At first, I hated that everyone was posting tributes to you on Facebook. It hurt me to open up my app, needing that quick dopamine hit of a Like on a picture, and instead seeing your smiling face with friends who miss you.
Then several people, including your mom, mentioned how they found comfort in reading those posts. They show what an impact you had on so many lives.
I guess I had to let myself begin to process your death before I could resume enjoying your life. So, here goes, friend. My tribute to you.
You were the off-key bass-line to my college and post-college experience. You filled out the song of my life, bringing harmonies and eccentricities I never could have imagined without you.
Our story, like your story with many people, begins on a hot Kirksville summer night with too much booze and just enough college listlessness. There were video games, and records, and Chinese symbols… but I was intimidated to hang out with you at first because you were SO COOL. I mean… Earthbound tattoos up your leg? How many people (outside of Japan) even know that game exists? So I don’t think we talked much that first night, but I did lay on your lawn and look at the stars for awhile.
After I came back from Spain, our friendship intensified over nights of Drabble and DRisk and DR-Clue and you ALWAYS kicking everyone’s asses no matter the game. When Sarah left for Arkansas and I found myself profoundly alone, you took me home and let me watch hours of Wonderfalls with you while I ate your shells and cheese (with hot sauce, of course).
You always made sure I knew that I had a place to feel loved and just be. You were there for me, especially when I battled my own bouts of depression through the years. If I felt sad, or mad, or joyful, or whatever, I’d come over. Then I’d request “Uncontrollable Urge” by DEVO. You’d set the needle on the vinyl and then we’d bounce around swishing our glorious heads of hair, screaming “Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah YEAH YEAH!”
One time when you, Kelsey M., and I played Mario Party Pirate Island, I was losing THE WHOLE GAME… until the end when Toad awards the “nice try” star. The star tipped me into VICTORY. YOU WERE PISSED. I laughed so hard, gloated so hard, and took another sip of Bud Light, I’m sure.
I remember when you ran late for your Senior Seminar presentation and Dr. Betsy sent me to fetch you from your apartment (we both thought you had overslept! TYPICAL). I ran (kind of) down High Street from the Student Union… only to find that somehow we’d crossed paths and you WERE at your presentation already. You delivered an incredible paper about Japanese folktales (that you pulled together in basically three days. TYPICAL).
One summer, I asked you to teach me how to bind a book. You patiently tried to guide me through the steps, but I got as far as cutting the pages before I gave up because I have the craft skills of an untrained chimpanzee. You and Sarah made fun of me for that (also TYPICAL).
After I graduated, I moved to KC for work and you followed me soon after. You just couldn’t stand being away from me (kidding!). You would always tell me how much better St. Louis was than Kansas City because Kansas City was built on a grid system and didn’t have the winding-street character of St. Louis. Such an arbitrary reason that I never understood, but accepted as you. I could never convince you to experience the KC I know and love, but that’s ok. You’re back in St. Louis now.
Anyway, in KC, we basically resumed our college antics of drinking, playing games, and listening to high-quality music together. I loved every time you’d pull me up from a chair, leading me in a tilting off-beat dance step while singing along to some song from the Buffy musical episode.
We never agreed on which Decemberists album is the best. I maintain Crane Wife, while you always said Picaresque or Castaways and Cutouts. How many times you dashed into your living room, put on Picaresque, and surprised me with the ridiculously quirky intro horn sounds of “The Infanta.”
I think you’re also to blame for half of my cheese habit and ANY of the times I ate Domino’s. Because, Ew. But for you, I ate it. With ranch, naturally.
Last summer and fall, you tried really hard to get me into Magic and would get frustrated with me when I wanted to leave before the game was over (at like 1:30 a.m. on a Tuesday/Wednesday night, mind you, and I had to be at work by 8:30 that same day). Hate to tell you, I still don’t understand Magic. I BOUGHT CARDS. AND I TRY. But I prefer Sentinels of the Multiverse, as you know.
You also hated when anyone would quit Risk before you had destroyed us– even when we could ALL tell you would take over the world. It would always get down to you and one other person… unless we all ganged up on you to take you out early. In the opening round, you invariably set your little troop dudes on Oceania and decimated anyone who tried to invade through Indonesia. Then you’d quietly build your army of troops, infantry men, and cannons, and soon you were threatening MY MEN. ACROSS THE WORLD IN BRAZIL.
As your health declined, you began to fold 1000 origami paper cranes, because the practice is said to grant you a wish. You folded a lot. They cover your table still. You got so good at it, I’d watch you complete them in around 30 seconds– your fingers moving deftly as they created creases and shapes and ultimately, a tiny work of art.
You offered to teach me how to fold one and I laughed at you and reminded you of the book binding fiasco. You laughed too and we went for a smoke again. You pulled out your red Pall Malls and I pulled out a cigar.
Right now, I’m considering learning how to make the cranes. In addition to granting wishes, they’re said to bring wisdom and help with healing. As I fold each little bird, I will wish that they will teach me how to heal from the heartbreak of losing you.
I thought we had many late night game nights ahead of us. I thought you’d re-watch Battlestar Galactica with me. And finally sit me down and make me watch Wizard People. I hate to tell you this, but I am only so-so on Harry Potter. I wish we could have danced more and I could hear you sing so far off-key that you kinda harmonized. Also, I really wanted to beat you at Mario Kart. JUST ONCE. Also, I need you to take the controller when I play Earthbound and I accidentally eat a mushroom and it sits on my head and it fucks up the directional pad! What will I do now? I will wander directionless.
The Sunday after you died, I didn’t really know what to do with myself and my time and my thoughts. But I felt drawn to a Buddhist service. You told me you were a Christian, and I think you knew that I entertain a smorgasbord of religious thoughts. At the service, the monk discussed our humanly flawed understanding of reality as dual– us/them, you/me, good/bad, here/there.
I considered this interpretation and fell into believing that maybe the concept of “life and death” is a flawed duality. Maybe we’re always both alive and dead and really just beings that exist beyond the physical limits of our world. Who the fuck really knows? We know so little about the universe, so I get to think that I’m right. I get to think that you’re as alive as I am dead and vice versa… because it all exists at all times.
The concept brought me comfort. It also explains why I SWEAR you’ve made jokes to me (in my head) and why I think I may have felt you touch my shoulder yesterday when I sobbed about losing you for the zillionth time this week.
If you can, please help the ones you love to heal. None of us wanted to see you leave so soon. But here/there we/you are.
I love you so much, Aaron Roberts. I always will.