Yesterday was Jake’s 25th birthday. Somehow we made it through without imploding, vaporizing, or disintegrating. We went for juicy pastrami sandwiches dripping with coleslaw on fresh crusty rye for lunch at Langer’s, an old-school deli in downtown LA. Jake would have definitely approved of the place and the sandwiches. Inexplicably, I had never eaten there in spite of growing up in LA and spending nearly 40 years here after my return. Perhaps he ate there sometime; there is much of his life these past several years that remain a mystery. He seemed to know about every restaurant, chef, cooking technique, and foodstuff, so I expect he had.
I fully anticipated I’d be more melancholy, sadder, more introspective, but the day slid by without much drama. At times, that flat, empty feeling pushed up against me, but I managed to keep it at bay most of the time. We had a small gathering at our home in the evening. Just a couple of Jake’s closest friends from school, my Mom, and one of our friends who knew Jake well. We sat on our deck in the gathering darkness eating cookies, munching on melon, and shared story after story of Jake. J– and S– , two of his best friends from High School, regaled us with tales, some of which we knew, some of which we had forgotten, and some that were news to us. We laughed together as we remembered some of his more flamboyant exploits. We acknowledged his boundless energy and loyalty to his friends.
We shared memories around the table of moments that epitomized Jake’s caring, his encyclopedic knowledge and interests, and how he was able to transform any experience, no matter how mundane at the outset, into the most improbable adventure. How he managed to convince his new girlfriend’s mother to hire him to tutor her in Chemistry. How somehow, he managed to talk an airline gate agent into letting him take his cooking knives in his carry-on baggage from Italy to England at the age of 15. He was like a Jedi Knight; in that he could induce people to do things they had no intention of doing at the outset of their encounter. He was comfortable in any social circle, in any circumstance, with his peers, his peers parents, and even total strangers. He charmed everyone he met.
Terry baked a deep fudgy chocolate cake filled with raspberry jam, whipped cream and strawberries, iced with whipped cream, and decorated with fresh raspberries. The cake she baked for him on many birthdays. We toasted his exploits together, and I took comfort in knowing his memory will never fade from the hearts and minds of the people who loved him. These are the people who keep Jake alive. The group of his friends who have remained in contact with us, who have insisted they be a part of our lives. Many of his friends live in other places, other cities, other states, but they make a point of calling and stopping by whenever they are in town. It touches us deeply that they want to stay connected, want to help us keep Jake alive in spirit. We are grateful that they do. There are hundreds of other friends who help keep Jake’s memory alive too; many I know, many I know of, there are probably many I don’t know. He touched so many lives, everyone he met. He lived a lifetime in just 24 short years.
Here are some of the wishes his friends posted these past few days.
Hey Jakey. Happiest of birthdays. I wish you could be here to celebrate. I honestly don’t even know of any words that can begin to touch on how much I wish you were here. If you were, we could go spend a ridiculous amount of money at top quality Bristol Farms sea food, we’d make a mess in the kitchen, you’d allow me to do a minimal amount of dicing because you’d finish the rest before I’d get to it, you’d stir up this sea food gumbo type pasta sauce (without any recipes around) ask us if we had some random spice I wouldn’t have ever thought of using, and then we’d sit in my backyard and we’d have the most interesting conversation about things that I never knew mattered, or that people could even talk about for hours, and I’d somehow feel smarter after it was over. So, I hope your birthday where you are goes something like that. I love you. I miss you.
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You would have been 25 years young. I have never met anyone like you. Just a few things about you. You loved your jazz music, and cooking amazing Italian food, you also loved to take pictures and you have the best parents anyone could ask for! I’m not sure where you are celebrating your 25th birthday Jake but I have no doubts you are doing it with great taste & style. Tomorrow will be filled with laughter and tears as I both remember you and celebrate your life. Not a day goes by where I don’t think about you and I really really miss you and I am still struggling with this.. Happy 25th Birthday Jake!
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Happy birthday Jake! be happy up there for two great parents that never forget to celebrate your birth and departure, for awesome parents that became stronger in their faith rather than succumb to their anger. yes they are mad like hell with God that he could not have waited for you just a bit longer, but they love him just because he loves you and he has you with him now. so be happy up there and continue sending signs of love and virtual seals of approvals to these great parents like you have been. if not for nothing then just so that your dad can enjoy a good pasta once in a while.
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Love. Peace, however you come to define it. And profound thanks for hosting a rare comet. We hamsters barely grasp the shape of this universe, let alone its purposes, but Jake is and will remain a force in all the lives he touched.
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Really thinking of Jake and celebrating him today as I know so many others are too.
Of course, thinking of you both too – with love and prayers..
My heart is full and empty at the same time.
My heart yearns for Jake and aches for all he’s left behind –
Still, I’m grateful for the spaces he’s filled in my heart and memory… for the joy he’s brought to me and to so many others.
I am remembering him INVOLVED in life and how he enjoyed everything he did.
And today, I remember him enjoying his first chocolate, birthday cake!
Fully experiencing and engaged in all that he did. I remember Jake that way.
We miss him so and will celebrate him today and all days.
We will be visiting the butterflies and remembering Jake flitting about touching so many people and things along the way.
We’re going to eat pizza (real pizza!) and gelato and we’ll be with you in spirit while you eat ‘Jake cake’ tonight.
• • • • • • •
Today was a bit of a let down. As if I expected Jake to show up at the door last night, grinning his grin, and with his clear, open smile say, “Hi Pops, how’s it going?” But he didn’t. Won’t ever again. I try not to dwell on that, but it still crashes through the fragile truce I have forged with this world, though not so often, nor as violently as it did months ago. Yes, months ago. Nearly eight of them now. And while I have cycled through those ‘stages of grief’, while I have arrived at a form of “acceptance” (I mean what choice do I have. It happened, I can’t deny Jake is gone. Maybe acceptance is not the correct word, more like a resignation to this new reality and don’t give me that “new normal” crap), I still can’t quite believe that this is really happening. It is all so surreal. I stand in our yard in the dark and talk to Jake. I ask him why, why he had to leave us. I ask him the questions I have asked thousands of times since December 28th, why, of all the things he could have done, of all the things he could have been, of all the roads he could have taken, of all the things that could have happened, this is the one that did. Still no answers; I expect there never will be.
So I make what peace I can with the world, day by day, grope my way through the fog, one foot in front of the other, and somehow have to trust that this fog will lift, will at least thin out enough so I can see where I am going. Right now, I still haven’t a clue.