One of the scariest moments about living in a far off time zone is checking my phone when I wake up. I’m not sure why as I’ve received very little bad news during my time overseas. (I just knocked on a huge piece of wood.) It’s not an overwhelming fear just a tiny twinge of doubt that I might have slept through something crappy happening back home.
I’m guessing it’s a natural feeling; and the majority of time I’m relieved and happy to wake up to a photo of my nieces or nephews, or at worst my monthly update on my meagre pension savings.
Last week, my irrational fear was unfortunately explained.
We happened to be in Bali enjoying a Chinese New Year getaway with my visiting parents. We were about to head off for a day of hiking, eating and shopping, when I glanced at my message notifications to see the words – ‘terrible news’, ‘Lee’ and ‘passed away.’
I’m not proud to admit this, but I immediately shut off my phone before reading any of the messages. I wanted nothing to do with any of those words and I blocked it out of my mind for the entire day.
When we got back to our place at the end of the day and I turned my phone back on, I was hoping the messages would be gone. A figment of my imagination. They weren’t. It was time to face the truth.
My friend and former colleague Lee had taken his own life the day before. As I struggled through glassy eyes to read the multiple messages from former colleagues, I pieced together that he’d been on leave from work and people hadn’t talked to him in awhile. He was obviously struggling and I had no idea.
The last time I saw Lee was in July as we caught up over beers (pop for him) and nachos. Like always, we laughed and chatted about our upcoming travel plans (he was excited for his a visit to New Zealand in November) and I was selling him on a visit to Malaysia.
When we parted ways that night (and he offered me a ride home like he always did), I remember thinking how content and full of life he seemed to be. It made me happy to see him so happy.
Fast forward six months and he was gone. It makes no sense. Was he putting on a good front in July? Did something terrible happen later that summer? Or did the depression and anxiety that he dealt with for much of his life just put a grip on him that he couldn’t release? The answer is probably ‘yes’ to all three questions.
It’s tough to make sense of any of it, and what hurts the most is that he may have died not knowing how many people loved and respected him. That thought is going to haunt me for a long time.
Lee was such a special person – kind, generous, stoic, modest, gentle, witty, patient – and best of all he put up with (and I think even enjoyed) working with idiots like me.
From the moment we were presented matching denim, jewel encrusted thongs from our female colleagues (I know that sounds creepy, but it was all in good fun) or when we dressed up as Golden Girls together for Halloween (he was a spitting image of Dorothy when he wore a wig), I knew we’d be buds for a long time.
And while I wish we could have shared more laughs together, I’m so grateful for the ones we did have.
You were a beauty, Lee Cowie. Thank you for all the rides home. Thank you for teaching me about comma splices. Thank you for enduring my karaoke singing, And most of all, thank you for being my friend. I’m going to miss you.