On Losing a Gem

On Sunday, I lost one of my best Match Game Super Match players and one of my favorite people.

My friend Damien Bona, the only player to answer Jim Brady for:

Diamond Blank

died of complications from cardiac arrest, just a couple of months before his 57th birthday. If you were defining “heart” as something more than “a hollow muscular organ that pumps the blood through the circulatory system,” few people had a bigger, stronger heart than Damien. So I’m having a hard time processing his absence.

I met Damien at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. He was part of the what I considered the “old guard” of legal proofreaders, people of varying artistic accomplishments who worked normal hours. Damien inhabited the right corner desk in the 42nd floor proofreading room, by a bulletin board that was his for the most part. Fellow graveyard proofreaders jockeyed for his spot when his shift ended because it offered the best view of the room, the most privacy and usually something to read during downtime.

A few months after I started working at Skadden, Damien left a list of alternative Wacky Packages-like surnames he had made up for some of the other proofreaders. My name was “Robyn Dumbman.” Even though I was just one of many on the list, I couldn’t shake the sense that he thought I was stupid. So like a feral dog, I avoided him.

Then, maybe a year or so later, earlier shifts began opening up, and I grabbed up as many as I could. As a result, I found myself either overlapping with or working many of the same shifts as Damien.

I don’t remember the moment Damien and I became friends, although I’m guessing it happened on an evening when the only free desk was the one opposite his. I imagine I was shy and self-conscious at first, but Damien was like a parent, brother and friend wrapped into one. Seeing Damien at his desk made my metaphorical tail thump. I probably would have called him a people whisperer had I known the corresponding term back then.

One evening I was seething over a Pat Buchanan editorial in a day-old New York Post. Even though he was in the middle of a full-read redline, Damien took the tabloid from me, ripped out the offending column and using his red felt-tip pen, drew two devil horns on Pat Buchanan’s head.

“There. Isn’t that better?” he said. Then he posted it on his bulletin board.

Our conversations were nothing earth-shattering. Among other things, he told me about a certain mishap between Agnes Moorehead and Debbie Reynolds and rattled off which celebrities were gay. I got to tell him I grew up in the main house of what was originally Michael Curtiz’s country estate, while Jodie Foster (at that time, not while I was growing up) lived next door in the comparatively downscale carriage house.

Damien also looked out for me in ways you wouldn’t expect. On nights when I was working graveyards, he saved his desk, the best desk in the room, for me. One night he even stayed late so that this one proofreader, an overbearing former Wall Street banker who wore nauseating cologne, wouldn’t take the desk across from me.

When the man pointed out Damien’s shift had ended (man, was that guy an asshole), Damien waved him away, said, “You can find another seat,” and then continued to chat with me as if I were Audrey Hepburn.

I saw Damien one more time, in 1993. He was staying at the Century Plaza Hotel for something related to the Oscars, and I picked him up after work and let him take me to dinner at a trendy restaurant on Fairfax. Who knows what we talked about (I was working as an assistant at CAA at the time, so most likely he had to hear me rant about various indignities I was being subjected to[1]), but I was tail-wagging happy.

Thanks to Facebook, I reconnected with Damien in mid–2009. We picked up where we left off. When I posted a photo of windmills in Abilene, he remembered my parents almost named me Windy, instead of Robyn, because they liked that Association song. I congratulated him when his Giants won the World Series, even though I’m a Dodgers fan[2].

He “liked” a good cat photo:


Catnip, Baby!

And in a message he wrote, “I always enjoy seeing you on Facebook, Makes me smile.”

I felt the same about him.

The last correspondence we had was in December. My partner and I were driving across the country to visit her family, and I had posted a photo of the outskirts of El Paso with the comment “Texas!”

“Why?” he wrote.

Why? I’d like to pose that same simple question about him leaving so abruptly, but G-d doesn’t have a Facebook page.

I love you, Damien. It hurts like hell to have lost you. Rest in peace.

 


  1. Including the incident where, after my first boss humiliated me in the kitchen area, the head of housekeeping put her arm around me and said, “I pray for you every night. Every night I pray for you.”  &#8617
  2. Although I did note my (at the time) 100-year-old grandmother was thrilled because she used to watch the old New York Giants play at the Polo Grounds, which Damien loved.  &#8617

Comments

  1. What a nice tribute. I’m very sorry about your friend.

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