There is a glass on my dresser. I haven’t drunk from it since October 2016. I cleaned it once and never used it again. It is a stemless wine glass, which I never remember Nick drinking out of. I keep moving the glass from surface to surface around my room for fear that it will break or fade from sunlight. The last time it had anything in it, it was champagne. And everyone in the event hall of that hotel in Arkansas had the same one. “A TOAST TO NICK,” the glass reads. “1988 – 2016.” We toasted Nick. He would have been 28.
I’ve never taken anything out of that glass or put anything in. It has sat on my bedside table, next to loose pens needing a place to nestle. It’s currently on my dresser next to perfumes and face creams. I see it every morning.
I remember the last time I talked to him. Nick and I would play phone tag all the time. “Yo,” he’d always say, drawing out the O to make it last at least three seconds. From that alone, you might think he was a surfer. He wasn’t, but he wore those Ray Bans that were cool for a while around 2008. When he visited me in D.C. in 2012 or ‘13 or maybe even ‘14, I gave him a free pair of sunglasses I had gotten at Art All Night because he kept borrowing a silly flippy pair I had bought at CVS. He tried to give them back to me–the forest green free ones–the last time I saw him. No way, Jose, I said. Next time.
The last time I talked to him. Our phone tag. He called me just a week or so after I had visited him in Little Rock. He would always make fun of the city and the state, but you could tell he loved it. He would ask if he had an accent when he said things, the Arkansas coming through with almost any word he tried. But he never heard it. We sat outside as the sun went down at a restaurant he had taken our friend M to when M had visited a year before. He reenacted moments of their visit to our delight. I was there with a friend from high school. “Jessica! He is wonderful,” she exclaimed as we drove away after I had insisted he keep the free sunglasses.
Once the sun went down that first night of our visit, we sat in the car trying to figure out what to do. Nick ended up driving us across the parking lot to a drinks spot he knew. He also knew the bartender, and we ordered drinks. My friend from high school is particular, so Nick asked the bartender to make her something sweet. She loved what he brought her. Later, Nick bought rounds of Patron shots. It was like college. One time during senior year, I stopped by his apartment to walk to an outdoor concert with him. All he had on the table was a half empty bottle of Patron, shot glasses, and lime wedges. “It’s like water,” we marveled. That night at the bar in Little Rock, while we cheersed, someone Nick vaguely knew showed up and joined our evening. A few times throughout the night, as we moved on to a bar with a pool table, Nick asked me what the guy’s name was.
I can’t think about our last phone call without thinking about our second to last. When I answered the phone, he started with that Yo. I started giggling as I answered the phone because I had forgotten that I had set that date and time for us to catch up. I kept giggling as I walked out to the breezeway from the apartment my Aunt Mimi had lived in for 45 years. Why are you laughing? he asked. “I’m laughing because I am cleaning out my great aunt’s apartment with my family right now. She died yesterday.” Jessica! What is wrong with you!? I’m so sorry, he said. “It’s okay,” I responded. Because it was. I was still giggling. “I am so uncomfortable talking about death and I’m sorry I shouldn’t have answered.” But then he started laughing, too. “I’m laughing because you’re laughing!” We agreed to talk the next day.
Nick and I would go stretches without talking. That was normal. Like clockwork, every few months, we’d start to play phone tag. Sometimes, just “You’re it” would be left at the tone. Or he’d make fun of my voicemail. It’s that stupid clichéd perfect friendship where when you pick it up, it’s exactly how you left it. I don’t remember any strife with him. Except maybe when he started flaking on our Tuesday lunches during freshman year of college. But even then. Every Tuesday, he would get the orange chicken from the basement food hall on main campus, and I’d have something else. We’d shoot the shit for a few hours, even after everyone had gone back to class. His laugh from deep in his belly would fill up the space. Sometimes he would study Chinese at the end, but we were always there. Senior year, we picked it back up again, but this time with friends we had made over the last three years. Now, we would play word games and the table was above ground, and sometimes it was even outside. I particularly remember one lunch sitting at a table we’d never been at before. I think it was with Nick, Stephi, Jimmy, Reva, and Grant in this little rectangular courtyard. But now I’ve written it, I’m not even sure it exists.
