Remembrances: One

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?

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.

Goodbye, Naomi.

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.

3 Responses to “Remembrances: One”

  1. Gair Says:

    A fitting tribute for Naomi.

  2. Gair Says:


  3. hszymanski Says:

    Hello Joe,

    You may hear from Naomi Matsunobu in other ways now that you’ve shared your thoughts…  She would appreciate everything said and would no doubt enjoy catching up with your adventures in life.  I don’t have all the answers, but definitely have a few.  Naomi and I met at the Jewish Community Center in Margate for pre-school and then grew up on the same street in Mays Landing.  Perhaps you had a role in James and The Giant Peach or another play at New School?  They were all fantastic.  She had a lot of fun with you guys.

    Naomi is always on our minds and wrote an amazing life story that continues to inspire.  In a simple statement… she lived large.  I can list things out encyclopedia style like… she loved New York City, she traveled around the world for work & discovery, she was an artist and became very skilled at knitting and jewelry making, she thought of others before herself, Naomi was talented in any business she chose and many tried to lure her into a career path… she followed her own, she was more of a city girl then country, she put up with bag pipe music on St. Patrick’s Day… even though she hated it, she introduced us all to the latest & greatest going on in the world… art, music, food, literature, design, fun, life.  Maybe you expected some of these things?  Naomi also got into kick boxing and was training at a gym in NYC.  There’s excellent video around of her sparring.  She had planned to run the NYC Marathon and was running regularly before the big “C” hit while in school again.  It was out of the blue.  She never smoked and was in good shape.  She finished her masters in LA while in treatments and went on to fight like hell for longer then most all thought was possible.  I could go on, but will always remember her most by the feeling of joy surrounding her.  She loved life and shared the best of it with the rest of us.  

    There are a few stories you’d enjoy that would be better left off a public posting.  Naomi was somebody you could be your true self around.  She was my sister, though we looked a bit different.  Most of the time we just laughed and had fun doing the most ridiculous things.  She was definitely brilliant, but never took herself too seriously.  She could be incredibly silly and I loved that about her.  We’ll miss her forever.  And as much as I know about her, there is so much more that I don’t.  She still has a big world.  Perhaps we can all share a few stories.  

    Thank you for taking the time to post your thoughts.  

    Anyone interested, feel free to email me whenever.  Naomi’s parents are in South Jersey still and I’m in touch with some of her other friends from University of Chicago & later.