I've dealt with an inordinate amount of death in my life. It seems like every year my family got smaller and smaller as I grew up. But it wasn't until I lost my first friend at 21 that death stopped becoming a part of life and started poking holes in it.
I moved into the theatre dorms when I was just 17 years old. It was full of some real dramatic personalities, as you can imagine. I met Noel on my very first day. He had on a dirty old hat trying desperately to cover a displaced mass of curly, crazy brown hair. He was the only one I remember who seemed comfortable in his own skin. "This guy isn't afraid to be leaving home and trying to live life without his parents," I thought. And to be honest, it didn't take long for him to offer us all a drink.
I acted in shows with Noel over the years and watched his free spirit laugh, joke, and fly through all kinds of get-togethers. He was the party at the party for sure. One show Noel and I were in together was not made up of a cast that meshed well outside of the script, and we all knew it. After the last show, the cast decided to meet at Olive Garden for a final dinner (whoopdie doo). Noel invited me home before that dinner and, to be perfectly honest, we indulged in some libations that would make the night a whole lot more fun. We spent the entire evening kicking each other under the table, cracking up at our "secret" trip home (and I'm sure it was no secret to anyone else at the table who even glanced at us). Months later, a picture of that dinner ended up in our college yearbook. Remember that song from Sesame Street? "One of these things is not like the other, one of these things just doesn't belong..." It was pretty clear we were having a whole lot more fun than everyone else in the shot. We gave each other a quick look and a silent laugh amid the crowd of people surfing through the pages when we saw it. What fun he made life.
Noel was not a typical theatre kid, frat boy, or Tennessee native. He was more than fun and funny, he was incredibly smart. He was in law school when he got sick. The fact that it was his brain that was chosen by cancer makes cancer one of my biggest enemies in the world. The idea that he was forced to withdraw from life's party before he could celebrate another anniversary with his beloved or see his baby girl being born sends my eyes straight to the sky, praying with everything that I am that his soul will still get to experience it all on some level we can't yet understand. It's true that life isn't fair, but this particular twist seems a much crueler trick than fair or unfair.
Noel and I were not best friends. We didn't even stay in touch after college was over. Though he left a strong impression on everyone's life who knew him, including mine. And with every email update I received about his fight against the "c" word in the past 2 years, I was reminded to live that day like it was my last and be grateful that I get to spend it with the man I love and now, the child we made. He was a great reminder to seize the day in college, and he will continue to remind me for the rest of my life. I can't imagine spending today writing about anyone else.
Shine on, Noel.