Requiem for a friendship that should have been...
Every so often, my mind drifts back to memories of Samyak Veera, who was a friend of mine in middle school and high school. I knew him back then simply as Sam. We hated each other at first, but as we got older, I think a sincere, mutual respect and admiration grew between us. I couldn't help but marvel at his fierce intellect, his sharp wit, and his very, very strong personal ambition and drive. His exceeded mine in every possible way, and a big part of me couldn't help but resent him for it. After all, in my heart of hearts, I knew he was the better of us. Sam had a way of letting you know he was -- and would forever remain -- the smartest guy in the room.
When I started applying to colleges, Sam wrote me a peer reference letter. It was so eloquent, so moving...and so supremely crafted that I feared it'd provoke the colleges to bypass my candidacy altogether and extend Sam an acceptance letter instead.
By that point, as we were nearing the end of our time together in high school, I think I truly regretted that our friendship had taken so long to finally develop. We could have been closer, better friends much earlier in life, had our pride and vanity not gotten in the way.
Sam and I stayed in touch for a few years after college. While I struggled from one thankless, exhausting Hollywood job to another, Sam was making a name for himself, and building up his success in the stock market. I recall one phone conversation where, after I vented about being perpetually broke, he offered to help me get a job in NYC with an investment firm. Nevermind that I had absolutely NO experience in that field; he just wanted to help me. I politely refused, and continued with a life on the edge of desperation in the entertainment industry.
Around 2000 or so, Sam asked to read one of my screenplays. He liked it so much that he said he'd be willing to act as an agent on my behalf to get it sold. I was touched by his offer, but nothing came of it, nor the script. In retrospect, I wonder if his would-be involvement might have helped or hindered my career.
In the time that followed, we'd exchange occasional phone calls, but never managed to reconnect. By 2001, he was working with an investment/financial firm in the World Trade Center. Fortunately, Sam was visiting California during 9/11, while I, oddly enough, was visiting family and stuck on the east coast. Unaware of this, I was concerned for Sam's safety, and panicked when I couldn't get a hold of Sam's family. Phone lines in the tri-state area seemed down for days. I would eventually hear a voicemail message Sam left on my answering machine once I returned to California the following week. It was the only relief I felt following that tragedy.
I recall receiving an email from Sam a few years later -- I believe it was around 2005 or so, but I'm not sure. It was a short message, saying that he was leaving for India. I emailed him back, quoting Cavafy's great "Ithaca" poem, to wish Sam luck on the new chapter ahead of him. I can recall the poem by memory, thanks to a recording Sean Connery once made of it, that was scored by my favorite composer, Vangelis:
As you set out for Ithaca hope that your journey is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery. Laestrygonians and Cyclops, angry Poseidon-don’t be afraid of them: you’ll never find things like that on your way as long as you keep your thoughts raised high, as long as a rare sensation touches your spirit and your body. Laestrygonians and Cyclops, wild Poseidon-you won’t encounter them unless you bring them along inside your soul, unless your soul sets them up in front of you.
Hope that your journey is a long one. May there be many summer mornings when, with what pleasure, what joy, you come into harbors you’re seeing for the first time; may you stop at Phoenician trading stations to buy fine things, mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony, sensual perfume of every kind- as many sensual perfumes as you can; and may you visit many Egyptian cities to learn and learn again from those who know.
Keep Ithaca always in your mind. Arriving there is what you’re destined for. But don’t hurry the journey at all. Better if it lasts for years, so that you’re old by the time you reach the island, wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way, not expecting Ithaca to make you rich. Ithaca gave you the marvelous journey. Without her you would have not set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
And if you find her poor, Ithaca won’t have fooled you. Wise as you will have become, so full of experience, you’ll have understood by then what these Ithacas mean.
Following that email, I didn't give Sam much thought, as I was so preoccupied with other things. I was going through a lot at that time. My mom was dying, and I was dealing with a mounting whirlwind of dread, rage and grief.
With the advent of Facebook and other social media later on, I tried reconnecting with Sam. I always suspected he was destined for success and greatness. He certainly had the drive, the ambition, the fire, and the cajones.
In 2016, it was revealed that Samyak and his father were both involved in an elaborate $200 million tax fraud scheme -- one of the biggest ever perpetraded in New York. I won't bother going into the details of it all, as, even now, such dealings easily fly over my head. Sam had fled to India to avoid prosecution. Last I heard, he was still there, living in exile.
I didn't read about it until several months after the fact. Was I surprised by the news? I can not truthfully answer. But this much I am sure of: I miss the childhood friend I once had, and regret that our lives did not intersect again...at least in a way I wished they could have.
Why am I writing about this now? I don't know. Perhaps it has something to do with middle age, and the realization of lost youth. The things that should have been.
To Samyak, should he read this: I hope you're doing ok.
NOTE: I was tempted to dig up some photos of Sam and me during high school, but...something in the pit of my stomach just couldn't bring myself to do it. It feels too intrusive.