The Portrait of a Man I Didn’t Know



The Portrait of a Man I Didn’t Know
by Che Flory

No one ever prepares you for the death of strangers. Humanity wasn’t developed to have this sort of experience. It’s a new thing, but it’s just awful to have to deal with it. Last summer, I followed my bunkmate from a stint in a hostel on Instagram, and their story popped up when I was sitting in a coffee shop scrolling through my social media. I always enjoy what they post because they live halfway around the world and normally have something interesting to offer. It also just serves as a really fun reminder of the places I’ve traveled, and it is a great addition to my day. Instead of the normal waterfall or some other cool thing they saw on their weekend trip out of Manila that I have come to expect, I got a memorial post for a person I know. This person and I had a life that crossed paths for a week. I know pretty much no one they know. Our only shared friends are the other people that were in that hostel for that one week in El Nido. Maybe there are five people who I even remotely care about or remember that we both know. 

The person who died was some sort of manager of the hostel we stayed in. He was young, but I don’t know just how young. I don’t know much about him at all. In fact, I’m really not sure what his position at the hostel was, but he was always around serving breakfast, hosting karaoke nights, and leading bar-hopping escapades. I was always such a disappointment to him because I never wanted to go to any of the events and spent the majority of the week on the couch in the lobby writing. It was a party hostel, so I definitely was harshing the mellow. I have never claimed to be cool or even friendly though, so it didn’t really bother me that I didn’t fit in. I am sure we would have really gotten along as people, but I can be a bit of an isolationist when I travel. 

The person who died, Ritchie, is someone I probably never would have thought about again, almost certainly never seen again, but here I am, mourning his death like we were terribly close. People weren’t designed to have to cope with this sort of death and grieve like this. His life never truly mattered to me, but his death sure as hell does. A bit of my life is now colored by his death. I don’t know when I am going to see these effects. I have a feeling that the next time I go to a hostel is going to be a little weird because I will be thinking about him and the way he passed through my life. 

Despite our relative unimportance to one another, his death still managed to be a kick in the stomach. As I write this, I am listening to his go-to karaoke song, Fashionista by Jimmy James, and holding back tears, which is quite an experience while listening to house music. There is nothing about it that fits the act of crying, so you just feel the least comforting sense of dissonance you can imagine. That was what it was like with him though. He was a queer man who succeeded in such a traditional way without diluting any of his queerness, maybe confusing to the palate but memorable. I want more Ritchies in my life. I want to see more queer people of color thriving without leaving any piece of them behind. 

Ritchie deserves to be mourned because he did so much good in the world, but I don’t think we should be in a society where one has to mourn the death of a person we met once. I don’t want to hear about the people who never truly mattered to me and their death because I can’t help but care about it. I don’t think that makes me weak. I am just a person, and people were never built for this sort of mourning.