“You’ll always be 23/ Yet the train runs on and on”

18 March 2012 § Leave a comment

I don’t know when it is that this blog turned into a memorial site, but such has been my life for the last couple of years unfortunately. There has been a lot of death and sadness, and I’ve learned the hard way that – for me anyway – death is easier (but only slightly) when it’s drawn out and expected than when it comes suddenly. Like much of the country I spent the week or so after the terrible events of Port Said in a deep funk. I mean a couldn’t-get-off-my-couch-what’s-the-point-of-going-to-work funk. As I mentioned to my bestie from college Artemis – who was in town that week between Libya and Geneva – when she asked me if Jing’s death had changed me fundamentally, I told her yes, it had. It made me appreciate that sudden death is tragic and painful and that, for example, those kids who died in Port Said were not just numbers. They were somebody’s son, brother, husband, lover, best friend who had gone out to do something he loved and never came back. I can never think of death again neutrally just because I don’t know the person who died.

Today would have been Jing’s 33rd birthday. In the nearly two years since he’s died the lead up to this day has always been difficult for me. As I wrote in last year’s birthday post, Jing always signified life, movement, living. And so commemorating his birth makes a lot more sense to me than commemorating the day he died because Jing does not make sense to me in death, in stillness. This is how I think of him everyday. Moving, active, pushing, prodding. It was one of his most endearing and most annoying qualities. He could never accept inaction from those close to him. So he would egg you on, he would push you to do something, anything. “Hey Rooth [his random nickname for me], are you gonna do something about it? Or are you gonna be a pussy. Huh? HUH?” This was him. This quality was what often led people to find him annoying. But it’s also what helped him build a successful business in China from the ground up, through a lot of trials and tribulations.

On his memorial site on Facebook someone recently posted a Google Maps link of the place where he is thought to have lived his final moments. I often go back to that. Wonder what went through his mind during those final moments. Jing was liable to fall asleep just about anywhere. Did he even realize that he was suffering from heat stroke? That what was happening to him was that he was going into a coma? Or did he just think, “I’m going to close my eyes now for a bit. I’m going to just rest here for a while before I go on.” I wonder.

Almost all of my memories of Jing involve us doing things that we probably shouldn’t have been doing, or maybe just things that nobody else would have thought to do. This morning as I was riding the metro in to work I recalled the midnight trip we made on the Market-Frankford line in Philadelphia. Jing insisted that we ride the train to the very last stop and film passengers along the way. We got footage of a freestyle rap artist, a Black Muslim factory worker, a recently released convict. Unfortunately the footage from that night has been distorted, but I can still hear the sound. Still hear the conversation Jing and I had afterwards as we were on the night bus home from the Frankford stop, where I bitched about friends who had recently been unkind and he just ummed and ahhed and asked questions.

It made me want to ride the metro past my stop for work. Get off at the end of the line in Helwan and just walk around and talk to people.

Almost all of my memories involving Jing also involve music. He introduced me to so many artists from so many genres I had never considered. He could spend hours talking about why he loves  Stereophonics earlier albums (because of the small town stories, the real people), and why some Emo is actually okay. We would often put an album on repeat and spend the night painting and talking. Maybe this is why Stereophonics’ “Local Boy in the Photograph” will always remind me of him. I can still see him nodding his head in time to the music and then bursting into song during the chorus.  And in some ways, he will always be 23 to me, because that is the age he was when he first moved to China. When we had the first going away party for him. When our inseparability from the age of 18/19 was tested for the first time. (Turns out, we did pretty well, were always connected. Remained somehow inseparable despite the physical distance between us.)

And though he would come back to Philly for stretches of time before I myself left there at the age of 23 (when he and his brother and my dear friend Snefru took me to the airport, and waved me off as I cried my heart out because I was more or less being forced to move back to Egypt and I didn’t know when I’d see them again…), Jing will always be that slightly cocky, self-assured early 20-something who was smarter and wiser than most people twice his age, but not yet experienced in life enough to know to be humble about that.

I never thought I’d one day listen to this song in memory of Jing, because it never once crossed my mind that Jing would not outlive us all. That he would not still be that cocky, self-assured pusher well into his nineties. I always assumed we would grow old together. That someday we’d find a place to bring together both our families, and we’d live out our days together – one big, crazy, happy amalgamation of families.

Happy birthday, Jing. I love you and I miss you everyday.

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