Robert passed away this weekend. I visited him on Friday even though he had been in a coma for several weeks. I had mixed feelings about visiting him.
We both studied fine arts at the School of Visuals Arts, but he was one year ahead of me. When my college roommate, Mike, moved out to live with him, I was hurt because I couldn’t figure out why he would rather live with Robert. He forgot to mention that they were gay.
While they were together, I saw Robert often, but I think he found me generally annoying. He had always been unapologetic about who he was and clearly communicated his displeasure. After they broke up, he disappeared from my life. Last Friday was the first time in over two decades.
Although he couldn’t talk, I could hear his irritated voice in my head, “Dyske. What are you doing here?” Because he did not suffer fools gladly, it’s hard to do anything for him without his permission.
One time in the 90s, I asked him to edit my essays, but he told me they were not even editable. I didn’t take it personally since they were indeed quite unreadable at the time. I respected his opinions because he was supremely confident about his taste. As a geek, I was an anomaly at art school—he was someone meant to pursue fine arts.
Even though we were never good friends, his persona had crawled into my head and, from time to time, appeared and made critical remarks, like a superego. Obviously, I respected him; otherwise, I would have dismissed and forgotten about him.
Before the visit, I told Mike I no longer miss seeing people in person and that I only care about who they are as ideas. Whether they are physically alive or dead, in New York or on the other side of the planet, made no difference, I said. Mike disagreed but couldn’t articulate why.
I’m glad I ignored my own proclamation. I left the hospice with something more than an idea. When I heard he passed away last night, I felt something within me leave a void. I tend to privilege theory over reality. Perhaps it was this aspect of me that Robert found annoying.
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