Yesterday was my friend Mason's 35th birthday. Mason, my friend for whom I asked you for pagan prayers, didn't get to mark it - he died on December 7th.
I've worked with Mason on and off for almost 12 years. We first met when he was fresh out of college - he'd been working part-time in one of our retail locations, and was now ready for a proper, full-time position, preferably not in sales. He interviewed to work for me in Marketing, and I thought he was too young, too cocky, too arrogant to get along with, and didn't hire him. He was all of those things, but as I came to know him better, I came to love his confidence and his passion.
Several years later, I moved back to Austin from my stints abroad (you know, Houston, San Antonio, those foreign lands), and he'd moved here too, and began to report to me in my new position. I had a bunch of people working for me then, but he was unique in that we were in the same office - all the rest were in different locations - and in that he was Mason. He was an improbable liberal who'd graduated from Texas A&M University, a school renowned for its conservative tendencies. In my line of work, just about everyone I work with leans to the right, and the few of us who don't find each other, fast,
Mason also stood out during that time as an individual with a quick wit, a wonderfully sarcastic sense of humor, and an intolerance for those who couldn't keep pace with him. That was most of us.
The years passed, and we took different jobs, and I didn't see him very often - his jobs tended to keep him out of the office, and mine to keep me in. Yet whenever we did meet, we'd talk politics, office & national, and lovingly mock our right-wing friends, and share tips for the best places to eat, drink or visit in Austin or California or New York. We'd also cross paths at ACL every year, and I enjoyed seeing him with his wife, and listening to his strongly-held opinions of the music on offer, as well as the festival food. At some point, I discovered his blog, and got great pleasure from his anecdotes and his perspectives in general. At some point, he discovered mine, and we each let the other know these things discreetly, as we both valued privacy. (Yet we BLOGGED. D'oh.)
Two or three years ago he took a new job, which put him in an office two doors down from mine. I love my little wing - I'm surrounded by good people and good friends, and it was great including him in that number. We spoke much more frequently, and exchanged instant messages or emails daily on current events, the election, the economy, whether or not he should buy a house (he did NOT think he should), whether or not he should contribute to his 401k (he FINALLY set one up, years after we'd told him to), and what new car he should buy or lease. His passion for politics, cars, and music was legendary and contagious.
Sometime last year Angela noticed his wedding ring was missing, and I screwed up my courage to ask him about it-- he was so very private, but we loved him so very much. Sadly, our worries were confirmed, and soon after his divorce became final, an opportunity for a promotion came up in Houston, and he went for it, and got it.
Mason and I held similar viewpoints on Houston - it's a great city for culture, and for food, but there's too much concrete there, too much commercialism and consumerism, and it doesn't hold a candle to Austin. He didn't want to move there, but he wanted a new start, and he hoped he'd be able to get back to Austin sooner than later. I visited our office there around the 4th of July, and he came in from vacation to have lunch with me and catch up. That was the last time I got to ride in his hot hatch, a term which he taught me and hated so much that I loved to tease him about it. He'd blush fiery-red and hotly regret he'd ever mentioned the phrase in my hearing.
Mason didn't make it back to Austin. He contracted a bacterial infection, Lemierre's syndrome, and once hospitalized, was sedated while the toxins attacked his organs and wreaked havoc on his lungs. He fought and he fought and he fought, and in the end, his lungs just couldn't fight anymore.
And so last night, on his birthday, some of us met at one of his old Austin haunts, and shared stories and memories together. We didn't cry - I for one had shed my tears at the beautiful service earlier this month. We laughed, and we remembered.
I miss him. I wish I'd gotten to know him better, spent more time with him socially. I wish he weren't the cause of my learning that yet more of those cliches are true - that we should enjoy our loved ones while we can, that we should keep in touch with friends old and new, that we should seize the day and live each day to its fullest. I wish - I wish a lot of things.*
* Into the Woods, by Stephen Sondheim