Yesterday I was on the train coming home from an activity with my students in Providence and I decided to listen to the Paul Simon song “An American Tune.” While I was on the train, I saw yet another message from one of Pepi Leistyna’s friends on my blog. The whole thing brought tears to my eyes, the third time in so many days that has happened.
Since I wrote the first blog entry about Pepi, I’ve gotten so many messages from his friends, former students and family over the years. I was just writing about my feelings about the man. I actually thought I was writing about him with all of his flaws included, but it all seemed to touch a nerve with everyone. For me, I just needed to say how I felt about him and this is my forum to do that. I appreciate all the messages I have gotten and they remind me of what an impact he made on so many people. It also reminds me of what a tragic loss this really is.
A day after Pepi died, I went to the Applied Linguistics department at the University of Massachusetts. It is advising time, so I went to speak with my advisor to see what I would be taking next semester. Her office is next to Pepi’s office and the place was completely quiet. I have never seen a sadder group of people in my life.
That same night I had class with a professor who had known Pepi for over 20 years. He looked utterly heartbroken over the loss of Pepi and told some really funny stories about him, including the time they went to a conference together and Pepi pretty much drafted a man he met into being his chauffeur. That was Pepi, my professor said with this sad smile. He also told a story about how his son had run up to Pepi and gave him a hug when he came into the office. That was when I broke down in tears.
My professor is from the Midwest and by his own admission not an effusive or emotive person. That night we waited for the Red Line together, not even saying a word to each other. I looked over at him and he at me and we didn’t say a word to each other. He looked utterly devastated.
It wasn’t until Pepi died (I still can’t even believe I am saying those words) that I actually realized what I had with that Masters program and how great it had all turned out considering how little interest I had in actually attending. It will be over in six months. I’m sad for the people who will come after me and never get to meet Pepi and be taught by him and hear his crazy stories and generally have their lives changed by him. I hope the department is able to recover after this loss.
In the coming weeks, there will be a service for Pepi and multiple ceremonies and celebrations for him. I will be happy that more people will be celebrating his life, but at the same time it was make it all very real that he is actually gone.
Pepi loved photography and was a fine photographer himself, so I am attaching a few kind of darkly moody photos I’ve taken over the past few days. Photography captures feelings a lot of time and the melancholy I feel about Pepi: