"Your Character Needs More Character..."
"Have you considered giving him a limp?"
This is what our director told my friend Chris Herrle during one of many ridiculous rehearsals for the Drexel production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Chris was one of the mechanicals but apparently wasn't individual enough...or something. Chris heard this suggestion, and raised his one eyebrow way up high.
"A limp?" He was incredulous.
"Yeah, what do you think? The limp could have a whole back story."
"You want my character to have a limp."
"Yes, I think it would be a great character choice."
"That's...that's not...Character choice? Really?"
Needless to say, he did not choose to give himself a limp.
Chris Herrle died last week. He was 30 years old and used to be a pretty constant presence in Wes' and my life. Things got hard for him and he was dealing with heavy loads and he would disappear from public life for months at a time. He was a frustrating sometimes absolutely maddening man but he was also one of the few people back a few years ago that I felt comfortable telling when he was full of shit. I don't know if it enlightened him at all, but it was something that happened and we kept being friends. At the time when he was most in my life, this was something deeply valuable to me. While I was often furious with his antics, I couldn't hold them against him for long because he was such a big personality, often the life of the party, and caring, loving, and someone you could count on, even though he would get in his own way a lot.
Often I felt like Chris didn't know what to do with me because I was a woman he had deemed "off limits" for romantic/sexual relationship status (he was a deep believer in The Bro Code and I dated a good friend of his before Wes. He was pretty awful to Wes for a while and then he was in our wedding, so, you know, Bro Code Shmro Shcode), but I was also a woman who he deemed "not like 'typical' women". It was a sexist attitude that I got on his case for often, but I knew that he valued me as a good friend and shared with me things that he would share with his guy friends. I was a trusted mutant in his band of oddities and I was often called upon for unique perspective, much like one of the many bizarre factoids his mind teemed with on a daily basis.
That may sound like I am devaluing this status, but honestly, Herrle's strange and extensive collection of knowledge was one of my favorite things about him. I often would consult him when trying to think of something obscure that I couldn't quite put my finger on. His mind was a data base that looks like Wikipedia in my imagination. He was smart, articulate, hilarious, and had an ongoing thirst for knowledge. He liked to learn new things and share them with his friends. He was a musician. He was a writer. He was a singer and a scientist.
Herrle, like everyone, had gone through different versions of himself. I have two versions that I always loved: Herrle, the Poker Player and Herrle, The Glassblower. When we were still in college and Wes and I had an apartment in University City, we would have a regular group of friends who we played tournament style Texas Hold 'Em. Chris was a good player, certainly better than the rest of us shmoes. He played in Atlantic City often and while our favorite stories are often about him feeling fabulous about losing obscene amounts of money, he actually paid back his student loans from winning at the tables. I tried to learn from him but being awesome at poker was not something that was destined to be one of my life skills. We spent hours around that dining room table, Chas buying in again three times after missing out on some really promising "pair draws", me waiting until I was pretty much down to nothing before making my move (I was the queen of the slow play...because being aggressive was not something I could actually do), Jake drinking his Vitamin Water to get that extra advantage, Wes and Hoffman exchanging South Park quotes. It was a good time and I will remember those nights as bright spots in a time when I was pretty miserable often.
But I think he was happiest when he was Herrle The Glassblower. He worked at a lovely little shop in Old City. Wes had seen an article about the place looking for people who wanted to apprentice. Herrle had been looking to change careers and wanted to work with his hands. Wes let him know about the apprenticeships and before we knew it, Herrle was learning to make whiskey glasses. He gave a special one to Wes, one with a blue color in it that was a version that they didn't sell. It was one of a kind and he gave it to Wes for helping to change his life.
Chris was a good man and a good friend, if not always the easiest man to understand or connect with. It took me a long time yesterday to really understand the reality of his passing. I had gotten so used to him disappearing for a while and then reappearing. But he won't be reappearing this time. I will never hear one of his ridiculous stories again, or hear his perfect Murderface impression, or see him bring down the house at karaoke. I won't have a chance to help him anymore, and so I wish that I had been there more when I could have been.
Chris, you will be missed. Thank you for your friendship. Thank you for the host of good memories I have of you. Thank you for being in our wedding. Thank you for always working towards being a better man. Thank you for being open about your problems, even if we were never all that helpful. Thank you for everything.
There is beauty in the world.
You are loved.
Goodbye, friend. I am happy for the fleeting chance I had to know you.