It’s been four months since Adam died.
Adria and I were visiting him in New York where he’d moved after accepting an associate professorship at Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in Manhattan. He invited us out for a vacation, vowing to be our trusty tour guide. We had an incredible three days of running around the city, seeing all the major touristy sights and a handful of gems we would never have found without him.
On the fourth day of the trip, Adria, Adam, Lisa (Adam’s girlfriend) and I set out to walk the Brooklyn Bridge and check out Adam’s favorite park, Washington Square.
He died, right before us on the floor of the Rite Aid where we’d stopped for an ATM transaction and a Gatorade on a 90 degree June morning. He died as we screamed and cried and prayed on our knees and waited for the paramedics to try resuscitating our friend.
We left New York in a daze the next morning, shocked at how this perfect vacation had ended in absolute horror.
Later that summer, Adam’s friend and coworker Lasse notified us that a service would be held in Adam’s memory at the university in the fall. Six of us (five of Adam’s friends and his sister, Samantha) quickly started figuring a way to get back to New York together.
On October 1st, Adria, Sam and I boarded a plane in Wisconsin, headed for Manhattan where we’d meet Luke, Scott, and our other friend Adam for a weekend of remembering and honoring our friend.
It was tough walking down the ramp at the airport without you there to greet us this time, or through the subway turnstile where we’d giggled each time one of us became trapped by the metal claw.
In the cab on the way to the hotel, your sister’s eyes were bright and wide. I thought of what you’d said back in June when Adria and I showed up to NYC for the first time…
I love seeing New York through someone else’s eyes.
That afternoon, we collected the guys from various planes and trains, and grabbed a quick bite before heading to FIT for your memorial.
When we rounded the corner into the conference room at the ceremony, there you were.
The memorial was rich and moving. Your boss, coworkers, and friends shared some of your poetry and offered written and musical tributes to you. It was wonderful to hear that they loved you for the same reasons we did — your humor, your tenderness, your style, and your incomparable knack for cheating at games and contests.
Samantha spoke too, sharing some details with the New York crowd about your family, your life back in Michigan. They were absorbed in hearing about you. Many of them whispered about how much she looked like you.
After the ceremony, we hugged and cried with your New York friends before Lasse walked us to one of your favorite pubs, Smithfield Hall.
We raised IPAs in your honor before hopping the train to Brooklyn to finally cross the Bridge on foot like we’d planned to do with you on the day you died.
The weather was wild, but we were unswerving.
The gusty wind was exhilarating.
The Gothic towers arched above, beckoning our passage.
The lights of Manhattan shone with extra glimmer in the rain, reflecting off the East River as we crossed over, hand in hand.
It was perfect.
Back in Manhattan, we trekked to Chinatown and shared plates of your favorite dumplings at Shanghai Cafe (I was slightly better with the chopsticks this time), before heading back to our SoHo hotel and sleeping hard on various beds, cots, and couches.
The next morning, we took the R train to Brooklyn.
When we emerged from the station onto the street, the Rite Aid was there before us, and it took the breath right out of me.
We crossed Bay Ridge Avenue and bought bagels at Steve’s. I ordered lox again, on your recommendation, and ate it looking out the window at the bench where we’d sat in June.
When we finished our breakfast, we crossed the street to the Rite Aid, inhaled collectively, and walked through the doors. Almost immediately, Springsteen came on the radio. We gasped and smiled, knowing The Boss had been your favorite, then wiped at our eyes with shirtsleeves.
Adria and I left a note at the pharmacy counter for the young employee who helped us care for you when you collapsed. We learned that it had been her first week on the job.
I told her who you were. I thought she might like to know something about the man she’d tried to save.
At the front of the store, we stood in the place where you died. The place you last walked in your black Chuck Taylors. Where you spoke your last words — about Gatorade. Where you last looked at us from behind dark-rimmed Warby Parkers.
