Tragedy, I think, tends to whitewash the canvas of our memories, leaving only itself in its wake. The fun times I had in New York are hard to remember through the filter of September 11. My memories of a dear friend of mine from those days are discolored by the time I spent in earnest with him during his final days in the hospital. I promised myself I would write a remembrance of him, as so many did when he passed, but I was never sure what to write. Two years later, motivated by an excellent memorial penned by another good friend of his, despite the piles of studying awaiting me once I finish this post, I figured I should just sit down and recover what was lost before another year goes by.
Summer, 1998. Excited to live in the big city, I reached out to an alum from my high school that I knew lived in New York. We hadn’t met in person yet, but I knew of him thanks to the internets. His name was Scott.
Though I was but a green college freshman and he was already a few years out into the working world, having gone to the same high school meant we already had a lot in common. He took me under his wing as both friend and mentor and introduced me to the New York he knew, despite the great wilderness that separated us (Central Park), despite my gross inability to foot my end of the bill. It was the city of incredible cuisine, the city of immense culture. His love of the city was infectious. I’ll forever have this chronic disease of missing New York (and a love of Guinness and an appreciation of Scotch) because of him.
During those many days and nights spent out on the town, he would pass on to me the life lessons he’d learned, colored in no small part by the health problems he was born with and the recent breakup with his fiancée. When I knew him, he was a self-proclaimed evangelist of the bitter, and our shared pessimism and cynicism was doubtless a reason we were good friends, but the way he led his life betrayed his inner self–a more tempered realist, I think, with streaks of optimism that compelled him to do good. Whether these qualities that I also see in my own self were because of him, or it was because we also shared this same unspoken philosophy beneath the protective layer of the cynic that we got along so well, I can’t say. Maybe both.
Scott drifted out of my life rather literally, packing his things for Arizona to seek the love that had been missing from his but which in turn meant leaving the city he was so fond of. It wasn’t that long after he left that the towers came down, and I know a part of him hurt. Not only out of concern for the friends he had left behind, but also because his city was hurt, and, quite possibly, the fear that he, too, might have perished if he were on shift with the city’s emergency operations management located in 7 WTC. That was probably the last time I kept in regular touch with him. Although some years later we both found ourselves back in the Midwest, we managed to meet up for dinner only a couple of times.
Christmas, 2009. Possibly because he was still relatively sprightly when we both lived in New York, possibly because he (back in the day) hid his physical impairments so well, it was easy to forget that every day spent with him was a day his physicians weren’t predicting him to have. And so while it wasn’t completely unexpected when I got the call about Scott’s deteriorating health, it was still jarring. At first, I believed it to be just another fight he’d successfully win, but that soon turned out not to be the case. In those last days, though… to see all of the people that came to visit (and as it turned out, say goodbye), to see everyone who was touched by Scott’s presence in their lives, was truly incredible. To see the friends he made at IMSA that spanned multiple generations was remarkable.
Scott passed around 7:45 pm, on 11 January 2010. It was a quiet night in Streeterville, and a light snow was falling.
On one of the many days spent visiting him in the hospital, I remember jokingly chiding him for not waiting until I became a doctor to get sick. Fast-forward to two years later, almost to the day he left, and I’m a first-year medical student learning about the heart. In anatomy lab, we dissected those same structures that caused so much pain for him, and I couldn’t help but spare a moment of anger at how such a crappy manufacturing process that gave rise to such ridiculous defects that afflicted Scott would even be allowed to exist. But it was that same flawed design that informed who he was, and though I’m not given over to believe in invisible hands, I couldn’t help but think there was a reason why I should be holding a human heart so close to the anniversary of Scott’s passing…perhaps to remind me that, despite it all, I and all of his family and friends are lucky to have had him in our lives for as long as we did. Thank you for all you’ve done, Scott, and wherever you are, I know you’re walking carefree.