This is a picture my sister Amanda took of her college friend, Tom, in January, holding her new puppy, Sage, and standing on a frozen lake in Massachusetts.
Saturday was Tom's birthday, and last week he emailed me an invitation to the party, which was going to be in New York.
The subject said, "saturday night..."
The message read:
march 6th marks the anniversary of the fall of the alamo. where 186 brave texans died after a collective YEE-HAW was said.
it is also my birthday. please prepare your wits, liver, and regret for an epic party. for it will be my last in new york, as I intend to move to paris this summer.
we will drink at waverly for most of the night, and may head to highlands bar at 150 west 10th street if we get bored around midnight.
p.s. as a random side note, my notary stamp expires on march 13, 2010. it would be hilarious if anyone brought documents for me to sign at said party.
My sister was in New Mexico with me, and yesterday she flew to Las Vegas for a conference, so she couldn't be at Tom's party. This afternoon she got a call from her friend Sarah, who had been planning to attend the party, but who couldn't be there in the end. But Sarah heard the terrible news anyway, and called to tell Amanda.
Sometime on Saturday night, surrounded by friends in his sixth floor apartment, Tom fell from his fire escape, landed in the street, hit his head, and died.
I went back to his email, and read it again.
This time, all I could see were the phrases: "it will be my last in new york," "please prepare your regret," "head to highlands," "brave texans died after a collective YEE-HAW was said," "expires," and "anniversary of the fall."
I clicked on the link at the bottom of the email, and flipped through his Picasa picture album, which he always liked to share.
I thought how the picture album was now a ghost like him, stranded in digital ether behind the Google login screen, protected by a password that died with Tom.
As I clicked through the pictures, I imagined that many of his friends were probably clicking through the same pictures at the same time, at different computers all around the country, each of them alone. There was no way to know that other people were there, because Picasa does not operate in memorial mode, but still you could feel their presence, and the pictures were like some kind of preemptive eulogy for Tom, like Mozart writing his own Requiem.
I called my sister in Las Vegas, and she was trying not to cry.
I thought how she and I were in room number seven at the Rainbow Motel in Carizozo, New Mexico when it happened. She was watching Law and Order, and I was writing up my story about the Missile Park, and all of that sanctioned and celebrated death from above. It was very cold outside that night, and the wind was going strong. When I finished my story, we sat together on the bed and watched funny Internet videos before going to sleep, and we laughed a lot. Earlier that evening Amanda was telling me how I needed to learn to spend less time on my daily photo, how it's important to realize that relationships are more important, and to remember to keep things in perspective.
Amanda is always good at keeping things in perspective. It's just that some perspectives are harder to keep than others, and the perspectives you don't have a choice about are usually the hardest of all.