The sunscreen display from June had been replaced with a tower of Busch Light cases. I braced myself against it, finding my legs, then walked to the cooler for a red Gatorade that I drank on the walk to your apartment, the walk past the house you’d joked you’d one day own.
The sidewalk in front of your apartment was empty. We stood on the stoop together for a few minutes before taking the basement tunnel into the empty courtyard, bare clotheslines dripping overhead.
I held my umbrella in my right hand and closed my eyes, opening my left palm to the rain. Your sister, thinking I was reaching out to her, put her hand in mine. I was so damn thankful she did.
The alley behind the apartment was quiet. We stared up at the third floor fire escape, pointing at your windows.
That was his bedroom. That was the music room.
The window sill of the music room held a line of plants. I was glad to see life there.
Before we walked away, I left half of my iced coffee on the front step, along with a line from one of your poems. I left your words all over the city that weekend.
We traveled back to Manhattan and visited the World Trade Center Memorial. The rain beat down on our umbrellas and fell loudly into the reflecting pools. The roar was both of power and of peace.
I stood in the same place we’d occupied beneath blue spring skies. On the wall before me, a bead of rain rolled down the stone and dropped into a letter N.
Back on Vesey Street, we found a pizza joint for lunch, folding our slices in half “longways,” the way you’d taught us in June.
We met Lisa and Lasse at Washington Square Park, your favorite park, to see “your bench,” the one that we (your family, friends, and coworkers) have dedicated to you.
The park was mellow in the rain. A few college kids launched pigeon attacks. An old man carrying a canvas bag shuffled along the sidewalk beneath the sycamores. The row of chess tables was vacant.
In fair weather, Lisa told us, the park is alive with the activity — street musicians, professionals on lunch breaks, children and curious dogs investigating the fountain on the plaza across from the marble arch.
We admired the plaque with your name inscribed on it and snapped some photos around the bench.
Then we made some silly, Mary-Poppins-style fun.
As I trailed behind the group of friends from the park back to the street, I smiled at the whole scene. Soggy pant-legs. Waterlogged shoes. Drippy umbrellas bobbing through the streets of Manhattan.
There was something about the rain that weekend that united us — in the way we hunched our shoulders and pressed on into the wind. The way we laughed when our umbrellas turned on themselves. The way we were wet, tired, blister-footed messes at the end of the day.
The way we were in it. Together.
New York. Manhattan. Brooklyn. The city. The rain. We were in it, and it was in us. In our hair, our shoes, our palms and our glasses.
Somehow, that cold, sloppy rain was exactly what we all needed.
On our last night in New York, we sang karaoke in a bizarre little room with a red vinyl couch and some kind of sexy-adventure-anime rolling between songs.
We tore it up, Adam. We did all of your favorites, and then some. Lisa rocked your girl, TS. Westhouse did this hilariously creepy version of “Brandy” (You’re a fiiiine girl…). Scott revived the Jackson Five and Luke came out of nowhere with “Oops! I Did it Again.” Sam did the most inspired rendition of “Nookie” one could imagine. Adria and I belted out some Heart, and the girls joined together for a far-too-dramatic performance of “Part of Your World” (because, ARIEL).
You would have loved it. Or maybe you would have been pissed that we butchered all your songs. But I swear we tried so hard. We bellowed “Born to Run” and “Crocodile Rock” in tones that wrecked our voices for days to come. We passed around crazy colorful sunglasses like the ones you always karaoked in, and did your funny little foot-shuffle at all the right moments. We draped arms over each other’s shoulders and when the perfectly absurd three hours was over, we hugged and wept, knowing we did you right.
The trip. The friends. The laughter through tears. It was all right.
When I left New York the first time, I was leaving the place where my dear friend died. But that night, Adam, that weekend, the people who loved you brought you back.
You were alive.
To read Adam’s poetry, visit his blog, Dropped Calls
If you enjoyed this post, read more personal essay here.
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