One year ago I lost a friend suddenly. He happened to be a coworker and former manager so I found out at work. My teammate chatted Yo, can you talk for a sec? On the phone? I casually answered his call.
“I don’t know how to tell you this, but last night Paul had a heart attack and passed away. He’s gone, man.”
I started shaking. Left work and walked to the Bay. I had to do something so I reached out to friends who knew him and delivered the bad news. All we could do was throw our hands up. Shake our heads. “He was so young.”
When Paul managed me we’d often use our one-on-ones to talk about life. Although I never touched the stuff, we always started with Paul grabbing a coffee. And every time he’d bring his own specialty cinnamon imported from somewhere exotic to add a little spice. He’d sip his sweet, cinnamon coffee, and we’d chat about the world. Joke like college buddies.
He told me the story of how he got into a bar fight with a motorcycle gang and “basically got the shit kicked out of him.” I told him the story of how I drank too much for the first time and somehow wrote poetry to sober up.
And then we’d both dream out loud about doing the things we love with the people we love. He encouraged me to do everything I wanted, even if — especially if — it scared me.
Paul was one of the rare humans who inspired you to be a better person. He was kind and gentle. Always optimistic and supportive. Goddamn hilarious, too. He once dressed up as a pirate and stayed in character during a presentation to hundreds of people — rallying the company to hit a deadline while throwing gold coins at everyone. He was smarter than most. Humbler than all. To borrow from his brother’s beautiful eulogy, Paul was magic.
About eight months before Paul died I started fighting anxiety and depression. The details aren’t important. But I remember running across the Golden Gate Bridge with close friends and thinking, “so this is where it sometimes happens.”
My mentality grew darker. If I’m being honest, I contemplated suicide on my birthday and a few more times in the following weeks. Then Paul passed.
The funeral was standing room only. Our connection was not an isolated event. Friends, family and former coworkers told story after story of his magic. But even with his supernatural ability to connect and empathize with people, I learned he battled anxiety and depression, too. My heart sank. My mind wandered.
What’s it all for, anyway?
Later that day, I suddenly couldn’t breathe, and my chest tightened. I immediately assumed the worst. I ended up spending that night in the ER after a severe panic attack. The doctors kept telling me I had no risk factors for the intense chest pain I was experiencing. But stranger things have happened. I couldn’t help but remember my moments with Paul.
A big fat grin on his face as he teased me for something I probably deserved, picking up his coffee, and mixing in just a little bit of cinnamon.
A few months after Paul’s death, I no longer felt as anxious or depressed. If I’m being honest, I know it isn’t over. The details aren’t important.
But I’ve since spent more time doing the things I love with the people I love. I biked across the Golden Gate Bridge on my birthday this year. And I started that day off with a dark roast to go.
For my entire life I fought the pressure to drink coffee. I sipped a friend’s cup of joe once or twice, but I didn’t like it. I even avoided coffee-flavored ice cream. But I was more proud of the fact that I didn’t need it.
It wasn’t the taste I avoided — I viewed coffee as a crutch. When you’re too tired to function. When your spirit isn’t strong enough. When you can’t find the will to get out of bed.
The coffee drinkers in my life would warn me that one day soon I’d succumb to the pressure. Even Paul said I’d start drinking it. But I always declared, “I promised myself I’d never drink coffee.”
Today, and nearly every day in the last year, I broke that promise; on days when I’m lucky, I add a little cinnamon.