Lessons learned… (thoughts on the passing of a classmate)

One of the things that the reconnecting with old friends via Facebook has provided to me has been the opportunity to reflect on the many different relationships I’ve had over the years…both good and bad.

A few months ago, I was reminded of one of those relationships and an important lesson that I learned from it many years ago.

In August of last year, I was reading through an online newsgroup when a name caught my eye. Timur Michael Otus. The name was on a message containing an obituary:

“OTUS, Timur Michael. Born December 13, 1964. Timur passed away on Friday, August 1, after a long and difficult struggle with his illnesses.”

The combination of the recognition of the name and then the shock of seeing it as an obituary notice hit me like a slap in the face. And immediately brought back a vivid memory.

Timur and I had been friends back in high school in Berkeley. He was a few years younger than me and we were both involved in the performing arts department. We were part of a larger group of friends who hung out around in and outside the Performing Arts Department building even when we weren’t in class. We would hang out on the steps outside and goof around at lunch…singing songs…memorizing lines for the next play, or just speak to each other in Shakespearian accents, etc.

So Timur and I were friends….until we had a falling out. I started dating a girl who was a friend of his from dance class. And shortly after she and I started dating…well, things went sour. Whether it was jealousy, or what….he became a bit of a bother to us. He seemed to zero in on us whenever we sat together….he seemed intent on never letting us have any alone time, always butting in and not stopping bugging us when we asked him to give us some space. If she and I would sit together at lunch, he would come up and say to her, “Hey, let’s practice that dance routine we learned in dance class yesterday!” or some such. Always interrupting us and seemed to purposely try to keep us from just enjoying each others company.

And when we tried to approach him and have a serious talk about it, he blew us off and acted like he didn’t know what we were talking about and then just kind of laughed it off.

Tim’s behavior really began to weigh on me. I couldn’t figure out why this person I thought was my friend could be such a..pest… The way he was dealing with our asking him to stop behaving that way (or rather didn’t deal with it) really, really started pissing me off….and a few days later, after another attempt by me to try and reconcile, and being rebuffed by him in a particularly snarky way…I was fairly livid.

A short time after our final discussion about his behavior, I was standing in a hallway in the school theater, and he came walking past me. When I looked at him as he was passing me he looked at
me and smiled and laughed a funny little laugh.

I saw red.

Then I decked him.

Full on slugged him….punched him right in the face.

… and he went down like a ton of bricks.

To be honest, I don’t remember actually hitting him…I just remember being so incredibly mad at him for being so childish and his smiling at me as he walked by put me over the edge. What I recall was…one
moment I was standing there being furious and the moment next my fist was just past his face and I was realizing that I had just punched him.

I couldn’t believe I had just hit him.

My friend G. was a few feet away and had seen the whole thing. “I can’t believe you just hit him”, he said, covering his mouth to hide the grin on his face.

I had not hit many people out of anger in my life before that incident…

Sure I had had a few scuffles here and there, the “part of growing up” kind of fights that were really not more than shoving matches….but I could count on one hand the number of serious physical confrontations that I had been part of up until then…and I still wouldn’t have used all the fingers on that hand to do so.

But since that day almost 30 years ago I have not hit another person out of anger.

Not one.

This was the lesson I learned in that one moment. While I had a fleeting moment of…what?..Satisfaction? Gloating? Power? That all was immediately erased by the knowledge that whatever his sins had been against me, NONE of them made what I had just done right. And my being about twice his size made it even more egregious to me.

I stood there for a moment and realizing that there were some folks who saw it happen who had no idea there was any prologue…all they saw was me, out of the blue, decking Tim. To them it seemed like a totally uncalled for act of violence. And in the moment I felt the need to try and somehow justify what I had just done….so I yelled something to the effect “I TOLD you to leave us alone!” and then walked off in what I hoped looked like righteous indignation.

My friend G. was still laughing when I caught up with him and he patted me on the back and said all those ‘guy’ things about how cool and tough I was, etc., but his words rang hollow to me. I had just done a totally f-cked up thing and I knew it.

Afterwards, there was a stink for a bit: I nearly got kicked out of the play I was in (had to profusely apologize to the school and to Timur and his parents) and Tim continued to be a bit of an ass to me…and now had some ammunition for it…but time passed and things calmed down. A few years later we saw each other and the animosity seemed like it had gone by the wayside along with the growing realization that much of what we thought was so terribly important back in high school, really wasn’t, in the greater scheme of things.

Later on, I heard bits and pieces about Tim through friends….I knew that he had continued in the theater…in college….and in the regional theater…and then as time went on he became just one of those many people in your life who slowly faded into the past….albeit he was one who I had an interesting story about, and who had had a certain impact in my life, even if it had nothing to do with his intentions. Tim was part of what made me far more pacifistic on a personal level than I had ever been before our altercation. And he did it not by anything he said…but just by being there for me to punch.

So…that’s the story. Someone from my past died. Someone I hadn’t seen in over 20 years. And my world reacts to the ripple of his passing.

Sad.

Sadder still to hear that he had been struggling with his personal demons and in the end the demons won.

Rest in Peace, Tim.

I’m sorry…and I’m grateful…for the lesson you taught me one afternoon many years ago.

-PEM

Timur in 1981

2 thoughts on “Lessons learned… (thoughts on the passing of a classmate)

  1. I really don’t know why I thought of Timur just now; I had no idea he had passed away. I am so sorry to learn this. I was a classmate of his at Berkeley High and often hung out with him there and at the old Ren fair (was he at Dicken’s too?). Mmm I just remember meeting him that first day in class he had on a Sweeney Todd tee-shirt. I’d never heard of it and he told me the whole story right away. I remember he also liked some vampire book (Interview?) and he had some fake fangs made by an orthodontist; what a riot. Then one day (88?) I was in L.A working in a natural food store and in he walked, looking so shinnying. I have always had a small wonder about him, such a light. I was very fond of him. I can’t remember if I tried to connected with him after that day in L.A…. Why was he just in my thoughts tonight?

    1. So odd, tonight, 7/12/13 I, too, was thinking about Timur, and so Googl-ed him, just to see what might surface. I knew Timur when he was very young, had an endearing walk, was very intelligent, spoke knowledgeably about science, history, art, taught me the African shell game Kala, introduced me to his mother, who was a remarkable artist, and to his sisters and brother, who were each as beautiful as he was. My husband and I were invited to Thanksgiving at their home in the hills one year ~ and it was so lovely. Three adults and four children, and an evening of charming and intellectual conversation, wonderful food ~ I remember a turkey bedecked with a string of cranberries which we had all taken turns sewing – learning to play a game of Mah Jong on a beautiful alabaster and green board. A decade later, when I was working in Malibu, I met with Timur again – a beautifully elegant young man, still well spoken, and we shared many stories long into the evening, before he needed to go home. To you, the person who punched him, I heard that story. I know you have figured this out already, but he was young, sorting out his feelings, did not know which one of you he loved more, and was too naive in the world of love to be able to express himself appropriately. He had a very forgiving heart, and when he was in his best mind, only wanted to make things right in his heart, in order to be able to move forward. I hope you do nit mind that I share these thoughts and memories. He was very special to me. I saw some of his work at a university in Southern California, and he was good, and I was proud of him. If there is a heaven, I hope his spirit knows that he did make a difference in this world.

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