Tuesday, June 23, 2009

I lost a friend this weekend

Editor's Note:

The phrase "worst day of my life" has come to be something of a joke in our home. I mean, when we were dealing with flesh-eating bacteria, that was the worst day of my life. Little Monkey's first 5 hour cranio-surgery? Worst day of my life. Needlenoggin and Rorysaurus' fall? Yup. Worst. Day. Ever. After that, even more cranio surgery couldn't compare (although a CF diagnosis would have trumped the fall, I think).

Well, had this been 2006 instead of 2009, this would have been the worst week of Tuffy's life. We were in SoCal, doing the family thing, taking Rorysaurus to D-Land, and taking his best friend out for a birthday dinner. Tony, known to many friends as the "shady Asian" turned 28 on June 18th, and Tuffy and Tony's sister Dr. Jane all went out and had a nice grown-up meal. I stayed with the kids, which didn't make me cranky until Little Monkey started throwing up. I thought about texting and asking him to come home, but he only got to see Tony two or three times a year, so I figured I'd just ask him to pick up baby tylenol on his way home. They did one better when Dr. Jane wrote out an Rx for anti-nausea meds. They hit the friends' house we were staying at at ten-thirty-ish and hung out until midnight. Then Tony and Dr. Jane got up and left.

Friday and Saturday were just a lot of driving and dealing with family (AHHHHHHHHHHHHH), but we made it home. We were making all the "got home safe" phone calls, I in the living room and Tuffy in our room. All of a sudden, he calls out for me to hang up the phone and get in there. I do, wondering what on earth could have upset him this badly.

"Tony drowned." Quietly, Tuffy relayed all he knew of the story, that Tony had been leading Dr. Jane and some friends on a diving trip, they'd all finished and he'd gone back for a diving buoy. Once her equipment was returned, Dr. Jane realized that he wasn't back, and asked someone to go look for him. The guy dove under, and came back telling her to call 9-1-1. He was brought out of the water but couldn't be resuscitated. He was an experienced diver, and as of now, no one knows what caused the accident, and there's no date yet set for the funeral, because the coroner's office isn't done with their job.

I can't eulogize Tony the way that Tuffy can, so here are his thoughts in his words:

Hey, All. I don't normally post here, leaving that to my hard working Round Peg, but this definitely qualifies as a Mishap. Round Peg knows me well, knows it helps me to write, so she suggested I post about it here.

A mere two days after I had dinner with my oldest friend for his birthday, I got word he'd passed away in a diving accident. Tony was a very experienced diver, and I still just can't grasp how this happened. Here he is enjoying the ocean, probably still in high school at the time the photo was taken.

As Round Peg commented after she heard, short of a zombie attack or pirates on the high seas, this was probably how he wanted to go. It was way too early, but he died doing something he loved, with someone he loved. He was a marine biologist by training, and a mischievous prankster by nature. Part of me still expects another phone call apologizing for a joke gone too far, one big Tom Sawyer for which I can laugh, beat the hell out of him, and go back to normal.

Anyway, I wrote up what I'd like to say at his funeral, and thought I'd post it here with some photos added for flair.

Eulogy For Anthony

I first met Tony in the third grade. Mrs. Jamile at Anza asked me to show this skinny new kid around, teach him the ropes. One of the rules we had at recess was that as soon as the whistle blew for the end of play time, we had to freeze in place so the teachers could count heads, and the kids all made a silly game of it like freeze tag. Some of us would try and time it so we had to maintain awkward positions until the teachers said we could move again, sometimes falling over. I told Tony about this ahead of time so he'd know what to do, but when the whistle actually blew, he froze like the rest of us only for a moment. Then he looked over at me, grinned is crazy grin, and changed positions when nobody was looking. Then he did it again. Well I was stunned. I knew this kid would play with breaking rules forever, and get himself into a lot of trouble if I didn't try to keep him in line. So I spent the next 20 years trying to be a moderating influence on him, and he was ever the mischievous devil on my shoulder.

Tony brought me a lot of joy. No matter how upset or down I was, he could always get me to laugh. As another close friend of mine observed after meeting Tony just once, he was determined that life not be boring, and that was always fun to observe, and to share in.

