I found out yesterday afternoon that the night before, my friend Carlos Alvarez passed away. The news saddens me on many levels.
Carlos was a very young, straightedge, vegan, organic farmer who was also a problem-solver, maker-of-things, and incredible friend. He once offered Anevay and I a place to live when we were going through a tough time, and last year, had us come look at the apartment adjacent the one where he lived with his girlfriend. "We could have gardening contests," he giddily told me, waving his hand out over the gardens out back from the apartments. Although I didn't end up taking the apartment, Carlos never failed to fill me in on his gardening news. He took great pride in growing things in the earth, both at his most current apartment, as well as out back in a contaminated patch of yard out back from his old place.
In many of my hours of need, Carlos brainstormed ways for me to make it work here in NY. First and foremost, he was a pillar of support. He had, after all, made it work. He hadn't always known sobriety and clean-living. He had contended with a darkside. It was a part of what made him so sensitive to where others stood. As long as people worked hard, he was open-minded. He had a big heart.
Carlos was an amazing dancer. The best. His footwork was uncomparable. Dancing with Carlos made me feel free, beautiful, and happy, just as much as it made me work to keep up with him! The fact that he was stricken on the dancefloor somehow seems appropriate. For the rest of my life, I won't be able to hear soul-music without thinking of Carlos. Nor will I be able to pass many landmarks without thinking of the wonderful times I shared with him.
Carlos had an unparalleled sense of humor. When I first met him, he kept me guessing. I suppose part of it was a defense-mechanism. If I proved smart enough, eventually he'd let me in. For awhile, the fact that I appreciated and even 'got' his humor, made him smile. It also made him work harder to throw me off. Eventually, he stopped trying to 'get me', and just became my friend. His teasing became more rounded, almost brotherly. Most of the people I know fall into one of two categories: the folks to have fun with; and the people to share with, talk with, learn lessons with. Carlos was that rare mixture of both.
I've known many friends and family members to die, but in hindsight, their paths could have been foreseen. Bad choices, sadness, drug addiction- these were some of the things they grappled with. But not Carlos. His death is shocking, blunt, a slap to the face. It's also a wake-up-call. he was one of the most ALIVE people I've ever met. His death says to me: Wake up, Melissa! It's a short life. It doesn't matter how old you are, how happy, or how healthy. It doesn't matter if you have your ducks in a row. You could go this very second. So make this second count. And this one. And THIS ONE. Live it. Don't expect anything else.
In my mind, Carlos will always be young. VIBRANT. He'll always be the star on the dancefloor, the man who had 10,000 projects going on at once (was there anything that man couldn't do?!), a person who always made room for Anevay and I. I'll remember him as the person who taught Anevay to breakdance, and the sensitive soul who danced with me all night long, only to walk around the neighorhood while we were exhausted, listening and talking when I was at my most upset. Carlos will always be a part of my New York experience. He'll always be a part of my youth.
Now, I don't believe that there's ever a perfect time for a person to go, and I'm not particularly of the mind that things happen for a reason. But I must say, the way Carlos exited was in keeping with the sort of man he was- amazing, shocking, introspective. Much in the joking, sarcastic, joyful yet almost caustic way he used to say things to catch me off guard, he's done it again... He's left me with my jaw dropped, my wits tied. All I can think about is what a beautiful man Carlos Alvarez was, and how fortunate my daughter and I were to have known him during his best years.
I am Melissa Banigan. I've been many things under the sun, but am currently a single mom raising an amazing kid in Brooklyn, writing novels and short stories, and working on some art (canvases and paper). I also, under the moniker melifera, produce off-the-cusp embroidered clothing and bags.