Today I found out that Karin Portella, a woman who I used to work with at CNBC, died yesterday. She was younger than me. She had a stroke a few months ago, and I was very surprised when it happened because she was in good physical shape and you never saw her sitting at her desk gobbling Big Macs or anything like that.
Beyond that though, she had a very sweet disposition and was one of the most positive people you could ever hope to meet. Not positive in the empty slogan, bullshit sense, but the sense that she gave the impression of being someone who had figured things out, to a certain extent. Someone who seemed like she had already made the decision not to be brought down by the negative shit that goes on around us that we all too often get mired in, stuff that’s not really our problem.
I hadn’t actually seen her in two years. She left CNBC in 2013, and I put together an impromptu “let’s all go to a bar in Manhattan and get drinks in her honor” sort of thing. The day before that was supposed to happen, both me and a coworker were let go from the company. So Karin allowed it to become a “Farewell Karin and That’s Shitty What They Did to Dan and Colleen” party.
Usually when you throw little shindigs for people, even very informal ones, they want to be the star of the show, and if something bad happens to you, you’re expected to leave it at the door and not fuck up their party with your problems. Karin didn’t think that way. She opened it up to us and was just happy to have everyone there. As I was leaving she gave me a big hug and told me things would work out okay, and coming from her, I believed it.
Usually when something bad happens to you, people tell you it will be okay, and they have nothing to actually base that observation on — it’s actually almost a way of getting rid of you. She meant it, not on the level of “I foresee that your personal problems will be solved by X time due to Y happening,” but just in the sense that I would be okay because I was already okay. She wasn’t making an observation about what would happen to me in the next two weeks or how I would pay bills. It was in a larger sense than that and a broader perspective. You’ll be okay because you’re already okay. The details of the next few weeks don’t really matter.
We kept in touch sporadically through social media after that and I never saw her again. Most of her posts to Facebook were pictures of food and pictures of herself with friends and family members, who seemed to be having the time of their lives just being around her. She just lit up a room, and lit up the five or six people standing within ten feet of her in the process. Other than those photos, she would post inspirational sayings that, if anyone else posted them, would sound to me like completely insincere Dr. Phil bullshit. Somehow, when she did it, you never doubted her sincerity, and it never seemed trite or cloying. She may be the only person I’ve ever known who I can say those things about.
Since her stroke, I had checked in with her a couple of times to see how she was doing, and she was characteristically positive, even when there were tests and procedures coming up that would terrify almost anyone else, including me. On April 23, I sent her a private message through Facebook to ask how she was, and she said she was on the mend and doing well. I had no reason to believe that would be the last time I ever spoke to her, and I didn’t respond back. So my last contact with her was her saying she was going to be okay.
It struck me that I should feel guilty, maybe, about not responding to her, but I expected her to be fine and saw no reason why we wouldn’t talk again soon. Then today I read a status update from someone talking about her in the past tense. It was just a couple of sentences, but as I read through them and processed what he was saying, I could feel the gears in my mind turning and adding up that he was talking about her that way because her life was now over. It was about two or three seconds at most, but it elapsed in a really strange way, the way it can only be when you start a sentence and a person is alive and they’re gone by the time you hit the last bit of punctuation. You enter and exit the sentence in two different universes.
When someone I know has died, my instant reaction is that whatever I was doing, I shouldn’t be doing it, out of some sense that if I stop what I was doing, maybe it will bring them back somehow. It’s that and a feeling of “How can you be _________ at a time like this?” A feeling that anything you happen to be doing is now absolutely trivial, and whatever it is, you shouldn’t be doing it.
I tried to do some things that needed to be done today but it was all pretty half-assed and I’m still trying to get it together to get back to them. I don’t know how well that’s going to go. I don’t think Karin would want me to be unable to go on about my business, and if anything, I think she would be the sort of person who would want the grief associated with her passing to somehow get transformed into something positive. She wouldn’t want people rending their garments for her. She was above all things very aware of the fact that our time on earth is limited, and that it’s not there to be wasted, like we’re all going to be here forever. I don’t know what her spiritual beliefs were or if she believed in an afterlife or anything like that, but I believe she thought the purpose of life was to be happy and to enjoy it and focus on things that matter.
Having said that, I’m sorry that she’s gone. She was really and truly the kind of person you’d call a sweetheart and completely mean it.