I was lucky to live my first 32 years without losing a friend to anything other than distance and diverging interests. That streak ended last weekend with the death of a great man, a great friend, Anton Cavka.
Anton barged into my life through Pete, a mutual friend in the party circuit in Tokyo. Shotgunning beers in his Harajuku office/house is among my earliest, hazy memories of hanging out with him. I reveled in his stories of alcohol-fueled insanity, female conquest, and the legend of his right cross from God. He was loud, bold, but with the humility necessary to know he was not everything – in his own words, he always sought out the most unapproachable person at the bar, whether male or female, and engaged them in conversation. He commanded attention, an archetypal alpha male – he was everything I was not, and I looked up to him immediately as a result.
That was late 2007 and Anton was at the top of his business game, having built his car dealing company from scratch into a thriving machine with 20 employees turning over thousands of cars. He was passionate about his work, and he had an incredible drive to toil all day long, then hit the bars until the early morn and do it all over again. What I admired most was his willpower to pave his own way, to make the orders instead of taking them.
Late that year I was on a ski trip with Pete when I noticed he was upset – something had happened to Anton. I had no idea what, and strangely I don’t recall ever knowing that he had cancer at the time. Even well into the next year when he was receiving double chemo doses every couple weeks back in his hometown of Melbourne, Australia, I didn’t know what he was going through or even ask. Maybe I was afraid to know, or maybe I just had too much faith that Anton’s power would prevail over any obstacle.
In any case, after hanging out only sporadically in 2007, during his chemo Pete and I became his main partners in his Tokyo escape from the intense suffering of the Melbourne treatments, which Anton described in a guest contribution to this blog. Over the weeks from April to September we downed bottle after bottle of sickly sweet apricot liqueur, washed prescription painkillers and antidepressants down with fine Australia reds and bottled Asahi, and watched Apocalypse Now, often twice per sitting, until we could quote every line even after consuming the aforementioned cocktails. We dined, hit the beach, we traipsed around the city in his bright yellow Hummer, and then later in his plush-as-the-living-room-sofa black Mercedes S500.
The defining point of the year was our trip to Shimoda at the end of the summer. We drove the Benz down with a cooler full of fine sausages, cheese, cab sav’s, imported beers, and the usual assortment from the medicine cabinet. After imbibing some of all of these we peered out on the ocean and saw a rock jutting out of the surface, perhaps a kilometer out. “Let’s go there”, Anton proposed. More sinker than swimmer, I was ready to get my shoes and walk to a point closer to the rock, but before I knew it Anton and Pete were gearing up with flippers and goggles, screaming “If I say it’s safe to surf this beach, Captain, then it’s safe to surf this beach!” and I had no choice but to fall in line. We plunged into the cool waters and took off toward our target. I gasped and gagged and struggled to stay afloat as the other two shouted Kilgore quotes between breaths. At least a couple times they had to hang back and help me as I reverted to panicked doggy paddle, which did little to aid my exhaustion.
Finally the great rock was large before our eyes and I had sacred solid ground to stand on. Then it was my turn to show these water rats what a land shark could do. A climber since youth, I scaled the craggy jut with bare feet and perched myself atop the world with arms outstretched. It was then that Anton, drunk and drugged, with months of accumulated poisoning through chemotherapy, having just dragged me a km through the waters of Izu, all the while screaming at the top of his lungs, steadied his hand and snapped the best photograph of me that has been or ever will be taken. He caught the single moment in time when I was as confident, as powerful, as bold as he.
After the great rock we waded in the waters of a nearby cave, laughed, smiled, and enjoyed the feat we had accomplished. More than just the swim, it was the culmination of five months of bi-weekly marathon hangouts with best friends, united by the single purpose of enjoying the life that we have. Those waters cleansed us, and the experience solidified the three of us as true friends in this journey.
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