I am not a man who tends to be overly sensitive to death. In fact quite the opposite. Death and dead people rarely give me pause. As a child my grandparents would take me to visitations and funerals of deceased great aunts and other distant relatives. We were not mourners in the traditional sense; instead it was a party, a celebration of life and what who they were. Each time I would see my 412th cousins twice removed. We’d talk and visit, go outside and play childhood games in the streets, wonder the city neighborhoods where I looked like all the other Slavic kids unlike the part of town in which I lived. My home city has a host of ethnic neighborhoods and my ethnic background was one where the lines blurred between the Poles and Italians (although my mother is neither).
As a middle schooler I was Death’s apprentice at funeral masses. The pretty boys got to do weddings. Not me I severed as an altar boy at funerals, not a single bad dream or nightmare. Death didn’t bother me. And yes all of these are stories I have recounted here in more detail more than once. Now for the new part…
I arrived in a lovely southern state, checked in to a gorgeous hotel, stared at the spacious suite and thought of throwing a small gathering later in the evening. Eventually changing my suit and heading out for the evening. My industry although large and transient has like all groups circles of friends, associates, and acquaintances. I was heading to a small event for 12 that was a mix of all of those and our local hosts. Greetings and drinks began… I had a wild opening with a Shirley Temple with extra cherries (I rarely drink at these functions) and some playful banter with a southern Belle bartender with a killer sweet little accent and stunning body.
Eventually we were seated in an exquisite private room with ornate wood work and old stone walls that could have held 100 guests and a staff who took very good care of us. A few empty seats were present, not an unusual occurrence. One individual in particular that I was expecting though was missing. So I asked? When does MJ get in?
A friend next to me stopped in his tracks, turned white and uttered something to the effect of “Oh my god no one told you. He didn’t wake up one day last week.” Certainly I’ve heard of people dying in their sleep, not a bad way to go when the time comes but I’m not use to it being a friend who was in his mid 40’s. After a two week multi country trip with his wife and kids the night they got home and the evening before he was to go back to work he literally died in his sleep. By all accounts it was “natural causes”. Normally it would have been shocking but it was the second professional relationship in a week that had died and the 6th this year, 3 in accidents, one was not a shock due to a long term illness, one by his own hand (who I had known for 20 years and considered to be one of the happiest people I’d ever met) and now one in his sleep. The topic changed quickly as we went back to the business at hand. After all we are all replaceable and time marches on.
Later a toast was made in his memory. Hours later a few of us would head to the bar to conclude the negations for the evening and to watch a little hockey. A 3rd Shirley Temple was in order, by the time that ended I was not longer in the mood or willing to host a gathering. The following morning I woke up…which despite hearing that as a reason from folks for years as to why they were having it a good day I considered it in earnest for the first time.
Then I went about my day much as expected, after all what else would one expect unless of course we wake up dead.
Postlude: I don’t mean to be cold or cavalier. In fact quite the opposite MJ’s death and even more so my other associate’s the Friday before made me stop to think. How I should have called an old college friend while there, that I should have let a few sex bloggers who are in the region know about my trip however brief. Two nights later I would pass on an over the top dinner for a ball game with a co-worker, and I stared at my two bedroom suite in the next city with the full kitchen and dinner seating for 8 that I lucked into rather than a normal room and genuinely considered having a party and cooking for a group of friends professional and otherwise who live there. What I didn’t do is look back and wish I had chosen a different path – I do what I was more or less bread and trained to do, I am exceptionally good at it. I just need to enjoy the spoils a little more often even in the heat of the chase.