Chris Bartok, a friend of mine from Caltech, died last month. The first thing most of us heard was that it was being investigated as a possible homicide; Chris' body was found in the Potomac River in Washington D.C., not far from where he'd been out with friends the night before. Evidence has since come to light suggesting his death was accidental; the autopsy indicated he most likely died by drowning, and his wallet, pants, and shoes were all found near a campus boathouse.
I hadn't seen him in over a year; the last I knew was that he was applying to Law Schools, but I didn't know he'd been accepted and started at G.W. I had been planning on taking a trip to California this winter to see friends and escape the cold, and Chris was one of the people I was looking forward to visiting. When I flew out to L.A. for his memorial service last weekend, everywhere I went I expected to see Chris. All the shock, sadness, and cacophony of other emotion I'd felt, and all the time I'd spent thinking about his death, and at some level it still hadn't sunk in; I was in L.A. for Chris, and every time I was with a group of old friends, I caught myself thinking, almost subconsciously, "so, where's Chris?"
His memorial service was held under a bright blue sky, on a warm, breezy, absolutely beautiful day. I thought, a few times, that it seemed like a very nice place to spend a long, long time doing nothing at all. I thought, and thought, and thought, "Chris, I wish I could just give you a hug. God I wish I could give you a hug. I wish. A hug. I wish I could just give you a hug." After the religious ceremony was over, Chris' dad came out to where all us from Caltech were and said a few words, thanking us for being Chris' friends and thanking us for coming. "Thank you for Chris!" Juna yelled out in response. Thank you, Juna; that was perfect.
We went out for drinks in Pasadena directly afterwards, thinking that what Chris would most want, definitively, would be for us all to get sloshed and have a good time in his honor. We started at about five in the afternoon, and I think most of us kept going, in the Dabney courtyard, until around four in the morning. There were stories swapped, memories of good times shared, but there was also just a lot of fun, and a lot of enjoying the reassembled community of friends.
I stayed for three days, and had a wonderful, wonderful time. I miss you all, so much, and it was great to be with you - Juancarlos, Sam, Rebecca, Jim, Juna, Dave, Lori, Walker, Vanessa, Agi, Joy, Jordan, Francis, Sara, Florian, Dana, Noel, Matt, Sam, Robin, Dev, Alastair, Zack . . . and Chris.
Coming back home to Boston, this week, has been hard. It took a visit for me to realize just how much I miss that community of friends. Chris is gone, and that's a permanent loss, but the community is gone too, and will only rarely if ever be reassembled again in full. Weddings, funerals, reunions. I've got a big hole in my chest, this week, resonant with missing.
I love you, Chris. Rest peacefully. posted by Miles 1:34 AM