My friend Simon passed away this weekend.
Simon was my peer, a fellow traveler and a poet. He was someone who had the guts to say what he felt.
The last conversation Simon and I had was a week before I left Hanoi. He’d asked me to try and teach a poetry class workshop thing with him. Neither of us really knew what we were doing, but we’d had a fun night at my favorite bar trying to figure it out. In the last text conversation we had, we’d made tentative plans to see each other upon my return to the city later this year. I think I probably would have explained what meeting him meant to me, if I’d gotten the time.
But we didn’t get the luxury of that time together. I didn’t get to tell him, so instead I’m going to just write it down and hope that there’s a universe in which he’ll get to hear it.
It was a Thursday. Thursdays are adventure days, where I’m out of the house from start to finish doing yoga, climbing, and work. I put a lot of thought into my clothes as a result.
That night, I was wearing my favorite shirt. I’d bought it on a trip out of town the week before, and from the moment I saw it I knew it had to be mine. It had an owl on it, which I loved because it reminded me of my sister and her future mother-in-law, whom had gifted me an owl key ring that I pulled out of my purse every day. Owls were giving me confidence, and on Thursdays I desperately needed some.
That’s why when you, Simon, walked into the bar that night, I noticed you immediately.
“Katie,” I leaned over and pointed at this guy chatting with Luke at the bar. “He’s wearing my shirt.”
She smiled, “Oh, yeah, he is.”
In all my time in Southeast Asia, I’d seen plenty of people wearing Ganesh t-shirts, but I’d only ever encountered the cheeky owl on this trip to Angkor Wat the week before, and there you were wearing the same pattern that had spoken to me so loudly.
It felt like something, but the logical part of my brain pointed out that I’d seen plenty of people wearing Ganesh t-shirts. I own one, too, after all. There’s a set of clothing items travelers who have been to the same places seem to all accumulate, maybe this was just one I’d never noticed. I figured that just because I hadn’t seen anyone else wearing it didn’t mean that no one ever did. I was ready to chalk the curiosity down to coincidence.
Slam Poetry was this new thing I was experimenting with. Before I’d gone to Cambodia, I’d performed in a couple of open mic nights for the first time in my life. I’ve only ever written a handful of poems, and my confidence was shaky.
The last time I’d been on stage, all my friends had come to see me. I’d written this poem about Being an American, but I choked and decided not to read it. It felt too personal, or trite, or self-indulgent. It just wasn’t meant to be seen or heard, and I’d laid the idea of it to rest. The night we met, I had some new material, and was ready to try again. Elise, the emcee, came up and asked me if I was going to perform. I said yes, and she put my name a few slots after yours.
For the record, I’d never seen another poet at one of these things.
That’s when you hopped up and said your name was Simon, and that you would be performing slam poetry. My curiosity was peaked once again. Creative kismet.
“Are there any Americans in the room?” From my vantage point, I was the only one who raised my hand. “Do you like your government?” you asked, and I shook my head. Another interaction to make me wonder about this weird connection.
You launched into a poem I wish I could watch you speak now, about governments, and war, and being aware. I found some of your poems on Facebook, and I'm pretty sure this is the one you performed that night.
The “predictably sickening” and “part and parcel” sound familiar in your voice in my head. I wish I could ask you for sure if this was it. You had rhythm, and it was a joy to watch you.
When you were finished, the gears in my head started shifting--here we were, matching shirts, at a tiny bar in the middle of Asia, on parallel wavelengths. You got off stage, I knew that reading my poem was the right thing to do. Something in you spoke to me that night. It was religious, spiritual, kismet. You had spoken your peace, and then the universe spoke to me through you, I guess, if that makes any sense. It made me feel at peace.
So I performed the poem that I’d swore would never be read again, and then hurried off stage. You caught me by the bathroom, when I was sort of feeling like I wanted to vomit, and we chatted about rhythm and the fact that we were wearing the same shirt. How small the world was that we had such similar, different poems, how we could agree and disagree at the same time, how it is through words that we tell our stories. At the end of the night, I was sitting to the side when you came over and invited me to teach poetry with you.
As the night wound down and the emcee closed the show, Elise called us out, “Where are our poets? Simon? Monica? Awww the two poets are talking to each other!” And there we were in our matching shirts chatting by the bushes. I read once that it takes three real moments to make a true friendship, and that felt like our first one.
We didn’t get a lot of time together, but I found a lot of meaning in the moments we had. I flipped to the note you left me in my journal today, and your words brought me some peace.
Today I grieve you, Simon. And after my grief wains, I will celebrate you.
I’ll think of you whenever I wear this shirt, perform poetry, or do something that scares me creatively. I hope you don’t mind that I’ve shared your messages with anyone who may read this--your words were honest, critical and inspiring.
Rest well, my friend. ☮️
If you'd like to help, please visit the gofundme site set up in Simon's honor.