I have a 20-years-old Barbie Polaroid camera, and my friends know how much I am attached to it. I carry this pink camera everywhere, and I am usually annoying, asking people to pose in front of it. I have 3 years of life in China hanging on a wall of my bedroom. Few days before leaving China to come back to Italy, I was looking at all these pictures, and I realized in most of them there is a crazy blond hair guy. His name is Jon Micheal Benz, and he is one of my best friends. I know he wouldn’t like to be called a tattoo artist, neither painter or fashion designer. It is impossible putting a label on him, and this is what makes him damn cool. I saw Jon Micheal for the last time on January 28th, 2020. Back then, the virus spread in China and was still seen as a very far danger for Europe and the rest of the world.
My dormitory was under lockdown, and after a week of quarantine isolation, it started looking like a jail. I remember there were smokers in the dorm asking and craving around for cigarettes, already became a luxury god only available in the world outside the university campus. As in every respectable jail, Jon Micheal had the role of the prisoners’ tattoo artist: going against any hygienic rules, he was goofing around with his tattoo machine practicing both on his and some students’ skin. On January 28th, Jon Micheal left for Cambodia. We planned this trip weeks ahead of the lockdown: I had a ticket to reach him on February 7th, along with my friend Megan. That same week of February, I ended up landing in Rome instead. I remember Jon Micheal leaving for Cambodia heartbroken, sad and uncertain about the future.
I thought it was crazy that he was still planning to leave for the trip to Cambodia during a virus outbreak, but now I regret I didn’t join him in his last insane adventure. For Jon Micheal the holiday in Cambodia turned out to be a journey around South East Asia that lasted almost two months. He seemed running away from the virus, the worries, and the past. I asked him several times about what happened during his trip across Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand: he said it was terrific, he carried his tattoo machine and gained some money with it. He had a lot of fun, but he also never felt that lonely before. I knew why. He hates goodbyes. That night before he left, we actually didn’t say each other a goodbye, but sounded more like “see you, have fun in Cambodia.” The morning after, I was expecting him to knock my door, claiming for his usual cup of Italian coffee, but he was already on a flight to Phnom Penh. We were both too scared to say goodbye that we actually didn’t. And maybe this is like Jon Micheal’s last cigarette, this isn’t over yet.
A part of me likes to think that one day in the future, I will enter his messy studio again, and I will see him sitting at his usual spot. He will be there throwing bleach on a pair of jeans or creating something cool from a bunch of old clothes like he was doing the last semester, or just tattooing himself in the worst hygienic conditions. The table he is working on will look like a complete mess, but I will sit in front of him despite the strong smell of bleach. I know that as soon I sit, he will just steal my coffee and ask:
“Do you want to eat malatang for dinner?” and I will answer, “Sure. Let’s go.”
See you soon, JM. See you soon, my friends.
“I can’t write about the past it is painful. It is painful because I can’t write about the future. It is too unknown. So I don’t know if my past has any purpose in my future. I’ll just write about what is happening now. I am at home, I just smoked a bit of spliff with some tobacco from my last thai cigarette (it is just a normal cigarette, it is just from Thailand). It is meant to serve two purposes: one is to be a symbol of my trip, all the cigarettes I smoked. This last one is a lucky cigarette (one that you flip over and save until it is the only one left). I think I’ll hold onto it. Hold onto that luck, hold onto Thailand. If I never smoke the last cigarette it can feel like the trip isn’t over yet. The trip and life for all of us was truncated (cut off suddenly). Those of us at home, those of us in China, those of us travelling. There is an overwhelming feeling that everything is paused. That once this is all over that we will all return. That we will see each other all again. This is so unknown. But the feeling is there. The cigarette is there. This is not over, just a pause. For most of the people in my recent life, the friends and families and significant others that have been next to me for the past 2 and half months of my life. They are all gone. I will likely never see them again. They are so solidified in my heart and in my eyes. I can still see their face and hear their voice. I still known what they would say or do and I still want to see them. To hang out on more time. Party until the sunrise. Maybe I am still holding onto that because I am worried I’ll never find experiences like that ever again. I always collect garbage, trinkets, memories, I can hold. Polaroids. Because the fact is probably will never have experiences like that again. I’ll never forget what has happened what I have been through it. If anything, I’m excited. If these past experiences have taught me anything it is what I don’t ever want this to end. I want to keep traveling. Keep meeting people. I saw a tattoo that said “take me out tonight because I want to see people I want to see life” I think it is like this. I never want it to end. If this has taught me anything it’s that I don’t want to die…
The second reason I am keeping the cigarette is to quit. If you have no cigarettes, you will buy a pack, then you will have many cigarettes. I have one cigarette and I don’t want to smoke it.“
Jon Micheal Benz