I always knew I’d hear the name Naomi Matsunobu again. I expected it would be with an announcement of an award, or her curing a disease, or her appointment to the Supreme Court, or something similarly momentous.
I didn’t expect it to be with a link to her obituary.
I went to school with Naomi, and even when we were both 13, I knew she was going to be accomplished. She wasn’t flashy, or overtly ambitious, or anything like that. She seemed to me to be supremely determined, and focused. She set herself a goal, met it, and moved on to the next goal, with the quiet assurance of someone who knew what she wanted to do. It was not the whole of her personality by any means, but it seemed to me her defining characteristic.
So when I heard she died from lung cancer at the start of December, I tried to think back to the last time I’d seen her. We went to school together until the eighth grade, and after that I saw her…I saw her after that, didn’t I?
Apparently not, at least not enough to make any significant impression. And I wanted to know this woman who had once been my friend, so I went looking for something about her. A Google search turned up remarkably little. There were the “Is this you” web sites that are generated automatically for just about anyone. There was her obituary, and a few different links to the guest book associated with it. The only thing that could really be said to be about her was an online resume. But somehow, it told all the story I needed.
She graduated from college in 1993, which means she got through high school or college a year faster than she was supposed to. Then she spent a year at Chiba University in Japan. Two years in an import/export business, then spent five as a professional translator, while dabbling in Architecture at the City College of New York. Then back to import/export, working with a metallurgy company. A single line sticks out: “Supply-chain logistics management of…hazardous goods.”
By the start of 2007, she was back at school, at USC, studying Urban Planning. She got her Master’s Degree and spent a year with the LA Community Redevelopment Agency.
On May 17, 2008, she wrote “Naomi Matsunobu is seeking full-time employment in Urban Planning/Design.” That was the final update.
I have questions of course; too many to list. I could probably find people who would be able to give me the answers, but even if they didn’t have other things on their mind right now, it would be like reading an encyclopedia. I could learn about her history, but I wouldn’t know her any better than I do right now. But what the resume brought home for me was that despite all the years, my memories of my friend were still correct: she set her goals, met them or exceeded them, and then moved on to the next, deliberately and without fanfare.
I cannot say that I knew the woman who died earlier this month, because it had been too long since we spoke. But my memories of the girl who would grow into that woman leave me no doubt that I am the poorer for not keeping her as a friend.
There are a couple more of these I need to write, about people who were important to me, both for myself and for the others they left behind, who should know–should have long since known–what they meant to me and did for me. But first, I think, I need to track down some people who I’ve been sure I’d hear from again eventually.