When we were 18, we were college freshmen. We were part of the same pack of friends though I always felt somewhat like an outsider, a result of both my own shyness and my, at that time, underdeveloped sense of irony.
He was from Illinois and he liked bands I had never heard of — Mudhoney and Rev. Horton Heat. He seemed so much worldlier than I was, and not just because he took Arabic before I had even figured out where Arabic was spoken.
In my mind’s eye, I see baggy pants and plaid shirts and Doc Martens, a vaguely military-styled khaki shoulder bag with a red emblem — a bird, maybe? I see a brilliant guy who was still a bit charmed by his own intellect. I see a boy I kissed, once. Just once…he had dated a friend, and maybe was going to date her again, and it just didn’t sit right with either of us.
Over time, we followed the elliptical orbit that most friends do, drawing closer and traveling further, drawing closer and traveling further. About a year or so ago, we ran into each other at the ATM just blocks from both of our offices. We had lunch a few times, and I was oddly nervous for the first one. But we talked about work and his girls and laughed over things I can’t remember now.
On Friday, I logged onto Facebook in search of new photos of my sister’s new baby. I saw instead his sister-in-law’s posting on his Facebook page. A link that led to an obituary that led to a hand clapped over my mouth and a strange shortness of breath. Thirty-eight years old, and dead at home. Survived by his wife and two daughters, the youngest eight months old.
I wish I could hang more specifics on this story. I wish I had taken notes. What day did we meet at the ATM? Was it three or four weeks ago we had lunch? Which friend did he live with freshman year, and sophomore year, and so on? Did he have mono junior year or senior? What was the emblem on that khaki bag he carried?
Instead, tomorrow I’ll dress in black and travel to Bethesda for a memorial service for a 38 year old husband and father of two who still reminds me of when we were 18.
Christopher Boucek, in addition to being a father and husband, was a noted Middle East scholar, with particular focus on Yemen. This eulogy on the blog of Foreign Policy, speaks beautifully about his work and his character.
This isn’t how I wanted to come back to this space, but I’m grateful to have the outlet. Thanks, friends.