A Few Things About Ryan
Losing him has given me the strange luxury of reveling in just how funny and weird and loving and spectacular he was.
I don’t know what to say about Ryan Brady.
I also don’t know what not to say about Ryan Brady.
The truth is that it feels like a small miracle he was in my life at all. He could easily not have been.
We evidently circled each other throughout four years of college, but we didn’t meet until the very end: a formal event (a dance? I don’t remember dancing) for graduating seniors. June in Chicago — the absolute best time of year, in any place (though Ryan later told me the best time and place in the entire world was fall in New York, which is probably true). The formal was at Soldier Field, which I knew was a sports place of some kind but had vaguely assumed was the home of the White Sox, until I walked out into the stands and noticed it was a football field.
I didn’t know much about Ryan, either. All I really knew was that he was some kind of musical genius, already working full time at Atlantic Records, and that he was in love with my friend. While she didn’t seem to love him back, it was clear that he had some kind of hold on her. It was complicated. I also don’t remember actually meeting him that night, but I do remember that suddenly, explosively, there he was.
Also, there was the breezy, heady, June-in-Chicago, graduation-week feeling of being impossibly young and vibrant and romantic. Also, there was alcohol. Also, there was the fact that we don’t have great cultural scripts for what 21-year-old straight people are supposed to do when they feel an electric connection with each other. So, well, you know the rest. I don’t have to spell it out, and I don’t know if Ryan would have wanted me to. Though maybe he would have: We talked about everything, except for the things we couldn’t talk about.
And then, just days later, there was New York. He was already here (boy genius), living in Williamsburg (of course), and he whirled me around the city. He inspected my iPod in a bar one early evening in the East Village: “You have one Elvis Costello song on this thing, and it’s ‘Alison.’ If you’re only going to have one Elvis Costello song, it has to be ‘Alison.’ Will you marry me?” I think he was only half-joking. What else? We shrieked to be heard over the deafening soundtrack of Pianos. We went to Times Square one night and ate at the Hard Rock Cafe. Why! Such a weird thing to do. As we walked to the subway afterwards, we found ourselves marooned on a median, surrounded by throngs of tourists and taxis, and we kissed, probably more out of duty and wide-eyed, clichéd new New Yorker-ness than anything. We weren’t really in love with each other, but we were in love with knowing each other and with spending time together, and with being where we were, when we were.
He was writing music, and it was really good. Like, actually good. I still get one of his songs stuck in my head sometimes, on sunny days with bright blue skies. He said the lyrics were sort of a placeholder while he tinkered with the music, so I won’t share them (they were about sunny days with bright blue skies). Sometimes he’d tinker too much and the song would take on a frenetic, stressful energy that was at odds with what I’d loved about it in its purer forms. I tried to tell him so gently. That was Ryan: Pure and joyful at his best, a ball of anxious, self-defeating energy at his worst.
He loved his job and he hated his job. He was someone’s assistant, more or less, for way too long. He loved the music and the talent and the artistry. He loved the acclaim he received for his fresh ideas and natural business acumen. He did a good job capitalizing on being the only person in his office who understood social media (it was 2008!) without becoming one of those insufferable Social Media Consultants, or whatever. He hated the drudgery. Hilariously, Kid Rock was someone he had to deal with a lot for a while, and if I remember this correctly, he once yelled at Ryan for putting too much packing tape on a box he’d been asked to send to him.
At some point, after not very much time at all, it became clear that the thing we were doing that put us somewhere beyond friendship wasn’t going to be ok with the friend who’d introduced us, and we ended whatever that was. It was the right thing to do, and we both knew we weren’t meant to be together, even then when everything was so fun and intense and we were so 22. It was painful, and really sad, and we had to just be apart for a while. But then the thing that really feels like a miracle happened: We became friends. Real friends. Deep friends.
I’m now married to the greatest, loveliest, most wonderful and generous man I’ve ever known, and I know firsthand how finding true, compatible, sustainable love and partnership like that feels like winning the lottery. But in a way, deep, true friendship — honestly, especially between a straight man and woman — feels even more unlikely. And in addition to being a spectacular, hilarious, warm person, Ryan was an absolutely spectacular friend.
