On December 20th, Elliot was delusional, falling out of bed, and not himself. Anne correctly admitted him to Casey House, where he was administered pain medication and sedation. She called me, Jacob Davenport, that morning to tell me that he might just have hours left, so I rushed over. Over the next four days, his friends, coworkers, and family visited him to say goodbye. We played his favorite music, talked with him and about how much he meant to us. On the few occasions that he regained a little consciousness, he was clearly in pain and discomfort, and the nurses were quick to give him more medication. On Christmas Eve at 4:30am, Elliot died, attended by his wife, his parents, and me. We were all relieved that he was no longer in pain, but we were all profoundly sad to lose him.
I met Elliot sometime in 1987. His circles of friends overlapped mine, and he was the only bridge-playing friend whom I did not teach the game to, since he already knew a bit of it. He was an easy person to be friends with, social glue to pull together many good people.
When Elliot was about 19, his then girlfriend Amber, whom Elliot adored, broke up with him. I remember the night well, how shocked and sad he looked, and how I felt terrible for him, but I didn’t know what to do. I wanted him to sit down and pushed his shoulder, and he collapsed. I sat with him and was sad, but I didn’t know what to say.
When I was 20, my then girlfriend Stacey, whom I adored and had known for seven years, broke up with me. I was living in England for a semester abroad, where Elliot had come as well, and he came to see me as soon as he heard. He knew exactly what to say and what to do. He said that it was OK to be sad, that crying would make me feel a little better, and that sometimes he’d listen to sad music to let the feelings come. This wisdom was not what I would expect most 20 year old men to have and to share, but I grew to expect it from Elliot.
The picture above is a few months later, when Elliot and I toured around France and Italy for a month. We also spent time that spring in Wales and Ireland. While I was sometimes sad at the loss of the future I’d never have with Stacey, I greatly enjoyed the time Elliot and I spent visiting these old countries, seeing their natural beauty, fantastic ruins, and even modern attractions. To be fair to both Amber and Stacey, they were not the best matches for us, although it would take years to figure that out for both of us. We talked about love lost, about the cities and towns we walked through, and Elliot sang many songs to me.
He patiently taught me the Subterranian Homesick Blues, he sang me all of Les Miserables, and all of Jesus Christ Superstar (and discussed the differences between the film and the theater album). We sang several Paul Simon songs together. I sang several songs I knew or had created to him. I sing badly. I have three notes, and they are all off-key. Elliot never teased me for it.
I have a healthy ego, being very confident in many of my areas of expertise and skill. I liked spending time with Elliot as a reminder that I’m not all that, and because he was never arrogant about his exceeding intelligence and experience and cultural knowledge. Instead, he enjoyed sharing what he knew when he had a receptive audience, and did not press when he did not. I remain a person who is occasionally accused of being pompous and dismissive of people, but I try to be inspired by Elliot’s example of tolerance, respect, and kindness.
I have many people in my life who are as kind as Elliot, and I consider myself extraordinarily lucky for it. But while Elliot was kind, he did not allow mean or demoralizing people into his life. His kindness did not lead him to take in social parasites, as can happen to the kind and tolerant, and his group of friends remain some of my favorite people. He kept those connections alive, and while I knew Elliot for 30 years, I was not his oldest friend.
After college, I lived with Elliot and four other people (Vicky, Matt, Peter, and Sheila) in Manhattan. When three of them returned for their final year of college, Elliot, Matt, and I moved into a brownstone in Brooklyn near Prospect Park. While there, Elliot and I were invited out to see a film (True Lies, I think) and dinner with Elliot’s coworker Jackie, and her roommate Anne. Apparently Jackie was trying to set me up with Anne, but I was still dating Vicky. Since Jackie and I are the extraordinary extroverts, we did nearly all the talking, and since I still did not have that much social grace, I’m sure I was annoying. Later I asked Elliot what he thought of Anne, and he said, “she’s not that interesting.” Oh my! I didn’t realize how taken he was with her until then. Elliot never says a bad word about anyone, so I knew immediately he was besotted. When Anne asked him out for a date a few days later, I made a mental note that they would marry.
After Elliot and Anne moved in together, I remember sitting and talking with Elliot in his kitchen and I asked, “so, when are you going to marry this girl?” He said he had been thinking about it, and I believe he proposed soon after that conversation. I think it was one of the best decisions he ever made. He was the first of our friends to get married, the first to buy a house, and the first to move back to the DC area. I stayed in Brooklyn with Matt, living in the brownstone that Anne and Elliot had lived in before. When I came back to DC for a visit after a long time away, I saw my friends Johnny and Elliot and realized that I was in the wrong city. Matt and I moved back to Maryland a few months later. It was the best decision I have ever made. I returned on March 4th, 1996.
While in Manhattan, Elliot, Matt, Peter, and I started to develop a bridge bidding system. Bridge is a game with fairly simple rules (and annoying scoring) in which you and your partner are only allowed to communicate through very limited bids and the cards you play. There are dozens of well respected bidding systems, and we decided we wanted to create our own. When I returned to DC, Elliot and I experimented with that system in earnest and fleshed it out for the next twenty years. We played bridge once or twice a week together, reading and sharing bridge books, discussing nearly every hand we played and what we could learn from it, and enjoying each other’s company. Some bridge partners get angry at each other, because bridge is a game where there are so many decisions and avoiding mistakes is nearly impossible. Elliot always had great patience with me, which I returned in kind. We played at bridge clubs and finally earned enough master points to become life masters, and there were many times that he and I had synchronicity and teamwork that I enjoyed more than any other game I’ve ever played.
I remember Elliot telling me in the start of 2016 how he was feeling itchy for reasons he did not understand. We soon learned he had pancreatic cancer, which I knew was a killer. I changed our schedule so we could hit the best bridge games, so we could spend his limited time together doing things we enjoyed. I spent many hours with him at the hospital, losing to him in Schnapsen, and discussing how much cancer sucks. I shared some wonderful meals with him while he was still able to enjoy them. I told him many times that I loved him and that I would miss him. We both agreed that we both had lived full lives and that we would not feel cheated out of life to die in our forties. We wanted more life, of course, but we both looked back on all the good people and experiences we had with satisfaction. He said that as long as he was enjoying life, he wanted to keep going.
Two weeks before he died, Elliot said he was done. He was in too much pain, too much nausea, and could not focus on anything else. While at Casey House, we held his hands, we waited with him and listened to each breath, and we were very sad. And as Elliot told me 27 years before, it’s OK to cry.