Remembering James Morgan, 10 March 1989 — 7 January 2014

My friend James Morgan was in a car accident on December 22, 2013. His life support was turned off on January 7, 2014. He was 24-years old.

When I found out, it felt like someone had poked a hole in my chest and vacuumed out my soul. The tears came so suddenly they surprised me. Over the next two days, it would be a surprise when they stopped. I have been desperately trying to hold onto every memory I have of him. I’m afraid of forgetting.

James was the first friend I made at university. We were introduced at an art show a few weeks before semester started. Our mutual friend Lanelle (who would later become his girlfriend) wanted to connect us because we were both majoring in French at the same university. I had never had anyone be so excited to meet me. “We’re gonna go to France together!” he said with wild hand gestures. “This is awesome! I’ll see you in class, French friend! Team France! We’re going to France!”

I had known this guy for five minutes and he already made me believe he was my best friend. That was the magic of James Morgan. He had a knack for making everyone feel like they mattered. When he spoke to you, even if it was for the first time, you couldn’t help but feel like you were the most important person to him.

We ended up in the same French classes for the next three years. We would rearrange our schedules and pick up night classes just so we could take French together. During lectures, I’d teach him how to write swear words in shorthand. Somewhere in one of my textbooks is the shorthand for “dickbag” scribbled dozens of times.

When it came time for us to put in our university preferences for our year of studying abroad in France, we filled out our forms together and attached a note. The university typically assigned students to host universities based on availability. If too many students applied for a particular college, they would pull names out of a hat. On our note, we asked that the faculty send both of us to the same university, even if it meant assigning us to a less popular region like Caen or Poitiers or that university located in the town that was leveled during World War 2 and now looked like a Walmart parking lot (we think it was Caen (we looked it up on Google Images)). We explained, without getting too sappy, that we started learning French together three years ago, and it would mean the world to us if we could continue our education together in France.

We both got our first preference, Bordeaux. I couldn’t have been more relieved.

What I didn’t write on my note to the faculty was that James was my source of courage. It was because of him that I was able to meet the people I met, make the friends I made and have the adventures I had. I was painfully reserved. I was so quiet I earned the nickname “That One,” because whenever James mentioned “Tracey” to people, they wouldn’t know who he was talking about — he’d have to point to me and say “That One. Tracey is That One right there, the one who hasn’t said a word all evening.”

He gave everyone a nickname. Our friend Emily became “Elbows.” In early 2010, we were at a bar in Bordeaux talking about anatomy when James said that elbows were the least erogenous part of the body. “You don’t hear about porn sites called Amateur Elbows Dot Com,” he said. “I AM Amateur Elbows!” Emily declared. And so she became Elbows. James would later tell people that Emily earned her nickname because she once got a guy off using only her elbows. We would all agree that this was a gross fabrication.

James made life fun for everyone around him. I think he made a lot of people feel that they were invincible. He was always able to convince me that everything would be OK, no matter the situation we were in.

During our winter vacation, we took a train from France to Germany to visit our friend Sophie. Sophie worked in Bonn. She suggested that we visit a nearby town called Bruhl. “It’s very scenic,” she said. So that morning when Sophie went to work, James and I took a train to Bruhl. We got off a few stops too early and, instead of waiting at the station for another train, James figured if we just walked in any given direction we’d eventually get to Bruhl. Because James is James, I agreed to it.

We didn’t know what we were looking for. All we knew was that Bruhl was “scenic,” as per Sophie’s description. We spent the next two hours looking for Scenic Bruhl. If I were on my own, I’d have been terrified. I would have stayed at the train station. I probably would have gone straight home. But I was with James, which meant we were going to take the adventurous path, and we were going to be OK. We walked through dirt fields. We were the only people for miles. We didn’t understand any of the signs. This was before we had Google Maps on our phones.

Somehow, we found Bruhl. We stopped and had lunch at what we later concluded was a budget bistro for senior citizens. We took some pictures. We caught the right train back to Bonn. That was adventure #1 of many more we’d have that year.

The last time I saw James was in March of 2012. After we got back from France, he went to study in San Francisco and Sacramento. When he returned, it was my turn to move to San Francisco. We didn’t keep in touch. I thought he would always be there. We could pick things up later. One of the last times we hung out in Sydney, shortly before he went to America to study, we both went to Footlocker and bought matching rainbow running shoes.

James Morgan was the best person that ever happened to me. He made me laugh, he made me smile, he made me angry, he made me resentful, he made me feel loved, he made me feel accepted, and he made me feel like I was the most important person in the world.

James Morgan, even if I wanted to forget you, I don’t think I could. What an incredible human. Fire up! I miss you. I love you. I love you.

First published October 18, 2014