By Matt Gordon
“I’m Erik,” he said with a grin, bass thrumming and vibrating from the midnight Volkswagen bug. Inside, it was louder. And furrier, his seats adorned with some brazen, bushy zebra print covers. Between bursts of Reel Big Fish decibels he explained: “I’m Erik. I work with your sister at Captain D’s. She couldn’t pick you up and asked if I could run you home. Cool?”
Before I could answer—or more likely question—we pulled away from the church. I had been at some youth group function, and as this wild-eyed high schooler spirited me this way and that through traffic, away from an edifice of religion, I was somehow drawn by him to faith. Faith in a God and the people that God had made. If whirling lunatic-geniuses like this could exist, surely a god was possible?
Erik became a mainstay at our house. He’d come over for game nights and holidays, usually bringing a different friend with him. Curious about all these friends is that they all seemed so totally different. There was Sterling, a bespectacled Black kid who once bounded so enthusiastically on a diving board that it snapped in half. Or Shannon, a hippie-meets-grunge skater type with dreadlocks he had to be careful not to sit on. There was Dustin—a country boy with country-sized arms and twangy accent. And Roger, countrier still. Erik would arrive, hug my mother, introduce his friend to everyone present, and in our very house make us all feel more at home. He’d joke and laugh and listen. Then he’d leave, bass thrumming into the night; a sound that became a heartbeat of hope wherever the road led him.
College was where it eventually took him, and perhaps a darker night? I can’t say for sure, as I didn’t know him then. But he has shared about his poor health, a time when smoking a cigarette was as close to exercise as he was likely to get. Like a puff of smoke, he had slipped out of my life for beyond a decade in those days. And then, a reemergence.
I was employed at the same church he had picked me up at all those years prior, when I took his call. “It’s me, Erik,” he began, as if I would need reminding. It was his humility, and maybe a dash of oblivion. Twain famously was born and died as Haley’s Comet made its once-in-seventy-five-year transit across the night sky. In life, there are Haley’s Comet people. They are rare and wonderful, flitting across the dark parts of your life, and making them forever brighter. These people are often the last to know their unique magnificence. “It’s me, Erik,” the comet spoke.
Erik was a recruiter at a mortgage company that prided itself on being much more than that—a comet of a company, to hold with our analogy. They were wanting to hire a made-up position. Again, Erik came to pick me up, spirit me away, and take me to someplace like home.
His hair alone is the life of the party. Quick to laugh and always original, Erik might give one the wrong impression at first glance. Maybe the wild eyes or music-blaring fanny pack would fool you? It is easiest of all things to stop at the surface.
Early in my tenure at my new place of work, I got a devastating call. Erik had lost a dear loved one, and his tribe back home wanted to be sure he first heard of the tragedy from another human in the flesh. Erik is a giver of life and opportunity; I arrived at his house that day bearing death and loss. He had a spoon, and I recall it falling when I told him. It felt like it fell and fell and fell for a lifetime. And when it hit the ground it made no sound. We hugged and cried. And I left wondering if some great light might lose forever some brilliant shine. Was the spoon some omen of great fall, the soundlessness of a light going out?
I’ve gotten my answer dozens of times over. When a coworker or friend loses someone dear or endures some trial, the bass comes thrumming. At funerals or trying meetings, a joyous bulb bounds in with, “I’m Erik.” He absorbed his loss, processed it, and honored the departed by turning it all into a gain for those around him in need. Driving others always toward a deeper faith in what this world could be, toward home.
Sometimes a spoon is just a spoon. And sometimes a man can be so much more.
A song plays as these fingers of mine dance on keys: “Death with Dignity” by Sufjan Stevens. Yes, death with dignity. But life too. And not the stodgy, stuffy version. A type of dignity whose ebullient dance threatens future hip replacements. One that is quick to laugh and always original, with the hair of legends. The bass comes thrumming; a bright light streaking across night sky. “I’m Erik,” the comet speaks.