31/10/1974 – 2/11/2022
By Simon Downham-Knight
Twenty days ago, my heart was broken when I heard that my best friend, Clinton Lopez, had been killed in a road traffic accident in his home country of Canada. I was asked to speak at his Memorial Service and the following is a transcript of what I said:
The minute I laid eyes on Clinton Lopez, at the Callan School in London, with his afro and flares and African shirt; booming his booming loud voice and laughing his huge infections laugh, I wanted to be his friend; I wanted him to be my friend. It was the day after the 2002 Oscars and I had an idea for a risky joke that could have gone badly wrong but I went for it anyway and Clinton looked at me with utter confusion and, for a moment, I thought I had made a terrible mistake. I shrugged; smiled widely and broadly at him, and we both burst out laughing. He later told me that for a moment he didn’t know whether to punch me or to hug me. I’m glad he didn’t punch me because from that moment on, we were friends.
I have always been a physical man. I like to playfight and roughhouse and wrestle with my friends, but Clinton was on another level. His roughhousing didn’t feel like play fighting; his slaps would bite, and his punches would wind. The first time he thumped me in the chest and knocked the wind out of me, I was shocked. I looked up to see him grinning from ear to ear with a twinkle in his eye, slapping at my hands and face and chest, egging me on to hit him back. Then he punched me, in the same place, even harder, again and I knew I had to go hard or go home with this man.
I moved to Japan in 2005; Clinton followed me out there in 2006 and we worked at the same school together. Our Japanese boss invited us into his office just before Christmas and told us he was giving us a big bonus. When Clinton heard how much it was, he grinned and clapped his hands and grabbed me round the neck and tried to wrestle me to the ground. I fought back and the two of us grunted and tussled and grappled and fought in front of our utterly bewildered and speechless boss. Clinton managed to grab me with both arms around my legs and lifted me high over his head. Being top heavy I swivelled in his arms and spun 180 degrees and smashed my head on the carpet, giving me a concussion. A week later, still not recovered from the concussion, he randomly decided to fight me again at work. This time, hefting me up onto his shoulders and body slamming me on the floor and breaking three of my ribs. I know it was three because I heard each of them crack.
A night out with Clinton would usually involve some physical altercation or another; another time he took a flying rugby tackle at me and Spanish Tony in The Green Man Pub on Berwick Street, causing the three of us to burst through the double doors into a three man pile on the street outside, confused and giggling on the pavement.
He was a formidable foe, but an amazing ally. For a good looking man, he had a complete lack of vanity and a total lack of inhibition and this was something that I not only admired but aspired to. He had no qualms about telling everyone that he had wet himself on the train on the way home from a drinking session; or peed into the keyboard of his brand-new laptop just a few days after buying it and completely destroying it; or telling his colleague that he had taken his new girly mag into the toilet to sort himself out with during a break. It was refreshing and beautiful and I wanted to be more like that. I am a lot more like that now, and I thank Clinton for that. And I thank the Universe that I was privileged enough to get the chance to know him; be known by him and love him and be loved by him and learn from him and teach him.
He was the best person to get drunk with and the best person to get blazed with. I could stand here for hours telling stories of the many times we were miles from home, miles from nowhere, completely intoxicated, with no money and no way to get home but there was always a way to get home.
Clinton told me about Ananda early in our friendship. This amazing, funny and wise woman that, it seemed to me, had stolen his heart and still had it locked tight in a box.
Clinton had a lot of girlfriends in the time I knew him. He would get together with them; with the best of intentions and would be happy for a short while, but soon, the inevitable truth would slowly dawn on him. They were not Ananda. Nobody could live up to this woman. This woman I had never met and whom I thought I would never meet. The one that got away; came into his life and made her mark deep into his soul and then was gone. I had been thinking for years that Clinton was never going to settle down with anyone; he was just going to repeat this pattern over and over again. But that did not happen; early in 2015, Clinton told me that he and Ananda had started talking again and had not stopped talking. He had gone down to Maryland to stay with her and that they had decided to make a go of things; get married and put down some roots in Canada. I was thrilled for them both. I got talking to Ananda on Facebook and she was just as amazing and funny and wise as Clinton had always said.
Clinton loved being a family man; loved being part of a family. He loved being a husband to Ananda and a father to Adahy, Inteus and Songun. I think the last seven years or so have been the happiest in his life. I am very grateful to Katie and Jean and Martine and everybody else for inviting me into your home and letting me spend this time celebrating and grieving with you. As sad as it has been, it has also been amazing.
Clinton taught me how to be a better man; he taught me how to be a stronger man. He taught me that it is ok to have a body that shits and pisses and bleeds and comes. He taught me that it is ok to be weak sometimes and the world feels diminished with him gone; somehow smaller and colder and meaner, but I will never forget him. There has been a Clinton who lives in my head, during these last years where the miles have separated us – who laughs when I say a funny joke – who tells me when something’s cool or when someone’s great – who calls me out on my bullshit when I’m fucking up. I love Clinton. He still lives in my head, and I will tell everyone I meet about him and carry him in my heart until I die.
Copyright 2022 – Simon Downham-Knight