His name's Aslan.
The one with the incredulous look.
It was early 2021 - still in the throes of a lockdown - when we found out he had been diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer.
I met Aslan at UCLA. We were kind of thrown in to being roomates the beginning of our sophomore year, and ended up living together until the day we graduated 3 1/2 years later.
He was formative in my development as a person. He was great looking, stupid smart, cool as hell, and still carried himself with a grace that was mesmerizing. The guy exuded light without trying.
And he was GOOD. While most of us struggled to do the right thing all the time, Aslan made doing the right thing effortless and natural. He made being a good person look cool.
Asi died on April 24th.
Over the course of his diagnosis it was difficult to really assess how he was doing. He played it close the vest, but also, he was so positive and optimistic that no one could really tell how bad it was.
Mid April we got a text from a friend that had been to see him saying, "we have to go see him immediately." So we did. Friends flew in from all over the country and planned - with his wife and mother - to all go sit with him for a couple hours.
We walked into his bedroom and the body we saw was not Aslan. To say it was shocking would be so understated as to be lying.
But here's the thing: he was still fully there. He had no muscle, no fat, breathing was an obvious effort...but he STILL asked each and every one of us about our lives. We told stories. We LAUGHED! There were eight of us sitting around his bed with his wife and mother, and in classic 'wtf' style, it was JOYFUL. It was one of the most devestating and beautiful moments I've ever spent with people. The purest form of EVERY feeling existed all at once.
When it became obvious that the socializing was taking a toll on him, we all walked up to him one by one and hugged him, kissed his forehead, and told him we loved him. When it was my turn to say goodbye, here's what he said to me: "T, thanks for always checkin in. Keep prayin...just need to get through this phase and I'll be good."
"Just need to get through this phase." He was physically ravaged, and spritually the most beautiful person I've ever seen.
There are a bunch of guys from his life that share a text thread to keep in touch and keep Aslan present. The picture that is the album cover popped up and we all laughed about the 'nipple whisk' and Asi's reaction to it. I made a joke about 'nipple whisk' being the title of my next album. And months later, when it was time to decide on a cover & title, thought, "yeah, this feels right."
This picture (and scenario) is ridiculous. There could have been a lot of other pictures that would have probably been more 'honoring' of Aslan, but this one feels the most honoring to me exactly BECAUSE of its ridiculousnous.
Something that's hit hard over the last couple years is that life IS ridiculous. The world and it's systems, people that run it, we that live in it... we were all exposed as ridiculous. We have no idea what we're doing. We're just making shit up.
And then there's someone like Asi in the middle of it all. Someone who's actually been aware of the ridiculousness from the beginning, like he's in on the joke, but still doing the right thing, still being a light to everyone around him, smiling, watching us whisk a nipple, going,
"You guys are idiots.
I love you."