[tw: death and connection and joy and regret]
Our neighbour Jesse died on Thursday.
Well--he died on Monday morning. But his friends found him on Thursday, and the police and an ambulance came, and his brother, and then a coroner. And then the news trickled through Facebook and the various text message groups, and he died again for hundreds of friends and loved ones who knew him from festivals and parties in the woods and drinks at the beach, people who he existed for as a friendly face and a mellow vibe and easy grin.
We hadn't seen him in awhile ourselves; my SIL was staying in the cottage, and she had noticed he hadn't been out in days. His van window was down in the rain, but he sometimes left his van window down in the rain, because he was that kind of absent-minded, which I totally related to and enjoyed about him.
Damian said "let's look for Gigi and she if she's around." And we did, and we spotted his little black cat, but we didn't see him, though I wasn't sure if that meant anything or what it might mean -- except that she wasn't inside eating his face (a joke we made because we never thought for a second he was actually dead, and which I'm sure he would have thought was hilarious; but then we felt bad about making the joke because it turned out he was dead. But at least his cat didn't eat his face. Our cat will definitely eat ours.)
Jesse was cool. He was one of those guys who just is, because he didn't really care what other people think. He liked himself and was kind to everyone. He lived casually but intensely. He was one of those people who really enjoyed living, too. He bought a weird old house -- the flipped twin to our weird old house -- a while ago, when things were much cheaper, and fixed it up. Before that there was a divorce and heartbreak, so he lived there with various roommates and lovers which we politely didn't keep track of, but they all came and left as friends, and then came back again. And that was nice.
I never got much of the full story of him, besides that; just these impressions over the years of conversations across the driveway and waves and winks and thumbs-ups, random chats, because we kept planning to get to know him but then we didn't. We didn't for terrible reasons; first it was a whole lot of personal tragedy for us, and then a broken leg, and then a pandemic, and then burnout, more tragedy, and then... habit. You know. Life. Too much of it over the past few years.
And I'm sure he'd have understood, but it's so awful and mundane, that missed connection. There was something else more pressing than taking the time to get to know a cool guy. And that's bullshit and stupid and I'm so mad at us for it. But I wanted to make us being here not weird for him, because we're weird, and sometimes a lot, and I care far too much about that, and I wish I hadn't cared so much about that.
Weird would have been better than nothing.
But then again, it wasn't nothing -- we had a thing, it was just a small thing. We waved and said hello and exchanged a goofy gesture or comment or laugh. The other day he jumped out at Damian from behind a tree and Damian jumped back and they laughed, and that was the kind of guy he was: he was always there, and he spread good vibes wherever there was.
And there was everywhere: he travelled and he sang and he danced until dawn. He would sometimes disappear for days or weeks. He walked around shirtless, and built the fences down all of our street even if he hated fences himself, and I loved that about him. He moved his materials in the back of his hilarious old vans; and he loved those vans. He went to the nude beach in the summer where he tanned to a dusky-reddish tinge, and he hung disc-golf pins from the fruit tree beside our yard, though we never saw him practice, because who has time for practice when you can be doing? And he did.
He was one of a kind, and laughed a lot, and had a bit of a warped sense of humor, and I really loved having him as a neighbour.
And I've never had a neighbour before; not really. As a renter, my neighbours were always ghosts... or we were. But Jesse was there, and we were here; a core part of each other's spatial memory for the past four years, of our sense of place, of permanence. When we enjoyed the view, he was enjoying the same view. Our endlessly-unfinished projects marvelled at his endlessly-unfinished projects ("Remember, you don't have to do it all at once!" -- the most useful sentence anyone's ever given to me). When his light came on on a Saturday night, we knew he was going out dancing and would be home late. When our light was on, he could see it from his window, and knew we were kicking around being night-owl nerds. I miss him knowing we're home. When he'd run up the stairs after decompresing in his van, and he saw when our friends came to stay, we were part of each other's lives. We were going to be here forever, and so was he. And now he's gone and his house is empty and his van window never did get rolled up.
We had plans together. We were going to build stairs down to the beach together, and who knew when, but some day, but it was a plan. And in my head I still see him sitting down there, laughing with various friends and lovers, getting tanned and spending time doing what mattered, instead of doing what needed doing, because there's always later for the doing, but never time for the living. He did the living, and I'm glad he did, because he won't have a later now. He did it the right way around.
And then he died. Just after his 49th birthday.
So yeah. I'm having big feelings about his death, even though he wasn't someone we were exactly close to; friendly, but not friends; intimate, but not close. But I'd planned for us to become friends, some day. But unlike Jesse, I planned instead of doing. And now there is no some day.
I'm so, so sorry for all the people who knew and loved him. And I'm sorry I didn't make time to be one of them.
What a wonderful piece. Thank you for sharing this part of your lives.