My exams are over (yaaay!), so I can finally get back to reading properly now. Instead of starting with a review right away, I wanted to write a post today about something more personal: friendship.
When I just turned 17 and the opportunity of online chatrooms opened up, I didn’t hesitate to go in. Talking to foreign people in other languages was a dream come true! That’s how I met Aditya, better known as Yogi, a guy from India who was studying at the Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, in the US. We became pen pals and also sent each other copious amounts of emails for months on end. When he suggested to fly to Holland and visit me, I thought that was some pretty exciting shit. Especially for a teenager with a very adventurous mind, yet who had been living in a small boring town all her life where nothing ever happened.
Yogi flew to Amsterdam and then hopped on a train to Utrecht. Some of his personal belongings were stolen on that particular train ride, so when my parents and I picked him up at the train station in Utrecht, he should’ve been well worn out and aggravated. Instead, though, he was still very cheerful and energetic. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but years later, I can only look back at it with utter respect.
He intended to stay in a nearby hotel for three weeks, but after two nights there, he got into a fight with the manager and we took him into the caravan/trailer we had in our backyard at the time. During those weeks, we developed an intense friendship; he became like an older brother to me. Endless games of badminton, trips to the city on a bike (he had never ridden a bike before, so that was certainly interesting), renting scary movies at the video store and watching them together until the wee hours of the night.
Yogi had been afraid of open waters all his life, yet I took him to see the sea anyways (I must’ve been such an awful person back then in a lot of ways). Even though he was scared out of his mind, he still ended up going into the water barefoot and carrying my 3-year-old nephew on his shoulders all the way. He was great with my sister’s kids, great with my parents and incredibly respectful towards them. Indian curries were made regularly by him for all of us to enjoy. And possibly develop high blood pressure from it because his food was salty as fuck. We were also introduced to sandwiches with strawberry jam and crushed Pringles. I believe he picked that up from his American roommates.
Of course, it wasn’t all unicorns farting rainbows all the time. Yogi was very passionate about music. I owned a variety of instruments, but he was particularly intrigued by playing on my keyboard. For as long as he could. Eventually, my parents bought some headphones for him because his keyboard playing skills…not so great. The enthusiasm with which he was playing, though, was admirable. Plus, hilarious to look at. Picture a typical American guy from the late ’80’s/ early ’90’s wearing white tennis socks, rolled up jeans and a pair of white Jordans under it. Then picture Aziz Ansari. Then combine the two dancing a bad version of the ‘Carlton dance’ while playing the keyboard with huge headphones on. Funny at first, annoying when that’s your view every day. Funny again now, though.
He also fell in love with me. Which isn’t all too great when you see someone as your brother. I eventually gave the romance a little shot, but it didn’t work out, so back to friends it was (that’s a longer story actually, but for the sake of keeping this post a bit more readable, I’ll leave it with that).
In December, Yogi came over again for 4-6 weeks. His family was supposedly related to the Indian royal family, so there was plenty of money available to make these kinds of trips. Due to the low temperatures, he stayed in our house this time and had a bedroom of his own. He was like part of the family, really.
In the years after, we didn’t have much contact, coming to a point where we had no contact at all anymore for nearly a decade (he did call my dad a couple of times in between on his birthday to congratulate him, though). He got married and got an amazing job at JPMorgan where he actually got to work on Wall Street, a dream come true.
Two years ago, he got back in touch with me. We wrote long messages to each other again every day, reminiscing about the past, discussing the present and pondering about the future. When my dad took ill in August 2014, Yogi tried to call him several times and sent him a get-well card. Right before Christmas, he wrote a long letter to my parents, thanking them for all their kindness and generosity, telling them that he was planning on booking a flight back to Holland to come over for a weekend soon and get a taste of my dad’s Oliebollen (and mix it up with some ice cream). Then, later in 2015, he would come over for a longer period of time to attend my wedding.
Now why am I telling you all of this, you might wonder?
On the evening of February 3rd, 2015, the Metro-North crash, also known as the Valhalla train crash, occurred:
“A commuter train on Metro-North Railroad’s Harlem Line struck a passenger car at a grade crossing near Valhalla, New York, between the Valhalla and Mount Pleasant stations, killing six people and injuring fifteen others, including seven in “very serious condition.” The crash was the deadliest in Metro-North’s history, as well as the deadliest such crash in the United States since the June 2009 Washington Metro train collision had killed eight passengers and injured eighty.
