My friend, neighbor and Darden classmate Justin Key died last week of complications from swine flu.
There. I wrote it. Perhaps now I will start to believe it’s true. Justin passed away on the first day of our holiday break and I’m still expecting to see him, standing outside my apartment door, cracking jokes and asking to borrow my vacuum, when we return for classes next month.
Justin wasn’t just my neighbor and classmate. We went to church together and hung out with friends on the weekends. He started our apartment block Sunday barbeques where he would man the grill while the rest of us snacked on appetizers and acted as his sous chefs. Justin was a friendly, attentive host and his weekly barbeques were a much-needed break from the fast pace and frenetic demands of Darden.
But the thing that solidified our friendship was salsa dancing. The week he moved in, I discovered that he, like me, was an avid salsa dancer – only he was far better than me. Once a week, we’d visit Charlottesville’s only salsa scene and spin across the floor. Dancing with Justin felt like flying.
When the dancing was particularly good, when I caught all his cues and we pulled off a very difficult turn, I’d look up and see his huge grin. He simply couldn’t hold it back. Justin would start laughing as we danced, overcome by the joy of executing something so perfectly that it felt effortless. We were flying together.
I could make a laundry list of the things that made Justin special – his smarts, his distinctive laugh, his quirky sense of humor, his generosity, his patience, his ambition, his talents – but those pieces don’t add up to the whole person. The whole Justin I’ll remember is the guy who laughed out of pure joy as he spun across the dance floor.