Life is full of ups and downs and I should have known that when things are going well and you start to get complacent something is always looming around the corner to knock you off your feet and down a peg or two. Usually it's what keeps life interesting; it makes you appreciate what you have when you have it. Usually.
Last week's knock however, was more of a sledgehammer to the stomach, from which we're all still trying to catch our breath. On Thursday the 2nd of February my friend and colleague, Crystal Veytia, died on her way to work. Shock is not really an accurate enough word to describe my reaction, and I think it will be a while yet before I can get my head around it fully.
I met Crystal properly a few days after she arrived in August. Sarah, our Director of Studies, invited a few of us to go to an ice-hockey game, she got a little lost on her way to meet us, but we made it in time for the game. She was very friendly and talkative, and also extremely enthusiastic about everything. At the time I attributed it to excitement about having just arrived in a new country, but later I realised that enthusiasm was just part of her general attitude towards the world. She fully embraced life and took everything it threw at her.
She stole the show at our work Christmas/New Year party in December. The theme of the party was hunting (which finally made sense when I realised that the name of the restaurant, русская охота, means the Russian hunt). Crystal's choice of costume for the fancy dress competition was a piece of paper with the words 'My costume: free champagne hunter' written on it in black marker. I think within five minutes she was on first name terms with all of the waiting staff and set about getting into character.
Part of the organised fun and games of the evening involved the traditional secret santa, we all put a gift in a sack and then chose another from it. I think the spending limit was 400 roubles. Not knowing what to buy (or possibly having forgotten about it), Crystal decided just to wrap four 100 rouble notes in a napkin from the table and add it to the sack.
To the uninitiated, it might seem a bit like she was being lazy or cynical or attention-grabbing, but anyone who knew Crystal would know that she was none of those things, she was having fun, it was hilarious and she was probably the only person in the room that night with the confidence and charm to pull it off.
At the end of the night some of us decided to continue on to a club. After a lot of standing around in the cold and on the metro platform failing to make a decision about where to go we settled on Barhat; cinema complex by day, cheesy house club by night. Needles to say it wasn't really my scene. Crystal and I were both complaining about the music and our sore feet so we went to find somewhere to sit. We were kicked out of the VIP area, so we settled for a low wall in the cinema lobby area. We sat and talked for I think over an hour about everything and nothing, whilst watching Russian girls try to tear lumps out of each other (note to self: never piss off a drunk Russian chick). When we finally realised it was probably time to leave, Crystal didn’t want me to go home alone so we got a taxi back to her place.
Our conversation continued in the taxi and for another hour or so when we got back. I'm not usually one for sharing too much personal stuff with others when I haven't known them for very long but Crystal was one of those people who make you feel comfortable talking about anything; never pushing, never judging and always responding honestly, thoughtfully and with a good dollop of humour. I found her very easy to talk to and her advice genuinely helpful.
About three weeks before she died I had been threatening to educate Crystal and her flatmate Lindsay in the ways of British surrealist comedy, after discovering their love for the Mighty Boosh. We both agreed we should hang out more, and a week later I invited her out for a drink with my friends. She texted me to say she was already planning to go to another bar, but I should join her there later. I didn't.
I really wish I had. It's so unfair that we missed out on the opportunity to spend more time together and that there are so many other (more important) things that she will never get to do.
On her Facebook wall, a friend of Crystals posted part of a conversation they had before she came to Moscow and I hope they won't mind me including it here. Many people have quoted it; It kind of sums up her attitude to life.
Why the f**k are you moving to Russia?To live. To love. To laugh. I've outgrown this life, lover.:-)As gay as it sounds.No no no, you nailed it.<3
She absolutely lived, loved and laughed for the whole six months she was here. All of her friends in Moscow miss her terribly and our thoughts are with her family and friends back home. Mayakovskaya school seems so quiet without her.
Te echaré de menos Chicken. ¡Que te sueña con los angelitos! Viviremos amaremos y reiremos como tu nos enseñaste.