The crash occurred after an earlier accident on the Taconic State Parkway, which parallels that section of the track, had led to the road’s closure in one direction. The parkway was still closed around 6:30 p.m., when a Mercedes-Benz ML350 SUV driven by Ellen Schaeffer Brody, 49, of Edgemont, went north on Commerce back towards the parkway. Brody left work in Chappaqua at 6 p.m. and was going to meet a friend inScarsdale. Behind her was a vehicle driven by Rick Hope of Yorktown Heights, returning home from his job in White Plains.
At the grade crossing, Train 659 was approaching on the western track. The crossing gates descended, warning lights began flashing and bells rang. Hope says Brody’s SUV was in front of the gate as it descended, but not on the tracks. Had she simply remained where she was, he speculated, the passing train would have at most struck a glancing blow, perhaps damaging only the SUV’s front bumper.
The crossing gate struck the top of Brody’s SUV before sliding down its rear and becoming stuck. Hope backed up to give her room to do the same. He instead saw Brody get out and walk to the rear, apparently trying to free it. “What struck me was how calm she was—she didn’t seem to be panicking, or in a hurry at all, even though the gate was down,” he said later. “She wasn’t in a hurry at all, but she had to have known that a train was coming.” Brody looked at him, and he motioned to her to come back in his direction, although he allows that she may not have seen him due to the glare from his headlights. Brody then returned to her vehicle and, according to Hope, seemed to pause as if she was adjusting her seat belt. The train was getting closer and the situation more urgent. “The thing’s dinging, red lights are flashing, it’s going off,” he said. “I just knew she was going to back up—never in my wildest dreams did I think she’d go forward.”
Instead, Brody did move forward, roughly 30 seconds after the gate came down on her car, investigators determined later. The train, traveling at 58 miles per hour (93 km/h) before the accident, struck the SUV on its passenger side. “There was a terrible crunching sound, and just like that, the car was gone,” Hope said. “Disappeared. It happened instantly. There’s no way she could have known what hit her.” The train was traveling at 49 miles per hour (79 km/h) when it struck the car.
In the train’s front car, Chris Gross was suddenly thrown out of his seat. “I heard a loud bang and a lot of screaming,” he recalled. Flames were within a foot of his face; another passenger got the emergency exit open and pulled him out. The five passengers who died were all sitting near him, he claimed. Jamie Wallace, in the second car, said that passengers there initially tried to come to the aid of those in the front car, but “we could not get the head car doors open for some reason, it was jammed.” After failed efforts to break the door open, “[a] number of us started smelling fumes from the car, the fuel, and we said, ‘You know what, we need to get out.'”
Yogi was one of the five passengers who was killed in the train’s front car.
It happened on the 3rd of February, but no one knew he actually died until the 4th of February, exactly a year ago today. His wife and in-laws were notified that he was in the hospital, was doing fine and could be picked up the next morning. The day after, it turned out there had been a mix-up…the guy in the hospital wasn’t Yogi. Yogi, in fact, had died almost instantly in the front car during the collision. The only way he could still be identified was through his dental records.
(I had to laugh through my tears when I saw the picture of him popping up in that last video where he’s holding a guitar and there’s a keyboard in the background)
I didn’t find out about all of this until the 4th of March when his wife contacted me. The last mail I got from him was on the 31st of January, just a few days before he died. I kept wondering why he wasn’t responding anymore. Had I said something wrong? Did something happen? It was very unreal back then, and now, a year later, it still is. It’s so hard to grasp the concept of someone whom you know so well can just vanish within a few seconds. They said his body was charred like certain bodies were in some of the horror movies we used to watch together. All within those few lousy seconds. I still wonder almost every day where he is right now. If he can see me. If he knows the imbecilic things that I’m doing from time to time. If he’s a little angel on my shoulder, giving me courage through bad times. I’m not a religious person, but I just refuse to believe that he’s totally gone. I believe our friendship will last for eternity. And nothing or no one, not even a fucking SUV parked on the fucking rails, can change that.