“With death comes honesty.” -Salman Rushdie
Today would have been the 26th birthday of the one and only Andrew Ali Aga Khan Embiricos (1985-2011), my unbelievably gregarious friend who died one week ago.
I don’t know exactly when he entered my life. It was maybe four or five years ago, on Eighth Avenue in Chelsea. He was bopping down the street, listening to music with gigantic headphones I thought looked ridiculous. But he had a look about him, something mysterious that intrigued me. Time passed, and I’d occasionally see him around, in restaurants and bars, and of course still bopping on Eighth Ave.
Then one day a couple years later, a friend said he wanted me to meet a guy he knew. The three of us showed up at a bar, and when I saw him, I was floored. “This is Andrew?” It was the same handsome guy I’d seen in passing for years, but had never met.
Our connection that night was instant (Planes. Paris. Various other “P” words perhaps not fit for publication.) It was if I’d reconnected with a long lost friend. Of course that’s how Andrew made everyone feel.
On a Sunday morning last April, around the time he started the job at Virgin Atlantic that he was so excited about, he suggested we wake up at the crack of dawn to do the JFK Runway Run. I picked him up to drive out to Queens (he brought Cascada CDs, of course) and I was confused when I saw him toting along a loaf of sliced bread. When I asked him what the hell that was for, he explained he’d gone on Google for racing tips, and found one about starch-loading before a race to improve performance. (I don’t think Wonder Bread was what they had in mind.)
That morning was so brisk, and Andrew so poorly dressed, he put on the free race participant t-shirt, which was only available in XL (or XXL?). With his trim figure, he looked so ridiculous, but laughed it off as we ran five kilometers under the path of jets landing from places like Dubai and Johannesburg. He was so excited be in the thick of the airport action. His energy was always contagious. I’m surprised we ever crossed the finish line because we spent so much time plane-gazing and laughing and joking along the course. He ended up beating me — the one of us actually on a running team! — by four seconds and I never forgave him.
Another time, we were on a Delta flight (who else would he fly?) when I had an allergic reaction that caused my lip to swell. We landed in Salt Lake City and in typical Andrew fashion, he expressed increasing and genuine concern at my new “plastic” look before laughing uncontrollably and suggesting I just tell everyone I’d been to Orange County. That night in Park City, it was my go-to line.
A true aviation geek, he once called me to debate — for 45 minutes — the merits of spending nearly $1,000 on a massive set of KLM delft houses on eBay. “This asshole keeps outbidding me!” he said. I eventually talked him out of it. With all his Delta “collectibles,” there was no room in his apartment for another village of airline crap. His agonizing over the purchase made for a good laugh, just like every interaction with him did.
“Death is a great revealer of what is in a man, and in its solemn shadow appear the naked lineaments of the soul.” -E.H. Chapin
This past Thursday, after days of dreading the prospect of it, his funeral came.
I tried to hold back the tears as hundreds of loved ones came together on the Upper East Side to celebrate his life. The tributes were all so touching. His friend Czarina read comments that had poured in from around the world on Facebook. “Andrew had 1,211 friends on Facebook,” she said, “and I think every single one of them has posted a remembrance this week.” They all described him the same way: smart, unselfish, and always full of laughter. One person announced that although Andrew didn’t know it, he was soon going to receive a promotion at Virgin Atlantic. (Back in April, when he started there, he texted me SO excited to say “I think I’ve found my industry!”)
His friend Aaron remarked that there was no shortage of people who considered Andrew their best friend, but there was never competition for the title because he was so generous with his love and friendship there was enough to go around for everyone.
I was doing OK until Andrew’s casket was carried out of the chapel. I finally broke down. It was finally real. He wasn’t coming back.
I decided to walk the 60 blocks home that day to clear my head. It was a beautiful day; all the way down Fifth Avenue, the sun was shining so bright and high in the sky. I stopped at a church (quite a feat for this agnostic), lit a candle, and sat and closed my eyes for a few minutes. Later, when I reached Andrew’s building — we lived steps away from each other — I stopped and looked up and just cried at the drawn curtains of his sixth-floor apartment.
That day, a friend remarked online that the streets of our city seemed oddly void of their usual energy. It does seem duller, less vibrant without Andrew’s smile and incredible energy.
Andrew’s death has left a hole in the heart of all who knew him well.
Boo, we’ll miss you, but like your mom said to me when she tried to comfort ME (how selfish of me!) as I wept at your funeral, we’ll always smile at the memories. (Except for those awful sneakers you know I hated. And your inability to ever decorate your apartment.)
La mort c’est jamais la fin d’une histoire.