Spoiler, I guess?
My friend died a few weeks ago.
I sat on writing this, to give people a chance to hear the big news. You must have by now.
Like any morbid bastard out there, I had envisioned what his death would mean to me, as I do all the people in my closest relationships, like we all do? The kind of harmless reverie that you have when you something is too far-fetched to ever happen, like winning the lottery or knocking up a royal.
The grand sum of my fantasizing led me to think that things would go on as they always had and always would. Life is a high-speed bullet train from Tokyo to Osaka; sure it might make a stop or two, but the vitesse is something that you don’t always register as you fly past the slight differences in boroughs and buildings on the way to your destination.
Then it happened.
It was surreal. He did something very brave, something that he had been quietly grooming himself to do beneath an ostentatious show of wealth and selfishness and narcissism. I don’t think many of us would’ve picked him to do it. I certainly didn’t think he had it in him. But he did and here we are.
Much like other times, I expected him to jump up from playing dead and pull my beard, having stunted on all of us in another near-death escapade. He had made a habit of narrowly subverting peril, only act like a pompous dick about it. He’d rub it in our faces that he was able to walk away, that he was untouchable, that he was a hero.
This time he stayed down. It felt weird. Mostly because I didn’t think that his death would have had that big of an impact on me, but it did. Probably because I didn’t think that he was allowed to die.
You see, this friend was one of many in the group. Like any solid cast, there were all types of different personalities. I never thought the two of us really got along all that famously. We rarely saw eye to eye on a number of things. He would go left when I would choose right. He says up when I say down, you get it, you’re smart.
There was this one issue in particular that arose when I sided with another friend of ours; many of us took opposing sides. I lost a fair bit of respect for him, two times, as this scenario played out twice in slightly different media. He wanted to impose rules on the group that some of us thought would gnaw away our freedom for the sake of a little additional security. It’s a long story, but I felt that it was myopic, without nuance, and brandished legalistic brand of authority.
Because of his braggadocios nature and cocksure attitude, I was unaware of how much this man was changing underneath. That glossy veneer was a coping mechanism to deal with the fear and anxiety, the sheer dread that he had for the safety of all those around him. He hid these fears, or tried to. The more trepidation he felt, the crueler his wit became. His money, his gadgets, his incredible mind were all slave to his sense of impending doom, so, harsh cynicism was his medicine.
I tell you, he was smart. He was brilliant. I would often put him in the top tier alongside the other well-known geniuses of our time. I will now admit that he was the smartest. He always had a new invention or theory. I don’t know when he found the time to create, though it probably explains the sparrow-colored wings that always dragged down his eyes and the buckets of coffee that he consumed like oxygen.
But, he was changing for the better. An affected alpha-wolf mentality was turning in to actual leadership qualities. He had the money, he had the intelligence, but he always lacked the heart. As time progressed, I could literally see that fucker after enough time. His focus changed from accruing to conserving, from destruction to preservation. His vainglorious pursuits were becoming authentic and his moral compass was finding its own northern star.
Then the fear set in.
His fear made him irascible. He was angered by the fact he was controlled by it. Even his ucanny, swarthy charisma was melting like ore. He was shackled with doubt and ravaged by uncertainty; something so normal for all of us, but something a man of such skill and privilege had never encountered.
In the 11 years that I had known him, he had overcome tremendous difficulties by believing in himself. I watched his hubris and ego shrink. He went from someone who relished his life in the present to a hyperbolic futurist. He came to hate the person that he had been for so many years. He was still pretty cocky.
But that fear, though. It seemed to set him back. He became a caustic, stubborn fellow. He cratered and began thinking again only about himself and his interests. Granted, he had more to lose as time progressed, and the fear of losing everything is a damnable curse. It was a pendulum in a lightless room, he couldn’t see it, but heard the blade slicing lower, feeling the closeness of its acuity. He had lost the belief in himself.
I would say that he was regressing, but this was something new. He had been disrobed of the previously hindering characteristics, but couldn’t overcome fear. He knew the right way, but he was too scared; he had lost his way.
He found it. He did what many of us didn’t think he had the cogones to do. He laid his life on the line. He found something deep inside of him and toughed it out one last time. Like I said, at the moment, I couldn’t believe that it would be the last. He had always bounced back. His progress, though it may dip, always rebounded higher than before. After a sensing some doubt, he would be victorious and the charm would rocket back, with the sarcasm and the ego. He just got better every time. He was still a prick, but he was showing growth.
There he laid there. I assumed he would get up. I was damn near sure of it. He always did, it was his thing. Or, at the most extreme, we would use some device that he had invented to kick-start his organs and have him tap-dancing on landmines as late as tomorrow. But he didn’t get up. His eyes closed and they never opened again.
He’s not coming back, guys.
I guess, the reasons why I had it out with the dude and never really got along with him as well as some of the others, were our similarities. My other friend was who I wanted to be. He made tough choices and did the shitty, right things for reasons of innate heroism. He was static; soundly just and right. My dead friend, he made selfish choices and took the first path that his emotions forced upon him. It was easier to find respect for one, especially when counter-valued and judged against the other.
But I know now, I’m more like Tony than Cap.
I found his journey, from dick-hole to legitimate hero compelling. When I say legitimate hero, I don’t mean a super-powered individual who thwarts robots and aliens and gods. I mean a person that does the right thing for the right reasons. Not because it’s fun. Not because it was the lesser of two negative options. Not even because it was an expected and assumed morality that was logically unavoidable. Not to prop the ego. Not to fool the self in to thinking it is pure and good.
His intelligence and cognizance created an arc that re-sewed the fabric of his being. He was still in charge of each and every action, as you can’t bully a man like him to do something that he doesn’t want to do. He felt the weight of his life from the choices he had made and effectively changed. Except for that one time.
I had never noticed how much he had gone through and to what extent he had transformed until he died. When I realized that he would be no more, I understood that it was the incremental total of all those changes that ended his life. The old him would have lived; I would have been able to chill and crack jokes with him. But he had the choice and he chose to go full-Jesus.
I guess, I didn’t think I was as close with him as some of the others because he had a lot of the qualities that I abhor in myself. He had similar fears and combatted them in similar ways. Two narcissists rarely get along, each having to hold the belief that they are the smartest, wittiest or most talented. I despise selfish, stubborn, supercilious, affected behaviour. I have a disdain for having fear, my own, not those of others. I hate not being in control, unable to properly translate the coding of the world around me as I see it. Being rationally incorrect, and therefore behaving irrationally, is like a stubbed pinky-toe. Losing is torture. Uncertainty is the devil, just as looking outside of myself for answers is a flaming pentagram on the floor that summons a horde of demons. Finding outside sources to determine the meaningless of everything, instead of a methodology that is my own: woof.
I may be reading too deep in to my friend’s philosophy, but I recognize that we are far more similar than I ever cared to admit. We are the two most similar in the group, in fact, something that I only became finally aware of during the funeral.
In his life, I saw my faults in him. In his demise, I found a hope in me.
The moment he became an example of that evolution, he stopped at a sort of naturally occurring zenith. I think that if he had somehow lived, he would watch as the boulder slide down the other side. It was his time.
He was a great friend. I don’t know if I can re-live those moments the same way, but in time, I will try. Look at the old videos and marvel at the hero that manchild would become. The lesson for me is to be me but not to shirk at the chance to always be a better me. That doesn’t mean a put-on chivalry and fake happiness or positivity. Nah. Keep an open mind and pottery-wheel your own the hell out of your own life. Just do you and do the fuck out of it. I think that’s the Nike slogan.
Rest in Peace Tony Stark.