As a writer, I thrive on details. I love minutiae. This love is perhaps what led me to the discovery that an hourglass holds five million grains of sand. I suppose in the back of my mind, I’ve always known that each moment is made of so much more than the weight that our constant movement grants it. Details—and the memory of them—are what separate just going through life and actually living. Almost seven months ago now, I was scrolling through my twitter feed, in search of random bits of life, when I found a random bit of death instead. Steven Sotloff, an American journalist, had been beheaded by ISIS in Iraq. Almost two years prior, I had gone on a date with Steven Sotloff. I had eaten Mexican food with him. I had sung along to shitty piano bar music with him. I had kissed him and told him I’d see him again. I had later told him—via text—that I needed time to figure out what I wanted in a relationship. I had never seen him again.
A chronic ruminator, I’ve spent crazy amounts of time over the past few months paralyzed by thought. Should I contact his family with condolences? Why didn’t I just go on a second date? Was he at peace? Was I entitled to grieve? We had only spent a couple of hours together. The weight of my pain could not and cannot compare to what those who knew him better must be feeling. It seemed, however, that each day I would add another detail to my memory of our date. I had assured myself that it was a mediocre first date, something that I could forget and add to my mental drawer of youthful folly. Steven’s death made it very clear to me that I wasn’t just dealing with a couple of hours. I was dealing with millions of grains of sand. The world at large knows one thing about Steven: the way he died. I cannot pretend that I knew him really well or that I somehow know what his wishes would have been. However, we initially connected because of writing. I do not think he would object to me bearing witness in the way I know how: words.
So here is what I know of Steven Sotloff. It is an incomplete picture, I am sure, of the person he was. But it is a prettier picture than what has been shown. He was charming and goofy. He studied the bill for our dinner as if it were an esoteric text, and said he felt cold as we walked to my car so he could put his arm around me. He loved people. He spoke warmly of his time overseas, of families he had met in Middle Eastern refugee camps, babies he had held, and mothers who promised to find him wives for doing so. He talked about his family and his hometown, and the things that he would show me when I went to visit. He wasn’t afraid to call me on my idealistic hippie bullshit or to decimate my comfort zone. My job, at a sustainable food non-profit was “feeding carrots to poor people,” and he would be glad to travel to the art show I was exhibiting in and “try not to laugh.” He made me sing along to “Lean on Me” in a damn piano bar. He walked me to my car and held me and kissed me and stared into my eyes. I had immortalized his kisses in my novel before I even knew he had died.
He asked me out again, and I declined. I can’t really say why; it just wasn’t meant to be. I feel I should mention that he might not have liked me that much, either. He isn’t here to tell us. My hope in writing this is twofold. One: Steven was a good person who deserves to be remembered as someone who, among other things, made me feel wanted and very nearly loved once upon a time. Two: Our lives are made of endless amounts of moments and details, limitless grains of sand, filling countless hourglasses. However, the only grain of sand we place value upon, unchecked, is the one that signals that our time is up. Value all of your moments. They may all look the same, but you never know which one is going to change everything.