I have tried, for the most part, to keep this blog light-hearted and fun during its thus-far brief existence. But it won't be light-hearted and fun tonight, and it might not be for a while.
Last week, I lost a very good friend, Derek Torres, to Swine Flu. He died at a hospital in Paris, and I'm even having to pause while typing this because it upsets me so much to think that Derek is gone. Derek left behind his wife and three young children, including a baby girl born in March. That in itself is more than tragic; it's unthinkably, devastatingly sad.
Aside from his family, Derek also left behind a legion of friends that included, as far as I can tell, pretty much everybody who ever knew him and even some people who didn't. I have tried since Tuesday night, when I got the horrible news, to put my feelings about Derek and his passing into words. I have failed thus far, and I'm failing now.
I want my tribute to Derek to be perfect, articulate, touching and memorable. Derek, though, wouldn't care about any of that stuff. The master of the one-word e-mail and the one-line postcard would probably prefer something brief and funny--but I just don't think I have any funny in me right now. Besides, this isn't about me. It's about Derek. So, I'll just say what comes to mind.
I never knew anybody who didn't like Derek Torres. In fact, I never knew anybody who didn't like him a lot, or even love him, even after chatting with him for just a few minutes. He was charismatic but never intentionally so--that was just the way he was. He never put on a show. Really, Derek was a bit shy, but he had a sharp wit and a relaxed demeanor that both entertained people and made them comfortable around him.
Derek could laugh at anything. He found everything funny. He made everything funny. A lot (most) of our inside jokes I'd rather not repeat or try to explain here, but trust me when I say that Derek could look at a road sign, a box of cereal or a completely innocuous magazine cover (anything, really) and have us both shaking with laughter about it in seconds. He was funny without being cruel or self-deprecating, and that's a rare trait for anybody to have. He was one of the most clever and quick-witted people I've ever known.
For lack of a better phrase, Derek was also the least argumentative person I've ever known. That's not to say that he didn't stand up for himself and his family--he did. But I never had a cross word with him, and he told me once that he'd never had so much as a tiff with a lifelong friend of his who is now also a friend of mine.
Derek didn't even make snide jokes at friends' expense or drop an insult followed with "ah, I'm just kidding." He wasn't that way. He was unfailingly nice to everybody--especially the people he loved. I always admired that about him. I was always comfortable around him. His loyalty to his friends was unshakable, and his reliability was never in question.
For me, the bottom line of Derek Torres's life was that that he loved people and wanted everybody around him to be happy all the time. He loved his family most of all, of course, and relished every chance he got to get his wife the boys, his late father (who died a couple of years ago), his mom and his brother together. He loved his friends, too. And he made us all happy--with his humor, with his warmth, with his love.
Derek loved a good joke (and really loved a great one) and wasn't somebody who often spoke in muted, sincere tones. He was too busy cracking a joke or making an observation that would have me buckled over with laughter for 20 minutes. But I know that he loved me and all of his friends and family. It was obvious every day, every time I saw him or connected with him on instant messenger, which is how we stayed in touch when we were living in different cities or on different continents.
Derek was always very good about keeping in touch. Distance meant nothing to him. He was a traveler both literally and in terms of crossing miles and time zones digitally. I've lost regular contact with some dear friends due to a move, but I never lost contact with Derek. Morning after morning, his IM would pop up as soon as I managed to drag myself out of bed and fire up my computer. He was always around somewhere, somehow.
Here's another testament to his friendship: When my ex-wife and I divorced, he remained good friends with both of us, staying in contact and listening to our separate concerns. His capacity for sympathy and compassion knew no bounds.
We, his friends, loved him. People who read his blog and had never met him loved him. Friends of mine who met him once (at my wedding, in which he was a groomsman) were crushed by his death. A night or two before he died, when I was still sure that he was going to pull through (Derek, after all, was one tough dude), I said to my wife, "I can't imagine a world without Derek Torres." I'll bet most people who knew him felt the same way.
And I still can't. I don't want to have to. Derek left a hole in the lives of his loved ones as large as the man himself--and he did, after all, christen himself FatMans (and not ironically). So, while Derek (I believe) communes with God, we're all down here now, trying to figure out why this diamond of a human being didn't even make it to 35, praying for his family and wondering what we're going to do without him. I haven't figured it out yet. I don't know that I ever will.