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  • Writer's pictureMariana Zapata

A Legacy of Kindness and Dreams

(This is not a post about anything book-related. Just some random thoughts about a friend.)

There’s a ton of shitty things happening in the world right now, so I’m going to take a moment to tell you guys about something wonderful—someone wonderful. My dad raised me to think that life is all about how you interpret situations you find yourself in; I usually try my best to not focus on the bad things and relish the good, so with that in mind, let’s continue on.

A few days ago was the one-year anniversary of my friend dying. (I know what you’re thinking: how the hell is this supposed to be a good post? Trust me here.) Even as I write this, I’m getting teary-eyed, but here is the story of Alan. Alan was the same friend I told you guys about last year who inspired me to rewrite Winnipeg two weeks before it was supposed to be turned in for editing, when I damn near had a mental and emotional breakdown.

I met Alan when I was probably about twenty years old. He was this thirteen or fourteen-year-old, goofy, outgoing kid who had started taking guitar lessons from Chris. From the moment I met him, I couldn’t help but like him. I remember he walked into Chris’ house by himself and introduced himself to his parents and I, just this super confident, nice boy, and it completely caught me off guard because his mom wasn’t there to force him to say hi or anything like that. He was just naturally polite. I’d later learn that that’s just the way Alan was, there was no such thing as a stranger to him even so young.

As time went on, I got to know him while he’d sit and wait to start his lessons with Chris. (I’d be working on homework or reading or something). Somehow he got to know my little brother and they became friends.

Over the years, he stopped going to lessons but we’d see each other at shows and say hi. Alan grew from this normal-sized boy to this tall kid who was outgoing and so funny and sweet and kind and wonderful. I don’t use these words lightly. It’s rare to meet someone like him, who gave these giant bear hugs and never ever had a bad word to say about anyone, and was eternally optimistic.

When I’d see him at shows, I would go and hang out with him to watch instead of going with anyone else, even if I knew fifty other people in the room, there was this magnetic, warmth to him that called to me (and everyone he knew). We’d talk about our dreams and goals, about him starting a band and how he wanted to play music professionally, how he wanted to be like Chris. He’d tell me his worries about not succeeding in the industry, but how his mom wanted him to finish college while he wanted to do the opposite. “But I have to finish for my mom,” he’d say.

This kid had dreams and aspirations stitched into the very fiber of his being, and there is no one else in the world that deserved to have everything good in the world happen to him. He’d invite us to every show his band played and Chris and I would always promise each other we’d go to the next one, and the next one…

About three months before we moved to Colorado, I went to a concert of Chris’ and saw Alan there by himself. Of course I went straight to him and he gave me his traditional, all encompassing hug that made you feel like you were his best friend and we talked during every break between bands. He told me how proud he was of me for going after my writing and being so successful, and he said “You and Chris are living the dream. I want to be exactly like you.”

And you know what I said to him? “Life is short, man. Don’t quit playing music, just do it. Nothing happens overnight. You’re almost done with school, finish and then screw it. Focus on your music.” (Just thinking this was the last conversation with him makes my throat hurt.)

He agreed. And that night when the crowd got crazy and there was a mosh pit going on, this boy I’d seen grown up and start to tower over me, shoved guys out of the way so they wouldn’t hit me. We hugged each other again and promised to see each other soon.

That was the last time I saw Alan. A little over a year later—after Chris and I had moved to Colorado and every time I went back to Houston, I’d check to see if his band was playing a show so I could go with my little brother but it never worked out—I woke up to my Facebook feed being blown up with messages tagging Alan that said “I can’t believe you’re gone” and “I want to believe this is a bad dream.” This sweet fucking kid that I liked when I rarely like anyone, was gone. Just like that.

What I learned over the next few weeks, is that Alan made everyone feel like they were his best friend. This kid was nice to everyone, and he was just as good of a person as I’d always thought he’d been—not that I’d ever thought otherwise. If you’ve ever met someone who is genuinely kind and nice, you can tell these things. My mom is one of these people, Alan was one of these people. That was just him. Kind to the bone, positive through and through, and friendly because he didn’t know how not to be. I have never, ever seen so many people write such nice things about anyone before and I doubt I ever will again. There was a constant focus on his personality traits in all of the posts people made to him: how he was the best guy, gave the best hugs, and always made everyone feel better. (I’m dying here guys.) There was a GoFundMe type thing for his funeral expenses—and in the truest testament to what kind of person and friend he was, they raised the money for the goal in a matter of hours. Last time I saw it, three times the amount of money they had asked for had been raised to help his mom.

On the day of the one year anniversary of him leaving this world, there were so many posts on his page from his friends mourning and remembering him that I cried my eyes out. He wasn’t my best friend by any measure, and for me, to know I lived in a world without someone as good as Alan, tore my heart in half. How must the people who saw him everyday feel?

The most recurring message I saw from his friends and loved ones was: “I’m going to try and live my life like you did, Alan. I’m going to try and be like you.”

In a world where people try and rip each other down and shit on others dream and accomplishments and failures, I think we can all learn something from my friend: it doesn’t matter how successful you are or aren’t. It shouldn’t matter. We should all live our lives grateful for every moment we have, good or bad. People might not remember you for what you did or didn’t do, but they’ll remember how you made them feel.

One of my favorite phrases says it best: Kindness is free. Sprinkle that shit on everything.

When you watch videos about people’s faith in humanity being restored when someone jumps into a river to save a dog or when two kids at a baseball game go for a home run ball and the kid who doesn’t get the ball begins to cry and the one who caught it gives it to the one crying—remember we can all be that kind of person. When the world seems to be unsteady and mean, do your part, as tiny as it may seem, something is something.

I am not a religious person by any measure, but I could totally understand that whatever God there is, missed my friend so much he called him back home. I dedicated Winnipeg to Alan because it focuses so much on people following their dreams, that there couldn’t have been anything better to remember him by.

Alan Huynh: I will miss your innate goodness forever, but I promise to keep your memory alive, and live out my dreams for the both of us. I hope you continue being proud of me.

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