I don't know if I was as entertaining to him, but I did my best to give what I could, and the most obvious thing for most of our friendship was related to our difference in size. Some examples:

When he took me to a Less Than Jake concert for my 20th birthday, Tony wanted to get right up to the front of the stage. For those of you who've been there, that means a very tight, suffocating press of people. I played bodyguard and literally spread my arms against the crowd to give Tony breathing space and let him see the show in peace, and in the process took a protesting bite on the arm from someone angered by my push-back. With Mike playing wingman, I'm sure some there thought Tony was a very wealthy trust fund baby with a pair of thugs guarding him.

When we were kids walking home together from middle school, I would strap his overweight backpack over the top of mine and carry both so that he wouldn't have to. He didn't force me to do this, but he did thank me with many a hotdog from the 7-11 we passed on the way. That scene, of me carrying both backpacks on a mile and a half walk, was echoed maybe a decade later on a backpacking trip. Yes, Tony was unprepared for the weight of his pack and the effects of the elevation, and though he started out carrying his own load, by the time we made it from the car to the lake five miles away, the only thing he was carrying was his AR-15, which made quite a sight. I'm sure our banter and the grin on my sweaty face was the only thing that kept passersby from running to the ranger station with stories of a hostage situation. We scared the hell out of some boyscouts.

He wore a firearm under his tux to my wedding. He lit fire to gifts from an ex-girlfriend and danced around it. He made explosives as a gifts. There are dozens of stories I could tell you about him, but we'd be here all day.

Tony wasn't perfect. His faults were plain to see and he didn't shrink from them; in fact he'd constantly challenge your interpretation of such things. But he was always there for me. Any time I needed anything he could provide, he came through, whether it was lockpicking services, a ride somewhere in the dead of night, or a place for my high school girlfriend, now my wife, to stay for a night when her parents had kicked her out and I was out of town. (Thanks for pretending not to notice your room had been stayed in, Jane.) He would demand payment in the form of food or doughnuts, but would come through even if none were available, if only with a loud and obnoxious pretense of irritation and inconvenience.

I never managed to get him to sign my yearbook in high school, and I never got him to visit me in Northern California after I moved away. He didn't like being mushy. He only accepted hugs from me on rare occasions. Aside from the love he showered on his dog, overt displays of affection were rare. One of the most surprising for me was when on the day of our graduation from High School, he asked me to take a picture with him. Now, this was Tony. I'd figured it wasn't worth my asking him for a picture, and then he asked me for one. I was honored.

Tony taught me a lot about how to enjoy life. I am who I am in large part because of him. I loved him like a brother since we were children, and I'll miss him for the rest of my life.
Thanks for reading.


Stella said...

This brings such tears to my eyes, not only because I still can't believe it happened, but because of the way you are able to express yourself so eloquently. I would be a sobbing mess for many a day after I found out, or in total zombie-shock-mode, so if there is anything, anything at all I can do to help aid in your mourning, please don't be afraid to ask. I will see you guys when you come down again - whatever is mine is yours, so please don't even hesitate to ask. It will NOT be any sort of inconvenience, at least not on my end. Big, big hugs to you both. You are the strongest couple I have ever known, and I hope that Andrew and I can have at least a small part of the bond that you have and will always continue to share together. Love you both, Stell.

St said...

So sorry. Such a lovely eulogy. He seems like one of those people we all wish we knew.

Ms. Bar B: said...

I'm sorry!

Katharine said...

Such a beautiful Eulogy - I am so sorry for this loss - I had heard about his death last week but hadn't realized that it was him.

June Bostick said...

It is a terrible thing to loose such a dear friend.

I am sorry for you both.

Andy Suh said...

It was easy to feel the love that filled the chapel during Tony's service, and I tried to soak up as many of the memories as I could, as told by his dearest friends. I'm thinking I should mention that I was not a close friend, just a former coworker...but...from the very first moment I met Tony nearly six years ago he made me feel like we had been friends for years. That's just the way he was. Your story confirmed that Tony was the special person, the good man I always believed him to be. Thank you for posting your touching words. There were some folks who could not attend the service and they will be as grateful as I am that you shared your memories.

Donna said...

Pablo, it's been a long time. I heard the news about Tony and immediately teared up. He was a great person and my deepest condolences to you and your loved ones.