Today it has been two years since my friend Ravi was shot in a terrorist attack in Nairobi by a member of Al Shabaab.
We realized by mid afternoon on Saturday, September 21st, 2013 that he was missing. For a day and a half my friends and I searched for him. Those 38 some odd hours didn’t and still don’t seem real. Every minute that passed, I expected that I would wake from the nightmare. But I did not.
Even when Woubie and Sean came upstairs at 4am on Monday to Toni and my apartment, it felt like a horrible dream I would wake up from at any moment. Toni had fallen asleep on the couch and I sat at our dining room table listening to a Third Eye Blind album on repeat, willing someone to update twitter with some news of an ambulance leaving the mall. I didn’t even hear Woubie say they found him. I just sobbed into her shoulder, because I already knew.
I haven’t thought about that night until today. My heart pounds still and tears flow. I still don’t know how to handle this kind of loss. My reaction for the past two years has been to avoid any real discussion of Ravi or Westgate. Sometimes I say it out loud, just to see if things seem different. Pictures elicit a knee-jerk reaction. That day left me so cold. I have a shiver no blanket can console.
I could not have known the depth to which that event would change my life, and those of my friends, irreversibly. It continues to change us.
For me, Ravi’s loss initially triggered a phase of machine-like steeliness by which I coped for the first six months. That quickly gave way to a hellish period of nightmares and dysfunction. I left Kenya last year after there was an armed robbery at my apartment complex. It has been a tumultuous year.
I feel like a character in a theatrical performance, cast with only half a script. The easy part was acting. While he was missing, there was something I could do. But now, we have said our goodbyes, and his parents have long laid him to rest. What comes next? What am I supposed to do now?
I cope by ignoring. By compartmentalizing. But mostly by ignoring. I have learned that this is not healthy.
If death was hard enough to fathom, to loose a person to an act of violence is incomprehensible. Really incomprehensible. It has been in the aftermath of this loss that I have begun to realize how little we know about our own minds. How our coping mechanisms can turn on us after a while. How it seems that on the surface we can convince ourselves of anything, but we can never escape the truth no matter how hard we try to keep it buried. Violence is a sharp blade. And it leaves a deep scar.
Ravi was one of the most honest people I have ever met. When I say honest, what I mean is that he was self-aware, he was so real and unapologetically himself. That was the first thing you noticed about him, whether or not you consciously realized that quality is what made him stand out among so many. No pretensions. Good, bad, or ugly– he stayed with it. He was at ease with his own self.
When you’re with someone like that, they unconsciously permit you a moment’s relief. We could all be a bit more human around Ravi. We could accept ourselves as we are, even if for just an instant. When our friends write about the person and presence that he was– it’s about laughter, dancing, and food. There are a lot of bright people in this world, but he was truly intelligent. Compassion starts within oneself and flows outward. Ravi not only knew this, but he lived it.
He was a lion of a man. He is so dearly missed.