I got the strangest phone call from a lawyer named Terrance Tompkins asking me to please come by his office in Gramercy. A quick web search told me he mostly handled estate matters, which is more than his voicemail even implied. When I went by his office that Monday, he was yelling into his phone but waved me in. He covered the mouthpiece on the receiver and barked at me: “Is it Eric or Eddy? Sam had you listed as Eddy so it took me a helluva long time to find you.” “Find me for what? I’m sorry, I’m a bit out of the loop here.” He grabbed a small wooden box from the drawer of his desk. “This belongs to you, per Sam’s will. Please take it out of here; it’s been very weird for me to have a cremated body just sitting inside my desk.”
Well. Now what? I walked ever so carefully down Lexington, holding the box in front of me like it was a tray filled with hot coffees. I figured it needed to stay upright, but mostly because I imagined a tiny Sam in there being tossed and turned if I made any sudden movements. Also—what the hell? First he wished me the burden of his death in his suicide note and then he gives me his ashes? What was I supposed to do with them? And, what about his family? Why wasn’t any one of them a likelier candidate to handle this matter…to handle HIS matter? “You’re an ass hole,” I said aloud to the box in my hands.
On the subway back to Brooklyn, I wondered how much of Sam they were even able to cremate, considering he got pretty beat up by the train that hit him. The only time I had seen any cremated ashes was in high school when Joanie’s labrador had died, and even then they fit her remains into a tiny little pocket tin. So, out of sheer curiosity—and I’m surprised I didn’t do this right away—I opened the latch on the box and peeked inside. There was a small plastic bag containing maybe a tablespoon of dust “That’s it? That’s all you are now?” I said out loud. The woman next to me seemed to halfway understand what she was witnessing: “Who’s in there?” she said with an anxious expression. “My old boss,” I replied. “Or maybe, like, half of him.” “You must have been close?” she guessed. “Well. Sure I suppose. Only because we worked together. He was a miserable man, though. I don’t even want these.” “Then throw that shit out,” she said. “Nobody needs that emotional burden.”
I started listing all the ways I could dispose of Sam without feeling too guilty. Maybe put him in some potting soil, and plant lilies in it? They were his favorite flower—and mine—and it seemed a nice tribute from a protégé for his former superior. However, then the plants would become the new object of my agony. Or maybe I could scatter them on the beach, or in the park? But which beach? Which park? Isn’t the point of scattering ashes to let that person eternally rest where he had his fondest memories? Honestly, Sam probably would have wanted to be scattered in his office. His work was his life, and although it made him miserable, it also gave him great security. And for a long time, I think my own growth made him really happy, too. It gave him purpose. Maybe that’s why he assigned his remains to me: I was one of his persisting successes.
The guilt of Sam’s death still hadn’t left me. Or Peter. Or Tyler. Or James. Or Simon. We all felt the anxiety of having contributed something small or large to his suicide. It was a more magnified version of my general anxiety: having the ability to affect someone else’s life so significantly that it reroutes or compromises their own personal pursuits. I was in the wrong city, the wrong industry, born the wrong person, if I was going to continue being afraid of that kind of crossfire. I just wish Sam hadn’t killed himself. I wish he had had friends or family or doctors to help him. “Sorry I called you an ass hole earlier,” I said to the baggy of ashes as I gripped it in Fort Greene Park.
There was still no way I was going to keep Sam’s remains, so I opted for the least dramatic, least ceremonious method possible. I opened the plastic bag and stared at the ashes. I can’t be blamed for sticking my finger in there, fascinated that I once had a job interview with this person, and little did he know that some day I’d be cupping him in my hands and scattering him in the dirt in central Brooklyn. I pressed that small amount of ashes between my thumb and finger, let out a “Sorry, Sam.” followed by a “God damnit!” as I emptied it out and some of it blew across my white sneakers. I wiped my fingers in the grass, threw away the bag and wooden box, and told myself that what I had just done mattered for nothing.