Roger Smith, d. 2015

My friend has died, and I don’t even know how to process that. Not now. Maybe not ever. He wasn’t well, and he was in the hospital, but I never let my brain wrap around the fact that he might not ever get out, that he might pass, and so soon. It seems like just yesterday I saw him in Target, and he shook my hand, that strong handshake that I will keep with me. Surreal. That’s the word I was looking for, the word that says things just aren’t quite on kilter with the world. The word that says, “this should not be.”

And I know he’s not in any pain anymore, that his soul has parted the clouds and is soaring as I speak, heading where, I do not know. I only know that when his soul was down here, attached to his body, it did amazing things. He was my friend for a relatively short period of time, but in that relatively short period of time I recognized a kindred spirit, a wily soul that was more alike than different, and yet as unique as it was possible to be at the same time.

“Celebrate his life.” That’s what they all say at times like these, and I guess I would benefit from thinking of this as a chance to appreciate him yet again for the man he couldn’t help being. It’s the time to listen to his voice again in my mind, to access that mental picture I have of him animatedly telling a story, of him reading a poem, of him wearing a scarf like it was going out of style. I miss seeing him in those scarves. He made me wish my neck weren’t anti-scarf.

So I’m celebrating his life, celebrating the first time I met him, when he got behind that mic at the poetry reading nearly two years ago, with his folded up scrap of paper. He unfolded it carefully, gently, like a painter unveiling his masterpiece, and his deep, gravelly voice read those words as if he had just written them, as if this was the moment he had been waiting for all week. Because it was. And I was merely there as a fly on the wall, a silent witness to his discreet genius.

I miss him, and I didn’t realize it would be this profound a moment for me, a series of moments that take me back to when I first lost someone who meant something to me. He once told me that I was a phenomenal poet, and I remember he used the word “phenomenal” because I hadn’t expected it, because for him to find my poetry phenomenal was… surprising. It was an acknowledgment of a verbal dexterity I hadn’t realized I possessed, but he made it so.

And the loss stings, like a phantom limb that keeps itching, that reminds me of what’s been left behind: his words on those scraps of paper, his music on those treasured CDs, his memory on the walls of my mind like virtual art hanging slightly off, but it looks perfect that way. In that way, through those things left behind, I can remember him and mourn him at the same time, two sides of a same coin that keeps rotating even after he’s gone. Because he will never be gone so long as those who appreciated him while he was alive continue do so even now. Especially now.

To those nights at the Tram, Roger. You will always go first.

Sam

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4 thoughts on “Roger Smith, d. 2015

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    1. I appreciate the sentiment. There’s just something about death that doesn’t make sense even though it does, the future a closed door that can never open again for them. It’s something I cannot fathom and so it claims me in its cold embrace. Thank you for the words you did find.

      1. I struggle with it, too. We unexpectedly experienced the loss of a coworker the week after Thanksgiving. Although I can’t say we were close, he helped me a lot over the years. He went to the ER not feeling well and never returned home. It’s a hard idea to accept. Life is very fragile. We must honor the memory of people in the best way we can. We must honor them by appreciating the time we still have.

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