Ascending: Anthony Bourdain
I was at a bachelorette party/vacation at a house in the Hamptons this past weekend. On Friday, I woke up at 7am, then hit the alarm and slept until 8. Recently I’ve been trying to wait until I’ve had coffee and read a book for 10-20 minutes before checking texts, emails and social media. My friend and weekend roommate, Sarah, was already up reading her phone.
“Anthony Bourdain died.”
Even writing the words now, simple and to the point, looks wrong. Like steak and ketchup, those words should never go together.
After my standard response that it must be a hoax and confirming on CNN and NYT that it wasn’t, I stopped cold. Tears didn’t come. My body stalled, motionless. I physically did not know how to move forward with this news.
“I’m not reading Twitter today,” I said.
After a while I drifted downstairs. Eggs were cooking, coffee had arrived, and Kelly Clarkson was performing live on the Today Show. All were welcome distractions. I went for a quick run and listened to "Rising Sun Blues," a haunting remix and the last thing he posted on Twitter.
That day the party continued. We went to a winery and a cidery to celebrate my friend Allie's exciting leap into marriage.
We started with a wine tasting. Each metallic sip of wine pained me. I wanted to taste its luscious joy and have it brighten up the still immobile parts of my body. Each time I raised a glass I saw Bourdain’s face. Toasting grappa with farmers and winemakers in the Italian countryside. Raising a PBR at Stateside in Philly. Whisky with ice. I waited to feel lighter, but my body was still heavy.
Once we settled in with a couple bottles of the favorite white wine, a few of us started talking about emotional stress and depression. Talking about it helped.
I stepped aside to cry in the winery bathroom, then decided, as usual, to power through the day.
I laughed. I smiled. I drank fresh fruit ciders in the sunshine, my heart buried deep at the bottom of my chest. My hero was gone.
That night as we sat in front of the backyard firepit, my mind turned to him again. I went upstairs to read one article in bed alone. One turned to many Tweets and Facebook posts from food writers I follow. No one knew how to make sense of this. He was the light.
I cried myself to sleep, forcing deep breaths and wiping away pools of tears. I prayed for my fallen hero. I asked Bourdain to give me a sign that he was ok, in a better place. That his story had wrapped up, and he was somewhere smiling. I told myself tomorrow would be better if I saw some kind of sign that this was true.
I am not the most religious person. I pray for family members and close friends, and for myself in my most vulnerable moments. No one knows this about me. It’s not something I talk about.
To me, Bourdain is part of that close-knit tribe. He was my first food hero. His books opened up a world beyond recipes and cooking shows: a living, breathing world filled with stories. A world maybe too busy and rooted in tradition to address its flaws but ripe with opportunities to engage, learn and grow. Being open, asking questions and being willing to listen could go a long way.
He was curious, passionate and unyielding, willing to ask the harder questions of others and of himself. Original. Infatuated. Unafraid. Humble, genuine, creative, compassionate and loving. Always self-deprecating. Lover of meat in tube form. An amazing writer, storyteller, father, friend, partner, crusader, truth teller, justice seeker, bullshit-caller-outer. Someone I aspired to be like both personally and professionally. Thinker. Enthusiast. Wanderer.
The next day we did a scavenger hunt that ended at the beach. We walked along the cool sand toward nothing, as families lugged children away to get their shoes and return to their pristine houses.
The beach was becoming dreary, the slow waves rolling quietly up to the shore. No plan or goal in sight. As my mind started drifting, a flash of light appeared, shooting a long, magnificent glow down the faded sky, towering above the grey, still beach.
“It’s a light from heaven,” Sarah said.
I smiled, my heart warming and slowly re-opening. He was okay, I told myself, and I would be okay too.
How to get help: In the US, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The International Association for Suicide Prevention and Befrienders Worldwide also can provide contact information for crisis centers around the world.