Selfies seem suddenly important (RIP)

From the front of Hell’s Kitchen in Minneapolis, MN pic by Diana Rajchel

One of the reasons promised Pantheacon updates have yet to appear here is because on Sunday afternoon of said con, I got word that my best friend had died unexpectedly in his sleep. He was 34. He had moved west shortly after Marie and I did, and we had a loose plan of having him move in with us. It didn’t work out that way – he decided to stay in Portland and we found a roommate with a much more indirect Minnesota connection.

He and I had become quite close right before our big move, and he asked that we make an effort to continue the relationship. He was a big support for me, as San Francisco has been hard, hostile, and what counter-culture remains tends to alienate me with their bigoted attitudes towards all things Middle America. When my wife began her transition, Joe was the first of our friends she came out to. We were close. I didn’t know every secret, but I knew all the big stuff.

The last time I saw him was about a month ago. He had packed his bags and suddenly headed to MN, and I convinced him to stay with us an extra day since he was about to take on a good chunk of the US in wintery weather. We enjoyed each other, had a kerfluffle with my jerky next door neighbor, and parted with lots of love and hugs.

photo shot for me w/my phone by Elysia Gallo at Pantheacon
photo shot for me w/my phone by Elysia Gallo at Pantheacon (I wrote the Samhain book)

The last message we exchanged I complained about some housing circumstances. The last message he left for me – the night he died – was under a picture of me holding up the cover of Llewellyn’s fall catalog – that had the title of one of the books I wrote for them as the cover. It said “Awesome! So proud of you Di!”

For a last living message to a friend, that’s a damn good one.

I got through the funeral. I became the inadvertent eulogy-giver, but I think even Joe liked what I said.  I passed out mini-bottles of Jameson “like an Irish Santa Claus” according to another fellow mourner.

I am glad things were good between Joe and I when he died, but right now I think my biggest regret is the complete absence of pictures of us together. His mother knew me the moment she saw me – evidently she did look at my Facebook pages. She told me how Joe had come home one day and said “Mom, she’s like us!” and told her how calm he felt around me and in my house. He loved to housesit for us when Marie and I traveled. We did a lot together, much in a very short time. Some did merit pictures.

But I have social anxiety, making cons and crowd events too hard for me to endure for long. We did spend a lot of trivia nights together, but even though we both had phones, at least I had a certain derision for people that stop every thirty seconds to take selfies – those were the people that walked into our club and confused Star Trek with Star Wars in front of us. I was often to shy, anxious, unsure it was appropriate to ask for a picture together, even though for those of us with SmartPhone privilege it’s absurdly easy now.

After my dad died, Christmas cards took on a weird importance. It was a way of keeping touch while allowing distance. I made it about a year before that slipped through my fingers in the chaos of a San Francisco holiday season with a hyper-socializing wife. I am going to revise that card list and do something. It seems important all over again, not to mention people I’d like to add.

With Joe’s death, suddenly selfies with friends seems one hell of a lot more important. I always had an envy of the people I knew in college and high school who had framed pictures of besties taped to their walls. I didn’t really have any besties, or a camera, or someone interested enough to take photos back then. I was smart, outspoken, and terribly shy – a combination that kept people from knowing how deeply isolated I really felt most of the time.

Joe was the first person I ever met who understood it instinctively because he also had a rich inner life that was hard to corroborate with the demands and expectations of the outside world. When I spoke, he understood me…on the first try. The last time he visited, the day after I was surrounded by wife and boyfriend and roommate and I burst into tears because Joe was gone and that meant that I’d have to go back to struggling all the time to be properly heard and understood.

Looks like it’s going to be like that  for a lifetime now.

Another aspect of Joe’s death that MUST be discussed – because he was young and had few assets, he didn’t have a will and testament that anyone knows of. His mom was unprepared for this, and so there is a fundraiser to help pay for his funeral costs. The cost of a funeral is typically $6000, and the fundraiser has yet to hit $3K. No matter how young you are, as soon as you turn 18, get a will written. There are several places and ways to do so that are affordable and legal. Yes, it is morbid and unpleasant to think about you gone from this earth – but once it’s done, you don’t have to think about it except for brief moments when you get married or divorced, move to a new state, have a partner transition genders… you get the idea.

I’m not ready to say Rest in Peace, really. I am still angry, demanding answers, saying unfortunate and tart things on Twitter that probably need to be said but not by me. But I recognize the gift of an amazing friend, and that keeps no matter how long anyone lives. I finally got to see a funeral where people cried, and talked about their loved one, and acted like human beings about the whole thing. (My birth family frowned on crying at funerals and that’s the tip of the fucked-up iceberg. So, as much as seeing my best friend in a coffin sucked, in that way it was refreshing.)

I just really wish I’d taken some selfies with him.