My Friend Ruhbin
“We are travelers on a cosmic journey, stardust, swirling and dancing in the eddies and whirlpools of infinity. Life is eternal. We have stopped for a moment to encounter each other, to meet, to love, to share. This is a precious moment. It is a little parenthesis in eternity.” -Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
“This is not my life. It's just a fond farewell to a friend.” -Elliott Smith, “A Fond Farewell” From a Basement on a Hill
For those of you who know me or who have kept up with my goings on for a while know that I often share thoughts on my dear friend Ruhbin Mehta. In just a few days it will be the seven-year anniversary of his death. He was my best friend and someone I continue to love deeply. The wound of his death still feels fresh despite much scabbing, although with each passing year the memories of our time together become fainter. For the first many years I thought about him every single day. Now multiple days will go by without a reflection or memory. I used to feel guilty about this but am now at peace because the heartbreak could be paralyzing. Maybe our potential to forget is as powerful as our capacity to remember. I still miss him immensely however, cry often, and tell stories about him whenever an opportunity arises.
We met in 2005. We’d both moved to New York City within months of each other to pursue careers in stand-up comedy. It was outside an open mic in the village where we first spoke. From then on, we were inseparable friends and an odd couple. During the early years of our friendship, we spent the kind of time together you often only get with a college roommate. At night we did open mics together, wandering the streets of the city between gigs and riding the subway back to Queens at the end of the night. During the day we worked odd jobs side by side to pay the bills, dog walking, day laboring, and taking calls for a sushi restaurant. And, when neither stand-up nor work were happening, we just hung out. It became a friendship where we could talk for hours or lay around and say nothing at all.
Ruhbin was sophisticated, well read, and walked through life with rich values. I was desperate for attention, had Spark Notes-ed my way through high school, and was in a full sprint without any reflection on values. We initially bonded over our mutual love for Jim Carrey and chicken wings. He loved conversation. He’d teach me about world events, history, and hockey (he was a devout Maple Leafs fan), and suggested books to read. He told me he kept a list of every book he’d read so that one day he could buy them all for a home library. We’d debate, argue, and sometimes not talk for several days because of a disagreement. Whenever we’d walk through Union Square he would stop to say a prayer at the Gandhi statue. I’d always stand beside him in silence anxiously waiting to ask why we had to do this every time. I experienced friendship like never before. He supported me, rarely passed judgement, and always gave hugs. He would latch on in a way that was more than a hello or goodbye. He hugged in a way that said, “I care about you. I’m here for you.”.
Tragically, there was a darkness he suffered in equal part to the beautiful light he shared. Ruhbin had experienced trauma in his life that left him feeling unworthy of help, support, and love. There were times I’d see him crying. I’d ask why, and he’d refuse to talk about it. He maintained connections with friends far and wide; he visited, called, emailed, and sent cards and gifts to friends he’d gathered, always remembering birthdays, despite not wanting anyone to know or celebrate his. He gave himself to others while he suffered deeply. He was selfless in a way that didn’t allow space for his own pain. He never wanted attention, assistance, or help, but always gave it before you could ask. He worked hard to keep much of his pain and vulnerability hidden. He always made space to support the needs of those close to him, but refused to allow anyone to be there for him. He felt like he didn’t deserve to be loved or celebrated. He didn’t want to burden people with his pain or struggles because he thought he wasn’t enough. When I look back on our time together, I wish I’d told him as often as possible that he was enough, and was worthy of the same selfless love he gave to all of us.
I struggled to be close to him while he suffered without openness to support. It broke my heart too much. I also moved on from stand-up in 2012, which left us seeing each other less frequently. However, our friendship made us more like family, so we could always pick up wherever we left off. The last time we got to hang out together was in 2014 when I had hernia surgery. He didn’t know I was having the procedure done, so he was worried when he saw a photo of me on Instagram in a gown heading into the operating room without any details about what the surgery was for. Somehow he discovered the hospital, floor, and recovery room I was in. Dazed and drugged, I saw the curtain fly open and there he was. He sat down and we laughed and told stories for hours. I don’t remember the stories we told, but I remember the laughter because it hurt so much to laugh after having my abdomen cut into. I was reminded how much I loved making him laugh. I loved it not just because of the sound or the authenticity, but because I knew he needed it. Eventually the nurses kicked us out and Ruhbin helped my wife get me downstairs to a taxi. Just before getting in the car I hugged him and started to cry. I cried because I was reminded of those special early years we spent together. I cried because the relationship had changed, but he was still there for me. I cried because I felt like I hadn’t been there for him for a number of years. I also cried because I was still very drugged. As I poured tears onto his shoulder, he cried as well and squeezed me tight. I told him I loved him. He gave me a kiss on the cheek and said, “I love you, Kyle.”
Having little to hold onto other than fading memories and some photos, I find that reminding people of his greatness and doing my best to embody some of his wonderful qualities helps me grieve. I was one of the few people who had the honor to witness a great amount of his magic. I feel so lucky that he chose to spend so much of his far too short life with me. With each passing year I notice more and more of his beautiful qualities slowly emerging in my own life, and realize the messages and values I wish to share are reflections of the lessons I learned from him. As you move through your day today, perhaps you can tell those you cross paths with about a wonderful man named Ruhbin you read about. Along the way remind the people in your life that they are enough, even if it appears they don’t need to hear it, because everyone should.