Afterthoughts: Prize Night

A one-year anniversary touches a tender nerve.

Photo: Linny Morris

Another summer, another awards dinner.

We’re at the Dole Cannery Ballroom for an annual industry function; sipping our standard $7 glasses of house wine and watching our nametags slowly levitate. They curl off from our jacket lapels, these sticky little scrolls, neither lying flat enough to display a name nor brave enough to let go and leap to the floor.

I’d been dreading this night, because it’s a painful reminder: the anniversary of the death of a friend. Last year, during this same awards dinner, my boss had pulled me aside.

“There’s a diver missing …” he said, gently. “And the name attached to this is Sergio.”

I immediately knew that our colleague, Sergio Goes, was dead. We’d just been working with some of his images of free diving—that is, diving to great depths without scuba equipment. He’d also recently survived an ultralight plane crash, while chasing some aerial photos. To Sergio, adrenaline seemed as important a piece of equipment as a flash.

This image of a free diver was taken by Sergio Goes in 2008.

Photo: Sergio Goes

I remember fuming that he’d gone off and done something dangerous again. How could he have tested fate like that? We sat there, numb, while his name was announced as a winner for several photographs he’d taken. 

At this year’s awards program, his name was again announced as a winner, but this time as “the late Sergio Goes.” What an odd expression, late.

“Late” doesn’t cover it. “Late” makes me feel tender and bitter; it means no more assignments, no more new images, no more Sergio with his fun, slurry Brazilian accent and stubbly face.

Another summer, another awards dinner.

Last year, the journalists’ group shared the Dole Cannery Ballroom’s convention level with, of all things, a mixed martial arts event. Our two sides made for an odd couple—the merlot-clutching reporters on one side, with our tablecloths and nametags—and the midriff-baring martial-arts crowd, with an actual fight ring set up. I heard there was even blood in the men’s bathroom.

This year, we shared the convention floor with a sunnier group: A huge gathering of Samoans for a lady’s birthday party. She was turning 70, and to mark the occasion, the family had obviously gone all out. Streams of her friends and ohana, the men wearing lavalavas, entered the ballroom for the honor of yelling “Surprise!” 

The party’s decorations intrigued me—they were pillars of coconuts, spray-painted a shiny gold and topped with floral arrangements. There was something touching about these coconuts, both glitzy and earthy. You could tell that someone had thought about the right materials to reflect the honoree’s heritage, and whipped them up in their garage.

Whether we celebrate a 70th birthday or not, whether we win prizes or not, we all hope our work lives on. We want to be seen in the photos we take, the words we write. We want to know that somehow through our efforts, there will be lingering, visible bridges to the people we loved, children we raised, colleagues we influenced.

We hope that we are remembered, and that if we’re really lucky, someone will spray-paint coconuts for us.