My friend Paul
By Seth Mates
As appeared on WWF.com, 9/14/01
This commentary has nothing to do with sports-entertainment. It has to do with a person. A person who – like the superstars of the World Wrestling Federation – was larger than life to those that knew him.
My friend Paul Battaglia worked on the 100th floor of Tower 1 at the World Trade Center and, since Tuesday morning, no one has heard from him. I am trying my hardest to stay positive, but with each passing moment it grows harder and harder. Writing has always been a therapeutic thing for me, so I wanted to write a little something for my friend to help keep hope alive through this terrible time.
Whenever I think of Paul, I think back to the second week of May in 1999. I was one week into my internship here at the World Wrestling Federation, and I decided to drive up to Binghamton that Friday for my best friend Jeremy's birthday. I was psyched -- aside from the high of my first week with the Federation, I got to spend the weekend with Paul, Jeremy, and our friends Doug and Randi. That was probably the closest-knit group of friends I've ever been a part of. Needless to say, that weekend was a blast, and one I will always remember.
One week later, I went over to Paul's house to watch the "Over the Edge" Pay-Per-View. About half an hour into the show, Jim Ross began explaining that Owen Hart had been in a terrible accident, and moments later, Jerry Lawler sat down at the announce table, and with a pale look on his face, informed fans that "it doesn't look good at all." I got a sick feeling in my stomach.
Paul -- who is not a sports-entertainment fan, and was watching the show just to hang out -- was convinced that it was just part of the show. "It's not real, sethmates," he said (he liked to call me by my full name). "He's fine. I know he is." As we all know, Owen wasn’t fine, wasn’t OK.
This past Tuesday, I watched the TV in horror as two airplanes crashed into the World Trade Center buildings. The first thing I did was check on my sister, who goes to school at NYU. Once I found out she was fine, I stated going through the names on my cell phone to check for anyone else who might have been there.
When I saw Paul's name, my heart froze. It was the same feeling I had that May night two years before. And I could hear Paul’s words from that May night echoing in my head as I tried frantically to get in touch with him -- "It's not real, sethmates. He's fine. I know he is."
This past week, I have spoken to people I haven't heard from in years. People I thought I'd never speak to again. People I never even knew. Yet through Paul I have been able to make an instant connection with each and every one of them -- an instant, tragic, heartbreaking connection.
As I sit here typing right now, three days after the tragedy, tears are still streaming down my face. A picture of Paul and I sits just inches in front of me on my desk, with Paul smiling that ear-to-ear smile that we are all so accustomed to. In fact, I was getting together some photos of Paul at work on Friday, and someone came over and asked, "Was this guy always smiling?" It sure seemed like it.
After that summer of 1999, Paul and I grew apart a bit. We were on different paths, and our friendship was never like it was for those few months – something I will always regret. But our friendship was such that we could go months at a time without seeing each other, and then when we finally did, it was like no time had passed at all. There’s people I see every day where a conversation is like pulling teeth. But every time I saw Paul, it didn’t matter how long it had been, or how much had changed in our lives – it was just Paul and Seth, two buddies who genuinely enjoyed each other’s company.
Paul had this innate ability just to bring out the best in himself and the best in the people around him. I wouldn't be where I am today if not for him -- if he wasn't there to be a friend in college, and there to offer a kind word or a friendly face during the summer that I interned here, I would probably wouldn't be one of the happiest people in the world, doing exactly what I've always dreamed of doing.
His absence right now has caused an emptiness in my life and in the lives of many others which will never –can never – be filled.
It's easy to crawl into a hole when something like this happens, to shelter yourself from the world and to just give up. I know that's exactly what I did on Wednesday and Thursday while waiting for news -- any news. But I can't -- we can't -- do that.
Right now, there's a lot of people crying, and a lot of people whose hearts are broken. I'm one of them. It's not going to get better for a long time, if ever. There’s a part of me still waiting to get a phone call that he’s OK – at which point I’ll hurt him, for what he’s put us through in the past week. But one thing we have to do through it all is keep a smile on our faces. A smile like the one I see whenever I close my eyes and see Paul staring at me.
I wish I knew how he did it, because I can't stop crying.
Paul will forever be a part of me. Whenever I listen my old college radio shows, I will take comfort in hearing his voice. When I watch the TV shows I did for my college station, I will fondly reminisce about going to Coney Island to get footage of Paul on the rides, or just hanging out with his Grandpa Jerry. I will always remember the way he said, "Issue Alpha!" right before he yelled at me. I will always remember the time that Paul, Jeremy and I were celebrity judges in the Miss Binghamton pageant, or the time we did a 24-hour radiothon and sold out our Campus Pub for the last time, or even just the time that Paul, Jeremy, Randi, Doug, myself, and several others got piss drunk, and laughed our asses off as Paul sang rap music while swinging around in his chair.
It would be wrong of me to ask you to say a prayer for Paul, since there are so many others who need your prayers more, and since you never even knew my friend. But what I will ask is that you do something this weekend that brings a smile to your face. I don’t care what; just do something that brings you some kind of joy, and brings some kind of happiness into your life.
Because smiling is the best way I can think of to honor my friend Paul J. Battaglia.