Only three nights ago, I watched an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown with my girlfriend before bed. It was the one about Seattle. When it was over and my girlfriend got up to go brush her teeth, I went for my phone, pulled up Instagram, and searched through my recent stories for any from Anthony. He was on Instagram constantly, and the stories were always there. His most recent one was from an hour earlier — a slow pan of a hotel room in France. The one before that was video of Chef Eric Ripert chatting with the Parts Unknown film crew. I closed the story. Then I pulled up Anthony’s profile and hit the Direct Message button.
I never typed anything in the message dialog. I stared at it for a few minutes thinking about what I would say and then eventually I decided I was being ridiculous. “The guy has 2.7 million followers,” I remember thinking. “He wouldn’t even see it.” I closed the dialog and went to bed. I had no idea that only three days later, I’d be waking up to a headline about his suicide.
I’ve never been the type of person to have a deeply emotional response to celebrity tragedy. I feel frustrated when it happens— frustrated that society doesn’t work for people like Chester Bennington or Kate Spade, and that we’re not talking enough about how to fix it— but not so much sad. But faced with the news this morning, I finally understand: Grief, and the need to mourn, are traumatic. They’re overwhelming, debilitating emotions. We can’t feel them every day, because they rip us to shreds and stomp on our soul. They make us question what our lives could possibly mean without the person that’s been lost. They destroy us. And because of that, they’re reserved only for the people we feel closest to in life.
I’ve never felt so destroyed.
As someone with a somewhat cynical view of the modern world, I’ve had to cling to the little things in life that make me feel grounded, content. I’m skeptical of a lot of the ways technology is changing the world. I’m skeptical of culture’s ability to survive and of our own ability to be authentic. I’m skeptical of capitalism, and what many people consider to be progress. A close friend and I have always joked about how fifteen years from now, the only things that will matter will be hot baths and coffee — simple pleasures that will persist, regardless of how the world continues to change. But while hot tubs and coffee will survive, other things won’t. I think that’s something that Anthony understood deeply. I liked Parts Unknown for the food. I liked it for the unique insights it offered into various ways of life, and various peoples’ perspectives. But neither of those are the reason I watched it. I watched Parts Unknown because Anthony and I shared a sense of yearning for a way things aren’t, and will never be.
I loved Anthony Bourdain because in the Seattle episode I watched 3 nights ago, when former Microsoft CTO Nathan Myhrvold started to explain how he was using science to “demystify” bread, Anthony asked whether the mystery wasn’t what made it so special in the first place. I loved Anthony Bourdain because when he went to Italy to go diving for Octopus and the fishermen started dumping octopus into the water to “make the experience better,” instead of cutting the footage, Anthony ran the segment in full in order to make a point. I loved Anthony Bourdain because he wrote an entire graphic novel about a sushi chef who cuts people’s heads off for not respecting the tradition of the craft. I loved Anthony Bourdain because he was me. A wiser, more successful, more well-experienced version of me. I looked up to him as someone who had successfully confronted the bleak reality of life, and chose to continue onward in lightness, despite its futility. I needed him, because any emotion, regardless of how strong, is more tolerable when you know someone else feels it too.
I opened Instagram that night because I wanted to tell Anthony how much he meant to me. I wanted to tell him how I felt every time I watched his show. I wanted to tell him that simply knowing he was out there was a comfort to me, because it made me feel like I wasn’t alone. I could have told him I needed him. But I didn’t. I closed that message dialog, because I thought I was destined, at some point in my life, to meet the guy —at one of his shows, or maybe randomly on a street corner here in New York — and that it’d be better if I saved it for when I did. I think subconsciously, I believed we’d somehow become friends one day.
I never sent the message. We will never be friends. I’ve never felt so alone.