into this world another Chris.

  21. This was a very touching & well-written tribute to what sounds like an amazing guy. I teared up from the get-go and they actually went over at the end. I’m sure he would be happy to see how positively he affected you and the many others in his life. God bless.

  22. Found this entry through Frank Warren’s reference to your site on his PostSecret page. What a touching tribute to your friend. I’m sure, even now, he looks upon the good times and smiles. We should all be so lucky as to have such great friends.

    Best wishes to you as your countdown comes to a close. I hope it was a very fulfilling experience.

  23. I remember reading this when it was first posted, and again about a year later, and again just now. A lovely and enduring tribute to your friend, it’s the entry that’s stayed with me the most, and is a reflection of just how truly special this blog is.

    Thank you for sharing this, and for all 998 other posts you’ve shared thus far. Can’t wait for number 1.

  24. One day you wake up and you realize that all the moments of pleasure on life are build with the friendships you make along it.
    Four years ago, I arrived at my first class on an American high school. It was Algebra 2, I knew it would be the easiest one but I was so scared. At the same time, I was so excited to meet new people and to discover how students act inside of a classroom in a different country. As I entered the room, there he was. He looked at me and started waving at me, I didn´t know what to do. I thought to myself “Is this for me? Is he calling me to sit next to him?”. Well, I did it. We spent the entire class talking and laughing about our lifes, for a moment I thought we would have known each other for so long, It just clicked.
    The time I spent in US went by so fast and when I realized that was home now. Derek, the guy I met on my first Algebra class, became my best friend, my brother, my company in all activities I did during my routine. We would not be apart at any time. Every day on sunset we would sit by the lake and let the hour pass by us quietly. And all I could thing about was “Family is who we choose”.
    Summer arrived and I had to go back to Brazil. It was so weird leaving that new life I built during an entire year. It was so weird seeing the sunset and not being near Derek. However, what made me not fall apart was knowing that one day I was going to see him again. But this feeling went away the night I woke up with a strange call from US, It was his mother telling me he was gone.
    Now what this leaves me all the good and unforgettable memories I have with my best friend. Memories, dreams and wishes of hearing his voice again.

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