My friend Edo died on the 19th of November. He was the best man I have ever known.
We knew each other since the summer of 1989. He was a Slovak, so could not travel to the “West” in those days. But after a decade of trying to get visas, Edo and his wife Paula (my wife’s Slovak 2nd cousin) came to America that summer (forced to leave their children behind as collateral), only a few months before, ironically, the Soviet system would collapse and paranoid travel restrictions were to become financial rather than political and dangerous.
We did not share a language. Edo understood some English, I, a bit less Slovak. Paula, whose school English was really quite good, translated much of what we wanted to say to each other, Edo and me.
In spite of the language issue, we felt an immediate affinity that took very little time to become friendship. I was surprised by the oddity of these feelings for a long time; we never had a heart-to-heart talk, never waxed philosophical over drinks … in fact, our enjoyment of consuming significant amounts of alcohol was one of our first bonds. Yet, from the earliest days, it was like we had known each other all our lives — lives that were in reality astonishingly different.
Yet, it seemed to take no time for us to figure each other out, to know what kind of people we were. We shared distinctly humanitarian and liberal political positions, we loved mountains and hiking in them, we were passionate and eclectic readers, we enjoyed messing around with maps. Explorers by inclination.
On the other hand, Edo was a passionate gardener, and my principal (only?) interest in a garden was looking at it and eating what came from it. He was a civil engineer, I was a writer. He spent his entire life before 1989, living trapped in the horrors of totalitarianism. I floated around on the wings of American freedom.
There is a scene that has been a fixture in my memory since that July of 1989. Edo and Paula, the first trip of their lives outside the totalitarian zone, were visiting us in Coronado, California, where we lived then. We had a VCR tape of “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” the Milos Foreman film of the Milan Kundera novel, and the night before they were to leave to return to their side of the iron curtain, we sat down to watch it.
They knew what it was about, but had been prohibited from reading the book or seeing the movie. The film is in English. Paula offered a simultaneous translation on the important plot elements for her husband. Edo sat literally on the edge of his seat, starkly focused on the screen, his attention never wavering, sometimes tears in his eyes, more often a glare of anger. If you know the film, you will recall that Foreman intersperses actual documentary footage of the 1968 Prague Spring invasion by the Soviets and their various puppet Warsaw Pact armies.
The real events of the Prague Spring were propagandized and hidden from the people of Czechoslovakia. Edo and Paula knew more or less what had really happened, but this was the first time they had actually seen an honest film of it. Here it was: reality without the usual totalitarian filters.
I watched Edo watch the movie. I could never know what Edo knew, I could not share the power of his kind of experiences, but I could watch him empathetically and at least touch that bit of his story. As Paula has often said, that’s when I became an honorary Slovak.
In those days, that first visit, we began the friendship that would come to dominate all others, become the most important friendship in our lives, mine and my wife’s.
A few months after that first contact in California, we decided to take a European holiday and include a visit to Edo and Paula’s home in Bratislava. We arrived in the finest weather month — October. It was still 1989. A few weeks after that visit, the Wall fell, the Soviet system began its rapid deconstruction, and all our lives changed. In fact, we would return to live in Slovakia the years between 1994 and 2000.
Edo took care of things. Everything. Anything. Whatever needed to be taken care of, Edo took care of it. More often than not, this happened before I, or any of us, knew there was something that needed to be taken care of. Who can say how many things Edo took care of before we realized it, and because he had taken care of it already, we never knew?
I cannot believe he is gone. Worse, it is likely his unexpected departure from the world was due to a moronic mistake by an incompetent and insensitive doctor. Edo gone is like believing nothing will ever be taken care of again. Whatever breaks will not be fixed. Whatever needs to be picked up from some store is not going to get picked up now. What will happen to the garden, where Edo once convinced me to help him shovel a ton of shit onto. Who’s going to fix the deck swing when a bolt loosens. How long before we notice how much we never saw before, because Edo had already taken care of it.
Who is going to take care of things?
This is the last picture taken of Edo before his senseless and untimely death, holding his youngest, his newest, grandchild — Mia. Reading to her, of course.
Two days later he was dead.
What are we going to do without Edo in the world?
(photos may be enlarged by clicking on them)