Gordon Freddy Boyong always scolded me for not writing about him. But then again he possessed all the classic symptoms of middle-child syndrome. If was as though there could never be enough attention in the world for him. But he was also a walking contradiction. He shirked from the public light. He hated it when people made a fuss over him. Gordon prized his privacy and independence above all. And because of that he was not the easiest man to get to know.
We've known each other since 1988, back in our hometown Kota Kinabalu. We met sometime during the first week of high school. There was something interesting about him, I thought. Somehow we gravitated towards one another and started talking. Almost immediately we found we shared many mutual interests, one of which was our fascination with pop singers: he adored Madonna, and I Tina Turner; we both liked Whitney Houston. That first year, we studied in the same class. We sat apart in classroom but always inevitably hung out during recess and any free period. We swapped cassettes, exchanged copies of Smash Hits, talked about so-and-so's music videos, gossiped about certain Hollywood movie and TV actors that we fancied, and tried our best to ignore everyone else. We also both disliked sports.
Gordon was a wonderful jester. He was sharp, sardonic, witty. He would often spin the most implausible stories about himself: including the one about the miraculous tiramisu recipe which his grandmother had passed on to him at her deathbed, or about his exotic lineage which included scandinavian extraction, or strangely morbid fantasies about how he'd wish for his corpse to be discovered a la strangled tranny with smeared lipstick, legs akimbo and scattered pearls on the floor (but with noir touches, e.g. flashing hotel neon sign outside the window). You'd have to play along with the mindgame for a while, knowing full well you're being taken for a ride, because you want to see him flash that naughty smile at the end of his bogus fantasies: that he got you.
We also talked about other things: family troubles, high school crushes, yo-yo-ing grades, our hopes and dreams for the future--which included writing songs for Madonna and directing her music videos, styling her shoots, and other sorts of stupidities. He was my ultimate confidante. And I'd like to believe that I was his.
Still, Gordon was not an outwardly emotional person. Even in high school, he had already developed a haughty temperament. I learned early on how he would never admit defeat in an argument. He would much prefer to end the discussion by reiterating his opinion, closing the door on anyone who tried to have a "dialogue" with him. Gordon didn't like dialogues very much. It was his way of the world that mattered, because he knew the secret that lied behind the facade of everything. Nothing pleased him more than having friends and foes, after a time, acknowledging that he had been "right" after all. And he was right most of the time.
I've had many arguments with Gordon over the years. The first big argument we had resulted in a cold war that lasted about half a year. And there were others of comparable intensity. During these cold wars, we would maintain radio silence until one of us caved in and made the call. Because, despite being the occasional cold bitch, I knew he felt deeply and that's a rare thing. Spending all that time with him taught me how to see through the superficialities of life. There was something about the way he considered other people and situations. He was an astute judge of the real undercurrents of human emotions and intuitively recognised what others would fail to notice. I treasured that aspect of him, his frankness of what is, and his imagination of what could be. In him I found a friend for life.
After high school, we drifted apart for a few years. I followed my dream to Australia and back to KK. He went to study engineering in Kuching (and failed), returned to KK. In KK again, briefly, we spent time as young adults ready to embrace our second wind and conquer the world. I went back to Australia again before deciding to move to KL, while he decided to become a chef and study in Switzerland, spending a few years cooking all over Europe. We lost contact for six years. Then, sometime in 2006, I got a call from him. He was coming back. He moved to KL and started work at La Bodega Bangsar as a chef. Later on, he would become the outlet manager of Espressamente Illy at Pavilion, and then eventually move to manage the branch in Bangsar Village.
After Europe, Gordon was a changed man. His adventures on the continent, which he would recount to me in salacious detail, had removed some of the sharper edges of his personality. Yet his sense of humour was retained and deepened. He saw the dark comedy of life unfold before him in everything. While I appreciated this change was necessary, I felt that somehow he was gradually withdrawing into himself. I knew that moving to KL was a sort of defeat. He had sustained more than a few blows to his ego following his retreat from Europe. But I could also see his resolve. He was gathering strength for a personal battle within himself. Within the insular world he built for himself, he struggled to resolve a conflict between what he had become and what he could still change into. The man was no longer an adolescent fantasist and I could imagine how difficult it must have been for him to face the damnation of reality. I know because the same struggle was happening inside me. Again we found each other in more or less the same boat. So we each of us picked up an oar and started rowing.
We would meet up once every fortnight or every month, depending on how busy our schedules were, to have dinner or lunch, sharing our life stories, daily dramas, personal triumphs, talking about Madonna's latest facelifts, dreading the aging process, discussing our hopes and dreams. And despite our conjoined bravado, we knew somehow reality would overcome fantasy, and that sometime in the future our lives would resemble the "everyone else" normality that we loathed with a vengeance. Though the prospect of it made us both shudder, at least we took comfort in the knowledge that one way or another we would be there for each other: two old friends bitching about the life that passed us by. But what does it matter when we have jugs of sangria and endless packs of cigarettes, whiling away our nights in bourgeois Bangsar of all places? He was my shrink. I was his. He was my rival. As was I to him. We were the best of friends, and sometimes worse than enemies. We understood each other. And we both understood the value of it. It's not an understanding that happens in a day. It's something that had taken us years to build: 22 years I knew the man... give or take... now he's moved beyond my knowing.
This morning I got a call from Gordon's sister saying that he had passed away yesterday. I've visited him twice at the hospital with Nabila. I knew he was battling a serious illness and thought he was recovering well. I made him clear chicken ginger broth, something that he had talked about in our many conversations in the past. I was planning to meet up with him for dinner sometime in April when he would be back on his feet again and resuming our tumultuously wonderful friendship. He had been talking about moving to Paris or back to KK. His body is being cremated and his ashes will be flown home. I guess he made his choice.
It's shocking news. I still don't really know how to feel about it. My best friend is gone. I haven't cried yet. It's hard. Over the years, I've lost a few close friends -- Toni Kasim, Benjamin McKay, Caecar Chong. With every death, I feel ripped apart. Only last year Benjamin departed and I still miss him dearly. Now, it's Gordon. My beautiful, amazing, wonderful friend Gordon. He would hate me saying all this emo crap, especially posting it up online for everyone to see. He always said I was the sappier, weaker one, too eager to love, too needy for affirmation. He's right of course. But that's where we differed, Gordon and I. And that difference meant the world to me: to have known someone so similar and yet so different, it can only happen once in a lifetime.
I miss you Gordon. Until we meet again.
Labels: Gordon Freddy Boyong