Remembering People

June 9, 2018

When I came out of depression at age eighteen, I felt like a completely different person. It was like I’d waken up for the first time. The world seemed so vivid and deliberate, where before it was a clouded movie I couldn’t really keep up with. That’s how I remember experiencing life, as though I was sitting in a film theatre watching the world happen through my eyes while having absolutely no control over what was going to occur next.

I made a handful of decisions and promises to myself that day which I’m currently revisiting, but I also chose to commemorate it as its own birthday of sorts. For the past eight years of my life, the first weekend of June has been the weekend I just sit back and reflect. I think about who I was, who I want to be, and make the best attempt I can at figuring out who I am, though that’s an existential hot mess I don’t think I’ll ever overcome.

As each year passes, though, I think less of myself on that weekend and more about the people who’ve had an effect on my life who aren’t around anymore. Most of them are still alive; they’ve left the country, or we’ve become different people walking in different directions. The person I come back to most frequently is a childhood friend called Seva, whose family came from Kazakhstan.

Even as kids he was particularly tall, and quite gifted at drawing. We collaborated on a number of different ideas; he taught me how to draw the namesake characters from the Worms video game franchise, and I would pitch different ideas for games to him, which he’d illustrate.

Our most fleshed out idea was “Moustache Man”, a stereotypical caricature of a Mexican bandit whose gimmick was a comically oversized, long mustache could be used like a boomerang projectile and lasso rope among other things.

Mostly intended for platforming games, we thought out multiple sequels, spinoffs and characters, including “Moustache Dog”. The mental image you’ve come up with is pretty much spot on, and in another parallel universe this character is effectively Super Mario, though we were mostly influenced by Crash Bandicoot.

Seva was the first person in my life to die.

The two of us, as well as my friend Aaron, went through most of Primary School together. Although we parted ways from Secondary School, we still kept in contact. It felt like at least once every two or three weeks I went over to his house; he rarely came to mine, and I attribute that to the fact I didn’t have a computer, though that’s a separate thing to talk about.

At one point, early on during Secondary School, Seva developed cancer. I never asked him what kind it was, and I never asked him how he felt about it. I had a vague understanding of what it meant, but it didn’t seem right to ask, and we were kids - we had more important things to do, like play video games.

A few years pass on, and although I still don’t have a good computer, I pick up the game Morrowind, that he’d introduced me to. I’m sitting in my room marvelling over the lengthy manual that comes with the four disk box, and my papa walks into the room to tell me he’d found out from a woman whose son went to the same school that he’d died. Remission didn’t work out.

I didn’t cry. I just stared out the window of my room in abject silence. It’s not like I didn’t know he had cancer - I still remember the colour of the bandana he wore during chemotherapy. I knew there was a chance it could come back, and I knew there was a chance he could die. But I hadn’t considered what it would be like for it to actually happen.

Death is a cold topic for me. Some kids TV show made me contemplate mortality when I was five. I cried non-stop for about a month straight and have never been worried about it since. I don’t remember what it was like before I was born and I expect that same blank spot of perception after I die too.

What really, selfishly bothered me was the fact that I had let myself forget about him long enough that he died in the interim. Sure, he had my contact details, as did his parents, but neither he nor they had any obligation to contact me. I wasn’t making the effort to engage, so why would they?

I was blindsided by the fact that a person I cared about, and that had such a ridiculously important, life-saving impact on me, had vanished from my everyday life, and now the world that we had shared. It’s like a really twisted version of Schrodinger’s cat; he may or may not be dead, but as long as I don’t check I still get to live in a world where we can pick back up where we left off once it’s convenient for me.

Of course, foresight is twenty twenty - at the time I was going through so much of my own personal crap that Seva was on a long list of people I was not spending any time talking to properly. I barely spoke to the parents I lived in a tiny house with, and I never told any of the friends I saw every day about the struggles I was going through. I couldn’t withstand the overwhelming noise in my head and my heart, so he wouldn’t have been able to find me in the middle of it.

Realising the cost of this selfishness made me value the people in my life a lot more, to the point that I hate forgetting people, and things about them. But it’s incredibly easy to. I’ve met so many people through the different places and communities I’ve been involved with since then - I tried to make up for time lost in crippling depression by rubbing against my threshold for energy in a day trying as many things and meeting as many people as possible.

Somewhere along the way, I heard the idea that people die three times in their lives. Once when they can no longer do what makes them happy, once when their body ceases to function, and finally once people have forgotten who they are. Listing them out that way make it seem like a strictly linear process; if the thing that makes you happy is skydiving, you may very well die twice in a single accident.

But the third happens on a daily basis. A few weeks ago I crossed paths with a girl who’d started dancing around the same time I did, and we spent most of our time conversing about everyone who was around when we started dancing, and are gone now. People who some had never met, and plenty who most had simply forgotten. A community has a collective memory of about a year, and it’s tragic for me to think about the people nobody even noticed in the first place.