“You’ll be with me, like a handprint on my heart.”
Because my mind thinks in musicals, it’s hard for me not to have the melody of For Good from Wicked running through my head as I write this post. Today, March 2, marked the 7th month since my heart got a good, final imprint from my dear friend Jordan.
Some of my closest friends know the full story. Many know I went into a funk for a while that I am emerging from, still. So much I have not been able to talk about. Well, I feel it is time I give him the tribute that I tried to write months ago, but never was able to finish.
Jordan was, well, one of the most fabulously irreverent people I have ever met. I knew him by reputation long before I actually met him. My first day I worked at Mamabargains, I logged into a computer PLASTERED with all things Lady GaGa. Reese, my coworker, said, “Oh, ya… Jordan. He was our admin until recently. He was obsessed.” I was given his old computer to use. He shared a first and last name with my ex’s little brother, so it was pretty hard to forget the full name of this sassy ex employee that was often referred to for his strange quirks. So, years down the road, when he walked into the offices of Vault and I saw that name, I knew immediately who it was. The guy with GaGa plastered on his computer.
We were short on office space for a bit, so when he started, my desk was in the lobby of the executive side of the office. He worked in a different side of the office, but the executive side had windows instead of walls, so I would see him take his lunch and bathroom breaks, and he was always dressed completely flawlessly and was simply darling. I decided that I wanted to learn more about him one day, so I just knocked on the window as he walked past and told him to come in. He just had the charisma that begged to be talked to. Plus, I knew that we would be working together down the road, since he definitely had the best style in the office aside from myself, of course, and I would need help with the men’s side of styling. This is when I found out he actually had an aptitude for graphic design, which was what we needed. Someone with great taste AND graphic design, as our marketing materials were, for lack of a better word, flat. Not long after, he was promoted from customer support to graphic designer, then after that to videos. I was the resident talking head, so of course, this is when we really were able to work together.
Jordan knew the rule that the best way to win friends is to compliment them, and compliment me, he did! His nickname for me was Cameron, because he decided I was Cameron Diaz’s twin. I don’t see it, but I was not going to complain, since I think she is gorgeous. We became close surprisingly quickly, as I would mother him and make sure he had a lunch, or kidnap him from his work to go get snow cones with me. It’s all really a bit of a blur, where I can pick out specific memories, but not really plot them out on a timeline, because it was a whirlwind. We worked furiously during that time, to not only get messages out about the changes in the company, but to prepare for our month of pure craziness as we traveled around the country. The trips were when we went from simply friends to truly just loving and adoring one another.
While in Texas, we took a walk to probably the strangest mall I have been to. We tried on weird clothes and talked about his relationship with religion and his sexual orientation. I’m a very open person, so my walls were down long before this, but I think this is when he let the walls down with me. If you’ve read my blog, you know my feelings, and I don’t offer harsh judgement to people who are gay. He knew he was safe with me to share his religious side and this was a side he had shut off for a while. I learned more about him, and he learned that my luggage has Tinkerbell on it, and from that point on, we talked freely about any topic, without judgement. All conversations were full of love and laughter. Love in a true way, obviously, and not a romantic way. Simple and pure love of someone that you fully appreciate and respect, that you can tell a deep dark secret to, an uplifting thought, or a dirty joke.
Kansas City was a riot. Chicago was a rainy, hunger-crazed mess. Those memories are the fondest. His random commentary on what was going on around us made even the simplest moments a gut buster. Then, we were headed to LA. We had planned to go the the beach, eat at a barefoot restaurant, meet up with some of his friends to go dancing, shop. We were exhausted and ready to party. The week leading up to LA was personally troubling for Jordan, so we also had spent extra time bonding together, sharing dessert, chips and salsa at Chili’s, and trying to figure out his next move, so the personal turmoil could stop. I treasure that he loved me enough to tell me about it. As much as we both loved that we had seen one another every single day for the past month straight, talking and texting during the few hours we were apart, we were both looking forward to the end of the craziness.
The Thursday before we left, I was not feeling well, and I left work after about an hour to go home and sleep. I slept literally the whole day, on and off, with a few fever breaks and stomach issues, but felt better by the next morning. We had a tradition where we would drive together to the airport with a small group. He was the last stop. So, when we stopped to pick him up Friday morning, and he reported that he had not been feeling well, I just assumed that he had picked up what I had the day before. I was fine, so he was going to be fine, too. We talked about nonsense on the way to the airport. He teased me about my oddly happy mood for a morning ride, as I was usually grumpy (which he would characterize as CoCo when I was happy and Nicole when I was grumpy). We had our typical pre-flight ritual of hanging out in the Delta Sky Lounge and having breakfast. I mothered him into eating a bagel and drinking some ginger-ale to calm his upset tummy. Another person in our group was in first class, while Jordan was in coach. He offered his seat, and I literally had to force him into the first class seat, because he was too humble to take it on his own. He was not feeling well, still, and even though it was only an hour flight, that hour should be comfortable, plus, he could get another ginger-ale before we even departed.
I had to go to the bathroom the second we landed, so I ran off the plane and text him that I would meet him at the baggage claim and to let everyone else know. When I got to the baggage claim, his skin was literally green and goosebumped. He was wearing shorts and a short-sleeved shirt, I could tell he was chilled. The baggage claim was the temperature of a freezer, so I offered to grab his bag while he ran outside and warmed up. He refused to let a girl get his bag. He, luckily, would not refuse a jacket from one of our bosses, so he was at least no longer freezing. The shuttle ride to the rental car, he just crouched on the ground, in obvious illness. We let him ride in the front seat as we were off to the hotel, and made arrangements for him to check in early. He just really wanted to lay down and get some sleep. The rest of us could not check into our rooms, as it was 10 AM in LA, so we checked our bags with the hotel and got him situated with his room. I told him that I loved him, that I hoped he would feel better, and watched him walk away. This picture is the picture that is forever blazoned in my memory. Jordan, walking away, with his bright blue shirt, head cocked to one side, as he often walked, pulling his bag down the hallway. That was the last I would see him.
