No one, not even Pepe himself, had any idea he was so sick.
He had been feeling under the weather for a while, and had a variety of different symptoms, one of which was a lump in his lower abdomen.
A couple of weeks ago, he went to the doctor, who diagnosed him with a hernia, and scheduled him for surgery last Monday.
During the surgery, they discovered that the lump was not in fact a hernia, but was actually a very swollen and infected lymph node.
During the rest of the week doctors conducted a number of tests and discovered that he had a very advanced and aggressive form of Lymphoma, and this past Monday, he was scheduled to go in to see his doctor to discuss their plan of attack.
Pepe lived alone, and when his friend arrived at his apartment this past Monday to take him to the doctor's, he discovered that Pepe had died.
He was 47 years old.
This whole turn of events is so shocking and so sudden, I can't quite wrap my head around it. How can it be possible that he is no longer here? How could everything have gone downhill so quickly; how could he have been at work one week and dead the next?
I keep picturing him at work, taking orders, sneaking chocolates off the candy cart when he thought no one was looking, panicking when the restaurant got too busy, humming to himself while he ate his pre-shift dinner, and going behind the curtain so no one in the dining room could see him to do various dance moves and strange stretches for us. He loved to talk about movies and was always asking people if they had a "black swan" inside them, and proclaiming, when he was in certain moods, that he himself was the black swan.
He was from Mexico, and his whole family still lives there, and he would often talk about how he wanted to go back there one day and maybe open a restaurant or bar. He was single, and he would often ask me if I thought it was too late for him to find love. It's never too late, I would always say.
When he left at the end of his shift last Saturday, he was looking forward to his surgery, because he was so excited to finally feel better. We all were excited for him, too, and hugged him good-bye, saying how he was going to have a new lease on life after it was all over.
Like most untimely deaths, it is hard to make sense of it; hard to have it feel real. Hard, of course to not think about ones own life and health, as well as the importance of living in the now.
It is so cliched, I know, but there is no doubt that this kind of sudden passing makes me think about my own life, and health, and the fact that ultimately, none of us knows what the future holds.
There is always this assumption that there is tomorrow, and a day after that, and a day after that. We assume, or at least, I do, that life stretches on, and there is time, always time, to do the things we want to do.
Pepe's death reminds me that that is not always the case. We don't know how many tomorrows we have left, and it is worth it to try, in as much as we can, to live our lives the way we want to be living them now. Make the decisions we have been putting off until "one of these days", go places we want to go, share things with people we have been putting off sharing, eat that gelato you've been depriving yourself of, allow yourself to forgive and move on, take risks, be brave, you get the point.
Above all, selfishly, Pepe's death makes me grateful, and thankful. Those are not emotions we are expected to have or express very often. We live in a culture that is all about wanting more. We are expected to live in a space of "never enough", of permanent dissatisfaction. We are never rich enough, famous enough, thin enough, young enough, successful enough, what have you. To be grateful is seen as laziness, as stagnation, how dare you be happy with who and where you are?
But Pepe has made me think, and the fact that next week is Thanksgiving allows me to put a certain frame around it: I am thankful, indeed.
I am thankful that I have wonderful parents and family; thankful that I have an incredible husband and amazing friends; thankful that I have an adorable puppy, a roof over my head, a job, and food to eat. I am thankful that I am healthy. I am thankful for good food, chocolate, and, of course, wonderful wine.
I hope, this season, you will allow yourselves to feel thankful, too.
Below are a few suggestions for wines that will enhance your Turkey-Day feast:
Schramsberg Brut Rose. A California sparkler that is a delicious way to start the celebration.
2009 Champalou Vouvray "La Cuvee des Fondraux". A beautiful white wine from the Loire Valley in France made from the Chenin Blanc grape. This off-dry wine is juicy and citrusy, peachy and honeyed with heavenly floral notes.
Canihan Family Cellars Pinot Noirs and Syrahs. You can't go wrong with any of these Certified Organic and award-winning wines from this family-owned Sonoma Valley winery. Pinot Noir is particularly good with turkey and cranberries, with its luscious cherry fruits and smoke. Visit their website to order directly.
Skipstone Ranch Winery Oliver's Blend. I have tasted the 2005 Oliver's Blend, but I believe the current release is 2008. These wines are also organic and hail from Geyserville, CA. Cabernet Sauvignon-based blends, these wines are full-bodied, elegant, smooth and rich.
Patrick Bottex "La Cueille" Bugey-Cerdon, France. This sparkling, sweet Gamay is a delightful and festive way to finish a meal. A gorgeous pink color, with sweet red apple and raspberry notes.
Niepoort Colheita Port 1998. When you have finished eating and are sitting on the couch exploding your zippers and popping off buttons, this is the time for an after-dinner drink. And in my mind, there is nothing better than Tawny Port. I am in love with this stuff. Sweet, with notes of dried fruit, apricots and figs. I can't imagine a better end to an evening.
You can find most of these wines through winesearcher.com Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant or through their respective websites.
Have a Happy Thanksgiving. I wish you good food, good drink, and good company.
To Pepe, I wish you good night, "[and] flights of angels sing thee to thy rest."
You will be missed.