One night during Memorial Day weekend of 2014, my friend Bobby and I stood on the roof of a skyscraper residential building on 72nd street. As our friends and family partied around us and fireworks went off in the distance, we looked down upon New York City. I said to him, “Everything that we want is within reach, bro.” He agreed. Bobby, an aspiring filmmaker and music producer, was excited about new connections he was making in the television industry, and new material he had written that was generating a very positive response. I had just returned from Memphis where my first full-length play, Uniform Justice, (which I had written and directed) had completed a successful run. We each felt like we were on top of the world, literally and figuratively. That night, Bobby and I promised each other that we would only go higher from there. We promised we would push each other to stay focused, creative, and passionate.
Bobby Kashif Cox, or BKC, as my former neighbors from the Harlem brownstone where I met my wife would sometimes call him… or Kashif, which most of his other friends would call him. The names we called him helped to differentiate which circle of friends we belonged to… and he had a whole lot of friends. I met him in that Harlem Brownstone, shortly after he met Jenny, the woman who lived above me whom I planned to marry someday.
By Memorial Day of 2016, Bobby was months into a bout with stage four colon cancer. He was scared, but strong, wanting to get back to being his creative self. I was scared too. Actually, I couldn’t fully articulate what I was feeling, still searching for ways to come to terms with what was happening. That February I wrote a blog (Artist Fighting Cancer) about his fight in an effort to both process it for myself, as well as bring awareness to the combined efforts of his loved ones to raise funds to support his living and medical costs. I had recently been cast in a one-man play called The Actual Dance — a play about a man’s journey in coming to terms with his wife’s diagnosis and battle with breast cancer. I dedicated that role to him. He wasn’t able to see the performance, but he was with me in spirit. And so when that premiere performance in June 2016 was met with a standing ovation from a nearly sold-out audience, Bobby and I were once again on top of the world.
Riding a wave of love and support, BKC would continue to grab for whatever was within reach. After aggressive chemotherapy he got well enough to resume working. When he could, he would meet Jenny and me at restaurants and bars and we would catch up with laughter and crazy stories and sports talk and politics talk and music talk. We would check in with each other about our passion, and confirm that we were still climbing.
This past Memorial Day, Jenny and I visited Bobby at his home in Far Rockaway, NY. By this time his health had regressed as the chemo therapy lost its effectiveness, along with any other option to eliminate his tumors. He had about three weeks to live. I read to him a new poem that I was relieved to have just finished writing after a week of writers block, called “Light.” A poem I would be presenting in Las Vegas less than a week later, but this was the first time I had read the words out loud. I cried as I read it, as parts were so relevant to what I was feeling in regard to Bobby, especially the last few lines:
Light up the whole universe like a comet, your coronation is now
We’ll meet you at the horizon
We won’t be there forever but our light will ever be shining
Because energy never dies
With potential so immeasurable
That to fathom such size
Our only option would be to look to the skies.
A poet himself, Bobby loved it, saying the piece made him think of one of his favorite poets, Langston Hughes. As the three of us talked, I kept wondering how we would fulfill the promise we made to each other three years prior. There is so much that we are supposed to do here, yet he is dying at the age of 33. At one point Jenny stepped out of the room and Bobby said to me, “I have so much that I still want to say.” I replied, “I know.”
That afternoon we all danced together—right there in his room—Me, Jenny, BKC, and his younger sister. Bobby got the party started. He picked up the remote, turned the channel to BET, and lifted his arms to the music. Next thing you know, we’re line dancing as Bobby is recording it all on his phone. He joked that he’d be on his feet with us if the tumor wasn’t holding him down. This energy of Bobby’s that lit up the room, that lit up the universe for 33 years, will never die.
The morning of June 14, 2017, Jenny told me that Bobby had passed away. I no longer get to push him to be focused, creative, and passionate, although he continues to push me. Kashif has gone higher, though. Higher than I imagined. To a place where he can continue to live in the hearts of those who love him, his spirit embracing us from every direction. BKC is on top of the world. I love him, and I miss him deeply, and I will cherish him and channel his passion as best as I can. I am proud of who he was on this Earth, and grateful to have been a part of his world. These feelings replace the fear I had a long time ago. These feelings will allow me to continue climbing, with hopes to eventually catch up with Bobby at a new horizon.