Saturday, July 28, 2007

Dear Steve

Written Thursday, June 2nd, 2005

It was twenty years ago this September that we first met, when you were the music director of our college radio station. I remember you got sick not long after we met, and there was that one day that, I think, Jake, Kelly, Craig and I came to visit you. You had a huge tube in your chest and looked pretty damned uncomfortable. If I recall correctly, though, you did tell Kelly that now that she had seen your nipples, fair was fair, and she should reciprocate. A comment made even funnier for the fact that, at the time, we all hardly knew each other.

We were all students in the broadcasting class at Adirondack Community College. From that hospital room to the college's classrooms to your living room and many of the bars and restaurants in the area over the next few years, we were good friends. Craig, and very shortly thereafter Jay, and a few other people were all part of a circle of friends united in an interest in all of our hoped-for radio careers, although only a handful – including you and I, ever actually got jobs in radio. So far as I know, only Jake and I still have them, and I haven't seen him in many years.

How do we all scatter to the wind? And how is it that we ask ourselves that so rarely, and only at a time like this?

It was just last night, Steve, that I found out you had died. I had emailed Jay about something I thought he'd be interested in, and he mentioned in his reply how hard your passing had hit him. I was so shocked by this casual mention of your death, that I was not even certain he was talking about you, although, of course he was. We always knew -- you, me, your mom, all of us -- that you were living on borrowed time. Hell, in college I looked up information about your illness and discovered the life expectancy was in the early 20s. That you made it to nearly 40 is a genuine triumph. That you died last December is, frankly, a kick in the head that I am having a hard time getting past.

There's no one to blame but me for my not knowing. I allowed us to fall out of contact with each other years ago, and at the time you died my personal circumstances took me even further away from any kind of communication with the person most likely to let me know what was happening, our good and mutual friend Joe. So much has happened between Joe and I over the past year, none of it really the fault of either of us, but it's been hard, at times, to talk to him. Hard not to hate him, despite the fact that ultimately all that's happened is not his fault.

Shit, Steve, this is about you and me. And the fact is, I'm the only one to blame for the way our lives split off from each other. For years I loved you like a brother, and respected you mightily for being the only person I knew who so very clearly was both smarter and funnier than me. I often say my friend and creative partner Chris Allen is who I want to be when I grow up, but Steve, before I met him, that person was you. I wanted to be as funny as you, I wanted to be as smart as you, and most importantly, I wanted to be as decent as you.

You were the best kind of friend someone like me could have – you never pulled your punches, and you always called bullshit on me. I never could get away with anything with you. And best of all, you stayed loyal no matter what. I'm sure every friend you ever had knew what I knew then and know now – there could be no better or more loyal friend than Steve Cole.

I'm sorry for the way things turned out between us, and I take full, 100% responsibility. I always thought that, since both of us were still friends with Jay, and friends with Joe, that somehow when enough time had passed we'd find ourselves in a conversation together, and the years would fall away. I thought you had found a strength and power to defeat your illness, and I thought there'd be all the time in the world.

Funnily enough, I have an incurable illness, now, too, although it's nowhere as devastating yet as yours was to you. I know now, having lived with diabetes for seven years, how you came to live with your own illness as just a part of your life. You were sick to one degree or another for the entirety of the time I knew you, but you never let the sickness blot out your passion, your humour, or your life. Hell, looking back, as confused as we were in our early 20s, you still managed to be one of the most alive and vital people I knew. I know you had your doubts and fears, but please know that I always looked to you as someone who seemed to have it together in ways that I could never hope to figure out.

I don't know what else to say, my friend. Too many years got between us, and I lost one of the very best friends I ever had. I'm sorry I let our friendship fall away. I'm sorry I wasn't there for you, but I'm glad to know that Jay was. My only excuse for all this is that I really, truly thought there'd be more time, and now there's none. But I remember the years we were friends, and all the funny and tragic crap that only young men in their 20s can believe is the most important thing in the world. Approaching 40, I know that friendship and shared experience is one of the most important things that anyone can ever have, and I'm profoundly grateful for the time that we had, as friends, as colleagues at the college radio station, as two young men, one of whom always thought there'd be more time, and the other who probably knew there would never be enough. I'm glad you got as many years as you did, Steve, but I wish you'd gotten a little more. Selfishly, I wish you'd gotten enough time for me to call you up, one more time, and say hello. And to say I'm sorry. And to say that I've missed your friendship, and I now, I always will.