Today would have been your thirty-third birthday.
My favorite memory of celebrating your birthday has to be your twenty-first: when Vim drove our small group to Las Vegas on a Tuesday night. Kate (my roommate) thought we were crazy for making the trip. We had no hotel, no plan, other than to arrive at midnight, to celebrate as long as we could stay up, and then drive back to L.A. in the morning. “You’re going to die!” Kate warned. But we didn’t die. We drove into Vegas just before 12 a.m., the sight of neon casino lights beckoning, causing us to chant, “Vegas. Vegas. Vegas!”
I don’t remember which casino we hit first, but I do remember the bartender. She checked your ID, looked at her watch and chuckled. You were just twenty-one. Shots for everyone. What a great night (morning). One of those crazy adventures that you never forget.
I’ve wanted to write something about you for some time now, to dedicate something on this blog that was just for you, something more than just a brief mention, a blip on the radar screen during a bad couple of years. I’ve struggled to find the words. Not because I didn’t know what to say. I’ve no doubt I could fill up many pages with stories – stories of the USC days, of that infamous apartment, the Inglewood Palace, of everything that came after.
There are two reasons it took me so long to write about you. The first is anger. I’m angry that you’re gone because it seems so damned unfair, because you were so young, so full of promise, such a gift to this world. The second reason is guilt. I feel guilty because – sandwiched as it was in between losing my mom and dad – your loss was sort of lost to me, just one more impossible thing in a series of impossible things that I didn’t know how to deal with. I don’t think I ever fully processed or absorbed your death, almost – in a way – pretending like it didn’t happen. And you deserved better than that.
Rory, as long as I knew you, you carried a certain darkness within you. The funniest and most charming people often do. But the thing that I’m not sure you’re aware of is how happy you made people. How much fun you were. How many lives you made better by being a part of them. Some of the best memories of my twenties have you in them. Like the time you helped me move out of my apartment driving a rented U-Haul with a cracked roof through the streets of L.A. Or attending one of your band with the ever-changing name’s many shows, Natalie and I playing groupie. Or the time I hosted an Easter egg hunt for grown-ups and you competed fiercely for (and won) the ridiculous prize: a purple, fuzzy stuffed Easter bunny purse that you named after our friend Vim.
But out of all the good memories I have of you, it’s one of the more recent ones that stands out. It was at my rehearsal dinner and you, ever the good sport, interpreted the Halloween costume dress-up theme in your own special way, showing up as an Irish St. Pauli Girl, complete with short skirt, stockings and padded boobs. Though you didn’t know many of the guests, your outfit broke the ice and you charmed everyone with your humor and wit. Especially my mom. After she went to bed, you told me how much my mother reminded you of your own, how both of our moms were so proud of us, how they “loved the hell out of us.” I never could have known what a generous gift you gave me with those words, how often I’d return to them like a life raft just a short time later, after my mother died.
The funny thing about death is that it teaches you how you want to live. So, here are some specific ways I want to live, as inspired by you: I want to live without fear of being ridiculous, to embrace my wacky side and have fun, to hell with what other people think. I want to thumb my nose at the “rules,” especially when the rules are dumb or silly or a waste of time (a story you told about scheduling fake meetings with a friend so you could reserve time away from your boring corporate job comes to mind.) And I want to live without being ashamed of my (sometimes) crappy taste in music, because every time I blast some terrible pop song on the radio and sing at the top of my lungs, I imagine you, my heavy metal-loving friend, rolling your eyes in mock disgust, because you can’t believe I actually like that song. This, coming from the guy who once (I know, we’re not supposed to talk about it) recorded a pseudo-autobiographical rap song called ‘Ginga Ninja.’
Oh Rory. You were such a bright light. You were so damned funny. You were the smartest guy in the room. And you were a really, really good friend.
Happy Birthday, my friend. I miss you.