It has been pure luck that death and I have been strangers for so long. Until recently, I have never had anyone close to me die (besides when I was younger, at which point the world with its life and death seemed to exist in a whole other reality altogether). Mostly I have stood on the sidelines, doing what I can to help others who are grieving: offering a steady hand, catching a fallen tear, cooking food in the hopes that, at best, it will get picked at. I have watched how some deaths bring solace, bring relief to long a suffering by the person passing and or their loved-ones.
I don’t think there is any good death, nor that death can be quantified.
But the thought of your friend burning alive in a building in unfathomable.
It evokes death in its most terrifying form. One that is unexpected, but not quick enough to escape excruciated pain. That is what happened to my dear friend Alex in the Oakland Warehouse Fire that took place on December 2, 2016. In freak accidents like these, it is impossible to find anything to say. There are no words for comfort, no wishful thinking that their deaths were an end to suffering, no pretending their last moments of life were filled with anything but helpless fear and gut-retching pain.
In school that week we were learning about the cardiovascular system. It was here were I found solace in a most unexpected place: biochemistry.
Midway through our lecture on hemoglobin we learned about carbon monoxide poisoning, a common byproduct from fires. We learned how carbon monoxide binds to hemoglobin 250x stronger than oxygen. How when it does so, it fixes the globulin tetramer structure in its relaxed form. In this R-state, oxygen cannot be released from hemoglobin, and remains stuck, unable to deliver itself to the parts of the body calling to it. Without enough oxygen to the brain and body, most people pass out quickly after exposure to carbon monoxide.
Medical school hasn’t yet taught us how to appropriately deal with death. I’m also not sure if this is something anyone ever learns successfully. Science, with its laws and objective truths, is hardly the place to turn to for emotional comfort. Yet, in the days that followed the phone call from a friend, the news updates, and the confirmation of Alex’s death, it is the only comfort I have found.
So I hold on to the hope that science was once again right, that the fumes got to them before the fire did, that their suffering was nowhere as great as the memories they leave behind.
To say I have never met anyone like you doesn’t even scratch the surface. You were an anomaly of surprises, lessons, passions, and belly-aching laughter. There are never the right words to say in moments like these. You of all people knew this. You knew how to tell a story with a image, how to capture the moment when words fail us as they so often do. You found so many ways to do this:
…with the genius of your art
…with the names of your daughters tattooed on your hands, as you carried them everywhere you went
…with the ridiculous faces you could make
…with the intensity of a look and your fearlessness of looking people deep in the eyes,
In so many ways you knew how to capture the moment: through a lens, through a hug, through a stare-down like this one.
Thank you for capturing us all. For sharing yourself so fully to everyone who knew you. You are so painfully loved and missed.