This is from a Shape photoshoot for an article on corrective exercises. Steve did NOT want to do this. Him: Does this angle make me look short? Me: Yep. Him: You know I hate these machines and would never stick a client on one, right? Me: Yep. Him: Do I still have to be in this picture?? Me: Yep. So he crouched down to make himself look like even more of a midget. This is me trying not to bust out laughing. Jerk. Also, unrelated, my bangs were really unfortunate.
Practical jokes have never ranked very high on the funny scale for me. Having done my fair share of toilet-papering houses, saran wrapping toilets and forking lawns (you stick plastic forks ouchie side up all over in someone’s grass because… bored?), I probably ought to have more of a sense of humor for them. Yet when I got the text message, a year ago in the dark predawn, from my friend Steve’s phone that he had died a few hours earlier I rolled my eyes and thought it was a stupid joke, a crappy way to try to get out of a meeting we had scheduled later that day. Steve was known for his jokes.
Ha ha ha. Surely you can come up with something more original than death? And then: Please tell me you’re kidding? He wasn’t. Or rather, his sister-in-law, the poor soul tasked with going through his cell phone texts and letting his friends know the awful news, wasn’t. He was really, un-jokingly dead. Because I was one of the last people he’d texted the night before I had the strange honor of being one of the first to know. It was early (5? 6?) and so I waited until 8 before calling other friends to tell them. So I had 3 dark hours to sit silently with the knowledge. To try to make what sense of it what I could. Except there was no sense to be made then.
There were so many questions. So few answers.
But now, in the year since Steve died, I thought that there would be more answers. We have one major answer now that we didn’t know then: Why he died. It was a massive heart attack. Not surprising given his family history. Terribly, horribly and crushingly surprising to everyone who knew him – he was so young! – and knew how healthfully he tried to live. The grander more philosophical answers to why a new husband and father was taken so suddenly no one on earth can answer, I suppose.
Me: Are you trying to correct my form or make me levitate? Him: I’m just trying not to touch your legs. Me: I won’t kick you. Him: I just don’t want radiation poisoning. That shade of glow-in-the-dark cannot be natural.
It’s the question that everyone who knew him has to answer for themselves in their own way. And in the past year I’ve had occasion to speak to many of them, hear their stories, watch what they did with the gift of his memories. I wrote a few of my memories in a eulogy on this blog on the day he died and thanks to the wonders of the Internet plus his big personality and penchant for moving all over the country, I was deluged with e-mails from old acquaintances, friends, coworkers, and family wanting to share their stories.
One girl wrote about how Steve helped her escape her abusive husband, crediting him with saving her life. A high-schooler wrote a beautiful essay about how he helped her overcome an eating disorder. Yet another told me about how he taught her to box, giving her confidence to stick up for herself. A paraplegic woman he helped learn to walk again when doctors said she never would. A bodybuilder who almost lost the sport she loved because of a back injury only to be restored to full function by his help. A young mother who met him and his wife through a fitness group they ran at their church and how he taught her not only how to take care of herself but why she was worth taking care of in the first place. This was the Steve I knew. This was my friend.
From another Shape photoshoot. With a volleyball player, one of the many people he helped.
With his beautiful wife at her fitness show. They met at the gym. Awww!
And then he died. It turns out that his death, the thing none of us could understand, was actually pretty simple. It was all his living that was complicated.
This was the “cover photo” for the article and the expression on his face just kills me every time. I told him to look worried (we were trying to show a “what not to do”) and this was what I got. Plus a big red FAIL! on my nethers. Definitely not my proudest moment.
He didn’t say anything particularly funny during this shot but I had to include it because this is actually a really good move. It’s like doing a Superman but bending your arms and legs allows you to curl up higher, isolating your back muscles even more. See my neck vein? That’s how hard this hurts! See, I learned something!! (And also, I have to mention that Gym Buddy Allison was the photog for this shoot and while she’s not dead – thank heavens! – she’s like 1000 miles away. So now I have a double sad.)
So I’d like to take this time to remember Steve and all the funny, interesting, crazy things he taught me.
Things I Learned From Steve (Besides “The Skydiver” Move)
1. I have quad dominance. Which is really just a nice way of saying I have no butt. It’s a common problem in women and runners and his particular brand of physical rehab for this issue was the reason we first connected as I was writing an article about it.
2. The meaning of a very naughty phrase, after I used it in some business correspondence. Technically he just laughed at me until I Googled it on my phone and then laughed even harder as I frantically thumb-typed a frantic mass apology. (I swear I had no idea it was bad!)
3. To do kettlebell cleans while standing like a flamingo on the flat side of a bosu WITH MY EYES CLOSED. (You should really see DeeAnn do these – she trained with him for years and her next step is the Cirque du Soleil, I swear.)
4. To always find a way to work neon into your wardrobe, even if your required uniform is “black pajamas.”
5. That you can too sit in the sauna for an hour even though the sign says 15 minutes max. Apparently it’s very good for your immune system too!
6. That “connectivity” originated with people and that that’s still the most important kind. (Can’t even count how many times he slammed my laptop shut and said, “Less thinking, more doing!” I also can’t count how many amazing, smart, talented people he introduced to me to.)
7. That loving people is always a risk worth taking, no matter who they are.
8. Only zebras are black and white. Human beings are good and bad and every wonderful thing in between. I have flaws. I make mistakes. I lie. I hurt. I cry. And then I try to pretend like I just got caught in a mini rainstorm that weirdly only hit me. People are way more interesting in full color! Why do I keep trying to force people (including myself) into little boxes?
9. That life is short. Live big. Love bigger. Laugh hard. Hug harder. Don’t forget yesterday but don’t keep living in it either. Keep trying, no matter what, to be better tomorrow than what you are today. (If I had to condense all this down into greeting-card format.)
10. ? I’m leaving this one blank for all the things I think I still have yet to learn from him. He may be gone but he’s still teaching me.
Have you had a close friend die – what did you do to keep their memories with you?