Thursday, February 07, 2008

A Heartfelt Tribute to a Dear Friend

Given on 2/5/08

We are not here today to speak of what could have been, but to celebrate what was. For the past few years, Chris’ life was rather dark but the many years of bright, vivid life outshine those few years. I must confess it took some time for me to get back to that Chris. Like an archaeologist brushing off ancient dust to reveal something golden and brilliant, I dug into my past to unearth the magic that was Christopher Vattuone. Through photo albums and boxes of memorabilia in my basement, I pored over pictures, letters and a collection of odd things that represent a friendship spanning over 25 years. These pictures and things were never discarded for they, like Chris, were always valuable to me. Looking back on all of these memories, something inside me ignited like a stove being lit or a rose bush coming back to life after a long, cold winter. The vivid passion of Chris was alive in me again. Soon I was laughing among the tears as the memories flowed. I was young again and inside the wild and wacky world of Chris.

Chasing a skunk through Old Town to get sprayed on purpose, driving backwards through a McDonald’s drive through, wearing high heels to see the movie “High Heels”, making an annual pilgrimage to Karen Carpenter’s grave, never tiring of “The Poseidon Adventure”, calling Hollywood to try to audition for the remake of “The Poseidon Adventure”, watching the “Price is Right” everyday, being a contestant on the “Price is Right”, Helga Beasley, loving every horror film ever made (no matter how awful it was), loving every roller coaster ever made. If anyone of these statements doesn’t sound familiar, then you don’t know Christopher Vattuone.

Chris was a fireball of life and energy that swirled into my life back in 1981 in drama class at Point Loma High. Our friendship was cemented during “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum”. He was outlandish, funny, crazy and helped us all realize that we didn’t have to conform to some dry, restricted clique. He made the bizarre and the dramatic seem as normal as can be. We would spend hours making up stories, creating characters and acting out the parts, fleshing out our own strange world, laughing at it all.

Post high school, the friendship continued as Chris and I worked at the Village Hat Shop together, putting our creativity to work on a whole variety of hats that either flew out the door on peoples’ heads or sat around for months begging to be bought. Besides being a creative place, the hat shop was a place where we learned important work skills too. We both had our time as managers of the Horton Plaza store. After I left the hat shop for San Francisco, Chris took on the role of manager with a sense of professionalism and maturity. He had a retinue of regulars who loved him and he would always greet them warmly when they came in to buy a new hat or just say hello. When his time at the hat shop ended, he fulfilled a dream of becoming a flight attendant, taking on the job seriously and professionally. I never had that Northwest flight with Chris as flight attendant but I’m sure he did his best to make the skies oh so much friendlier.

Our lives grew in different directions but our friendship was always solid. Chris was one of those friends who you could see once a year and pick up where you left off. Like an old glove that slips with ease on the hand, we carried on as if we saw each other just yesterday. Wherever the winds took me, Chris was always sure to visit. Whether it was San Francisco, New York or as far away as Russia, Chris was one of the few friends to make the trek. The laughs, the stories would continue no matter where in the world we were and new ones added to the collection.

Chris was a man of great flair and passion and his enthusiasm for things was intoxicating. He created a buzz that quickly swept us off our feet. Sometimes that meant making a movie in the span of a few hours or having a spontaneous costume parade down Kettner Boulevard on a cold January night. Whatever or wherever it was, we were all along for the ride. I remember when he visited me in Russia he brought a book about the Carpenters. On a long train ride to Siberia, we discussed and debated the life and career of Karen Carpenter. Who else but with Chris could you spend a 28 hour train ride through Russia talking about the finer points of a dead celebrity? By the end of the trip I was as enthusiastic about her as Chris. When we got to my apartment in Ekaterinburg, we played Carpenters CDs over and over and over. I never knew I couldn’t get sick from their music (but I’m sure my neighbors felt differently).

In his short life, Chris touched and inspired us all in so many ways. Maybe that inspiration didn’t lead us to the dizzying heights of Hollywood celebrity or President of the United States, but it moved us to greatness on a day-to-day level. Chris’ bravado, self confidence and belief that he could do anything (no matter how ludicrous it sounded) were so infectious. He was our Don Quixote—fighting windmills that were dragons. If he said those windmills were dragons, we too believed and fought right along side him. Even today when I doubt my abilities or lose motivation, I think of Chris. He’s like coal for my locomotive, feeding the fire to keep the train moving fast. In a place like New York one needs a little Chris in them to bolster them against the sea of naysayers. We all need a bit of Chris in us.

Chris didn’t leave this earth donating millions to charities but he did leave a very rich man. The wealth of lifelong friends he has is a reflection of his generous spirit. He was kind and caring, showing honest love and concern for his friends. He saw the beauty in everyone he met and made them feel great about themselves. In the past few weeks of his life, the myriad of friends who dropped everything to come see him at his time of need was tremendous. A regular Who’s Who of people who brought flowers, held his hand, massaged his feet, cut his hair, sat with him, put lotion on his face, made a photo collage. It was the right thing to do for a friend who gave us all so much. Family was utmost important as well and his loyalty and devotion to his family was immense. Over the years we all got to know his parents, his brother and sister and their families. It was not hard to see the source of love that made Chris such a special person.

I wish I had a magic wand and could make this day go away. I wish I wasn’t standing up here reading this eulogy. I wish we all weren’t here in this church saying goodbye to someone so dear to us. I wish. But, unfortunately, we are. And someone as illustrious as Chris deserves to be celebrated with family and friends gathered around, tributes of flowers and speeches, tears shed. I don’t feel that Chris is gone. He is with me wherever I go. Like the sun he shines on, warming our hearts and souls. A memory may trip me up when I least expect it, bringing a smile to my face or a tear to my eye. Chris’ presence will be felt in my life for a very long time. His memory is a reminder to us all to never lose passion in life, always have enthusiasm and keep close family and friends. While his life may not have been long, it definitely was eventful.

I’d like to end my tribute to Chris with a poem by Langston Hughes:

I loved my friend.
He went away from me.
There’s nothing more to say.
The poem ends,
Soft as it began—
I loved my friend.

And I still do. You were our star on earth Chris, now you’re a star in heaven.
I hope you have found peace and happiness wherever you may be. Ciao Bello. Caro mio. Farewell.


sharon said...

Anthony said...

Florida Tony