The rest of us went to the beach, as planned and ate lunch. During that time, his mom contacted me, letting me know she was worried. I had been texting with him, but he didn’t respond. I assured her that he was sick and just wanted to sleep. Somewhere in the traffic on the way back, a text, that we later found out was delayed in its delivery, came through to one of us in the group that said he was feeling sick, but was fine. I let her know that he had been in communication and was ok. Once I returned, I would get showered then go check on him. We had a meeting scheduled with the hotel, and I knew he wouldn’t miss it.
The meeting came, and when I walked into the meeting space, he was not there. This was odd. He was always early. A couple of members of the hotel staff came in and asked for one of the owners, Steve, to step out into the hallway with them. The other owner, Tyler, and I looked at each other, confused, at what this odd behavior from the hotel was about. We walked into the hallway, and Steve was crumpled on the floor crying. Tyler walked over to the hotel staff, introduced himself, they whispered, and all I heard was him saying, “WHAT?!” in disbelief. I asked Steve what was going on. This is when he told me. Jordan’s mom had asked the hotel staff to check on him. When they went to his room, they found that he was dead.
No. It’s not true. You’re lying. Where’s his room? We are going to go get him. He’s fine. They checked the wrong room. Where is he? Let’s go.
We followed the hotel staff to his room, where it was barricaded by police. They took us for statements, and I was still in complete shock.
His mom. We have to call his mom. Please call her.
The police do not call family in California. The coroner does. The police also tell you that it is not OK for you to call family. So I knew for about 2 hours before his mom knew. It was 4 PM on a Friday afternoon in LA, with LA traffic, and a random tragic accident on one of the beaches where a crazy person ran down a bunch of people with a car on the boardwalk. The coroner was not coming any time soon, and ultimately didn’t arrive until about 1 or 2 AM. I knew this was not acceptable. She had to know. Luckily, the third owner, Jim, has a son-in-law who is a policeman back east. He has had to tell families of losing loved ones with his position. He had discussed with Jim how these situations are handled. With much prodding, Jim called his mom.
Because we were there for a work function, we had to pull ourselves together and go to dinner that night at 7 for a meeting with local leaders. After my salad course, it hit me. One of the people at dinner said something accidentally crude, and I wanted to squeeze the leg of my partner-in-crime, but he wasn’t there. I got up and left, crying for the first time in the bathroom for about a half an hour. I came out to find the lovely Bill Bakho was there waiting for me to help me put myself back together. Bill is the owner of Vaults skincare partner, Fenix Cosmetics. He and his business partner were the only two people at the dinner who knew what was going on. He helped me back into the meeting, and he and his partner helped me stay distracted for the rest of the night.
I didn’t sleep. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t go home. I couldn’t stay. I prayed for him to come back, or at least for his spirit to come tell me it was OK. Nothing happened but dark turning to light as I listened to the rain outside. The rain, which was the world mourning the loss of a beautiful soul.
The next day we did our meeting, and left shortly after. I can’t explain the brokeness I felt, or the deep sense of disloyalty as I got on a plane and knew that my dear friend was still in a coroners office in LA and I was leaving him behind.
The worst part about the death of a co-worker is that someone has to be found to replace them and to do their work immediately. I knew most of his projects, except his graphic design projects. I had to return to work the following Monday and try to find his replacement as well as help talk to the the staff about what happened. Ya, being an executive is not always what you hope it will be, when you have to be responsible at times like this. I had a complete melt-down anxiety attack as I drove into work and called a friend who literally had to talk me through walking up the steps to the office. One. Foot. At. A. Time.
I only took one day off, which was the following Friday, the one week anniversary, because I just needed some time to prepare myself emotionally for the funeral. I didn’t even really get that full day, because I had to send emails out for people, but that was my only break I was able to take. While out that day, I was informed of the cause of death, Neisseria meningitidis, and he had a rare form only spread through saliva. I would have to be treated immediately because of the close contact and amount of food sharing we had done the week prior. This was a fun additional stressor to my grief.
I honestly don’t remember a lot after that. I remember that I couldn’t and wouldn’t be alone for a while. I am deeply grateful for my friends who made time to spend with me, so I would only be alone if I was asleep. The people who were there most for me were not necessarily the usual suspects. I found that with sudden death, few people understand the shock. Some people are able to empathize if they have lost someone extremely close, but it’s a feeling I didn’t know was nearly as difficult process as it is. I had lost animals, great-grandparents, people I knew, but not someone who was a daily fixture in my life. I found myself unable to breath on a regular basis. It’s a feeling that I hope I don’t have to ever have personally, again. I am grateful, however, because it helps me understand how to help others down the road.
This feeling didn’t stop until Dec 23. My heart broke every day. I cried every day. Then, December 23, I went to sleep. What happened that night to me was a special gift that I won’t talk about, but was nothing short of a Christmas miracle and the best gift I will ever receive. His family knows, because I told them. This gift has helped me gain the closure that my last interaction with Jordan was unable to provide. His presence is still felt with me on a regular basis, on those moments when I would want to call and/or text him, but the deep, all-air consuming grief is gone. I still cry. I’m crying right now, but it’s simple tears of missing a loved one, and no longer tears of deep sorrow.
So that’s the story, and though it’s a long blog post, it’s a nutshell version, of a friendship and bond formed quickly and deeply, that will last forever.
I love you, Child of the Universe!
“And now whatever way our stories end, I know you have re-written mine, by being my friend.”