Death doesn’t matter to the dead. No, it falls to us, the living who are left behind to process the loss, make some sense of everything, shoulder the burden then move on.
There were times when I was younger where I was sure that Ivan would die a fiery death, victim of his own misadventure. Most of the time I figured he’d live forever. I never would have considered something as mundane as liver failure. It strains credibility. Like Smaug getting felled by colon cancer.
But none of us are young gods anymore. Maybe we never were. There is gray in our hair now. We have bad backs, scars, and perspective from hard life lessons learned. We take pills for anxiety, or blood pressure, or to help us sleep.
When we were in that magical age between sixteen and twenty-one, we thought we knew everything. We had it all figured out, didn’t we? Our friends back then were going to be our friends for the rest of our lives. We were so smart. A pack of young wolves, ready to make the world ours.
Of course, we were fools.
Ivan slipped away from us the other day. It’s the final “Ta-dah!” of the vanishing act he’s been perfecting for over twenty years. I’ve maintained or rebuilt several of the important friendships from that time. But for reasons I may never understand, Ivan chose the opposite road. I think he liked being enigmatic, a cipher. I have to think he enjoyed it, this wall he build around himself and his life. I have to believe it because nothing else makes sense to me.
Despite not having said more than two sentences to him in over two decades, not a week goes by when I don’t think of Ivan. I have friends who have never met him who can share favorite Ivan stories. I was remembering one over coffee with people not three days ago, where he had accidentally locked himself in the bathroom overnight, spooked by a gurgling toilet in the other bathroom because of Stephen King’s “It.”
Ivan introduced me to the Velvet Underground, and Blind Faith, and Rocky Horror. He deconstructed Roman Candles he deemed “lame,” and repacked them into film canisters packed with toilet paper for some truly impressive fireworks. He wrestled with the family’s black lab in the backyard. He orchestrated the most elaborate practical joke I’ve ever seen in real life, involving a “Blue Thunder” soundtrack on cassette. He’s responsible for my friendship with a woman who remains, after all this time, one of the best friends I’ve ever had. He also is one of only two friends who met the woman who broke my heart so bad it shaped every adult relationship/romance since.
Ivan taught me the value in knowing which fights to fight, and when to just smile and nod. And that skill alone has done me more good than just about anything I was taught in school.
Ivan was the first of that circle of friends to fall. He was my blood brother.
And I can’t express how angry I am over the loss. Not just of Ivan, but of the twenty-plus years where he kept to an ever-narrowing circle. I never knew him as an adult. He’ll always be that punk teenager, laughing at authority, and ready to protect his friends no matter what.
In all reality, Ivan slipped away from us a long time ago. It didn’t have to be that way. I’ll never understand why it happened. But it was his choice. And Ivan was always a puzzle, with sparkle in his eyes and a coyote’s smile.
I think that’s how I’ll always remember him.