He believed in me, beyond the way most friends believe in you — he didn’t just show me support and enthusiasm; he made me feel like I could, and would, take over the whole world. He often told me, “You’re the smartest person I know.” (He must have intuited that my love language is words of affirmation.) He asked for my help and my opinion on things that really mattered. I edited his resume and cover letter for jobs he didn’t really need to apply to, because Atlantic loved him so much and would always want to keep him, and did. He adored my husband, who is the only person I know who even comes close to appreciating good pop music as much as Ryan did, and they got along so well that sometimes when the three of us spent time together I’d feel left out. (Funny to think that my husband managed never to be jealous of my friendship with Ryan — to be clear, he never needed to be — but I was a little jealous of his. I didn’t need to be, either.)
He loved learning about management and communication, but in a cool, “I’m using this to beat these fogies at their own game” kind of way. He told me to read Getting Things Done and sent me an image of my head photoshopped on top of David Allen’s body on the cover. (I interviewed Allen earlier this year for a story and texted Ryan immediately after the interview. He asked me what Allen was like and responded to my description with, “Some kind of whimsical folder shaman. Got it.”)
He sent hilarious emails. He put up with the fact that I only ever wanted to eat lunch at Potbelly’s. He once Gchatted me this:
Ryan: Things to be excited about:
Ryan: Me buying you lunch
Ryan: The fact that we are literally made out of stars.
Ryan: Harrison Ford in general.
Ryan: Music from 1974
We ran into each other all the time. Truly, all the time, despite not living or working anywhere near each other. Places I remember running into Ryan (I’m sure there were more):
- Rockefeller Center
- Rosa Mexicano near Lincoln Center
- A weird diner somewhere west of Penn Station
- A car on the B train at Broadway-Lafayette on a Saturday night
- A bar in Hoboken
He loved his family, more effusively and authentically than most people I know. I once told him I admired some bowls his mom had made, and next thing I knew he hand-delivered three Suzan Brady bowls to me. They are still some of my favorite possessions; I ate lunch out of one of them just today. She sent a handmade pot when my husband and I bought a home. Any time I mentioned something about the pottery, or Suzan, or anything to do with his family, he’d say “I love my mom.” “I love my family.” “I love my parents.” He once told me, “I’m lucky to have a really great dad.” He truly never missed a chance to sing their praises and express his gratitude for them. (I know this for sure because I’ve been going through all of our emails and texts, and he was seriously like a broken record about his sweet family.)
He moved to LA without telling me, which stung for a minute, but somehow the distance made us reserve more quality time for each other — made us realize we couldn’t take each other for granted (though of course now all I can think about is how much I took him for granted). I remember a long phone call wherein he proudly and in great detail described the way he’d beat several car salespeople at their own game and scored an evidently unheard-of deal. I made a point of seeing him when I was on the West Coast, and he often got in touch when he came back East. He was once in the city when my husband and I were preparing for a move, and he opted to spend the evening with us eating takeout and helping me dismantle a large wall-mounted bookshelf.
He seemed really, genuinely happy the last few years. “My main goal of [moving to] LA was to clean up my life and work on myself,” he told me. “So far it has worked.” He sent holiday cards every year, with goofy, punny messages (a picture of Adam Sandler with a golf club + a picture of Buddy Holly + two pictures of Doris Day = Happy holidays). He was caring, and cheesy. I often thought about what an amazing dad he’d be some day. He emailed me to say he was proud of me for writing an important, personal piece.
He got married two years ago. I never got to meet his wife, but I was pleased to see that she seemed to be stunning, talented, cool as hell, and appropriately aware and appreciative of Ryan’s outstandingness. Their wedding photos were so blindingly beautiful, so full of joy and love and sunshine, that you almost couldn’t look directly at them. He was making music and podcasting and doing so many creative things I couldn’t keep up with them all. (I’m also notoriously horrible about listening to friends’ podcasts, but that’s another story.)
He’s gone now, and it’s the strangest thing. Losing him has given me the joy and luxury of thinking about him all the time — reveling in just how funny and weird and loving and spectacular he was. And then I remember all over again that he’s gone, that I’ll never get a weird text from him about Tom Cruise again, that I’ll probably never hear a Paul McCartney or Todd Rundgren song without tearing up. That he’ll be 34 forever, while my hair turns grey and my children grow up and more great music keeps getting made that he’ll never have a chance to hear. That I probably wouldn’t really get, anyway.
That the last text he sent me was in July: “We have a lot of catching up to do, I think,” he said. That I didn’t get around to replying. That I always just assumed there’d be another chance.
I don’t know what else to say about Ryan. I just know that I was goddamn lucky to have him in my life, for a while. He was one in a million, and I’ll miss my friend forever.