Nick was sure of so many things. He earned Phi Beta Kappa and he knew how to speak German and Chinese. He spoke German with the Dean of our college regularly. I can picture it, though I never saw it. Dean McLeod in his sport jacket and short afro talking with Nick, who wore V-neck pullovers and jeans with Vans. His face was long and looked like something Sphynx-ian. Someone once asked me if he was Egyptian. He made fun of his own nose. Nick was always first to remind you of funny things he said and did. “Remember when I thought it was lactose and tolerant?” “Remember when I lost my shoe and woke up on someone’s lawn?” Or sometimes we’d make ways to say “Parkour” and laugh. He would always laugh like it was the first time it was happening. His arm would collapse across his torso and he would curl into himself, shoulders unable to stay straight from succumbing to glee. His head would tuck in and shake back and forth like he couldn’t believe he was having such a good time. It was always a good time. He was the only person I ever saw actually fall over from laughing.
I’m writing this now because there is so much I don’t want to forget. I’m writing this now because there’s so much I already am. I’m writing this now because it hasn’t even been two years since he died. I can’t believe there’s another two years to live and another and another and another.
I think back to seeing him in Little Rock, and I can’t remember how he told his stories. The one about proselytizing for his religious grandparents. He didn’t want to, but which parent got him out of it? The story he told about being a middle schooler caught in a lie. It was an accidental voicemail that outed him. My phone malfunctioned six months after he died, and I lost his voicemails. I’ll never hear him say Yooo–anything–again.
I’m writing this now because someone else young died and I want to know if it’s always been this way. Nick died the same week that my 85 year old great aunt did. Those losses are always together now. The mourning was different. Is different. Nick will always be 18 and 21 and 27 in my mind. He never had a chance to be anything else. It is a life unlived that was lived to the fullest. He lived in America and China and Germany. He got in extra time, graduating early and competing in triathlons and being a G. I imagine he’d like to be called that.
Have so many always died so young? Walking through a cemetery last week, I couldn’t believe how many have. “I don’t think I could ever get over that,” my mom said this morning, talking about Nick as a mother. “It’s something you’ll never forget,” my mom said when I told her he died, talking about Nick as a friend. She told me about her own friend who died on an airplane in the 80s.
The last time I talked to him, I was on a run. He told me about a running app I should download instead of the one I was using. I’ve forgotten the name, intentionally or naturally. When I see it advertised, I know it’s the right one, but I cannot bring myself to download it.
The last time I talked to Nick, I stopped to walk the rest of my route home. There was a tree that had died and fallen on a car. I exclaimed over it and sent him a picture. We talked about my stay in Arkansas, about things he wanted. “Live it, be it,” I said, quoting some podcast or other. He said that he wished he were that way. “Come on,” I said. “You are that way. It’s basically another way to say YOLO!”
“I guess you’re right,” he agreed. “Live it, be it just sounds better.” LIBI, we came up with. Pronounced Libby.
The last time we talked, it was a Thursday. Nick said he wasn’t feeling well from partying too much the weekend before. I made fun of him, and we joked about getting old. He told me to have a margarita with B in his honor the over the weekend. Our friend B was visiting for the wedding of another mutual friend, C. In college, the four of us had done Power Hours together. The last time, I had brought cider instead of beer, and he thought it was terrible. Before his phone died, I assured him that we would have a toast in his honor.
We texted that Friday, and I asked him for gossip. He promised to call on Monday. As B and I raised our glasses to Nick that Sunday, my phone rang. I put it on speaker and we shouted, “NIIICK,” trying to draw it out like he would.
But it was a woman on the phone. His mom. Nick had died in his sleep the night before.
Later, on the internet, I read it was because a piece of his heart was too big.