My friend Chris died a few years ago.
He quietly suffered from mental illness for a long time but took great care to ensure everybody around him felt good, felt happy, and never worried about him. Most people didn’t know because his first concern was always how you were feeling, not him.
I spoke to Chris three or four times a week in the year leading up his passing and I could tell he was in terrible anguish sometimes, and had been for a while. I really hope and think he’s finally found relief… despite how severe a measure he had to take to find it.
I miss him all the time and think about our final phone call at 10:30 the night before he disappeared. I think about how maybe I could have changed his mind if I knew what he was thinking. I think about what I’d say differently if I had that chance again.
But I never will.
In the weeks that followed there was a massive outpouring of support and we organized an event to celebrate his life. I collected stories from friends and classmates and we read them aloud in a rented restaurant where we flashed images and laid out some of his clothes, books, and photos. There were a lot of tears and hugs as we soberly faced the massive loss.
At a loud party a few years back, Chris suddenly draped a red blanket over himself and started full-out dancing to Madonna’s Like A Prayer while everyone cheered and formed a big clapping circle around him. He gyrated his hips, pointed at the crowd, and completely sunk into a magic moment of pure, free and easy bliss while everybody watched. Somebody captured the moment on film and I keep the shiny 8 x 10 pinned above my computer at home. Every night last summer while I wrote The Book of Awesome, I looked up at him dancing and smiled.
See, Chris is a huge part of all this. Most nights on the phone he told me bluntly what he thought of the day’s post and gave ideas for more. He commented under his Mexican half-brother pseudonym San Carlos and many early posts are dotted with his thoughts. Only a few days before his death he wrote on #840 Popping Bubble Wrap “I learned on the news that bubble wrap is a fantastic insulator because of the trapped air. So, if you’re cold and have nothing else besides bubble wrap, DO NOT POP IT but wrap yourself in it.” On #839 Really good candy with your bill at a restaurant he chimed in with “And let us not forget the wholesome goodness of restaurants that serve fresh fruit at the end.” And then on #836 When you push the button for the elevator and it’s already there he simply added “Spot on!”
That was his last comment.
Chris passed away before 1000 Awesome Things won those Webby Awards last spring and got a book deal with a great gang down in New York. I wish he could have seen how far we’ve come since his first comment on the very first post. I wish he could see how far all his strong words of encouragement pushed us forward.
After submitting the first draft of the book last August, I spoke with the publisher and we agreed to chop a few gross-out entries like Picking your nose, Blowing your nose in the shower, and Your colon. We wanted to squeeze some more new content in and plus, let’s face it, not everyone’s as into snot as me.
Anyway, when I submitted the second draft a month later I sorta forgot Your colon in there, hoping nobody would notice. But they noticed all right — turns out they actually read these things — and it came back with a red circle and the polite question “Didn’t we agree to pull this one?” So again I said I’d take it out but again … I sorta forgot. And I sorta forgot on the next draft, too.
See, the truth is I included Your colon because it was always Chris’ favorite post. He called me the night I wrote it breathlessly giggling. “I love it,” he started. “It’s hilarious and … strangely illuminating.” In the months that followed he’d always bring it up again, too. “Nice writeup on all-you-can-eat buffets today,” he’d start “… but it’s no colon.”
When we talked about that post that night I could hear his laughs so clearly through the phone. I could see his thin eyes get thinner, his glasses slip and fog a bit, and his small body rolling back and forth as he giggled and shook his head and enjoyed a nice moment.
That’s how I still picture him today. That’s the picture that inspired an awesome thing in the book called When you hear someone’s smile over the phone.
Because listen, we all are who we are who we are. There’s people who made you, people who shaped you, and people who changed you.
When you’re lucky enough to have unforgettable friends in your life do yourself a favor and make sure they’re unforgettable. Spend time, make memories, tell them you love them, whenever you can, however you can.
Chris, thank you for your laughs, friendship, and inspiration. Thank you for being a big part of my life, a big part of this site, and a big part of this book. Your memory goes on, grows on, and lives on, because you’re so unforgettably
Thanks for reading this story about Chris. He continues to be a big part of everything we’ve created here. Personally, I feel lucky I don’t have serious mental illness but I will admit there are many times I feel anxious or overly stressed.
I thought I’d drop a quick note to tell you about my favorite book of the year so far. It’s called Play It Away and it talks about how we can use something simple — play! — to help with anxiety. I actually read it in one sitting! Hope you like it too.
Check out The Book of Awesome