This past July, I gave a book party for my friend Gully Wells. Christopher Hitchens—or Hitch, as he was known to me and just about everyone else—came, as did Martin Amis and James Fenton, who were among his closest friends. It ended up being a reunion of sorts. We’d all known each other for a long time; a million years ago, in London, I’d dated Hitch, and Gully had dated Martin. That evening after it grew dark, most people left, until it was just a small core group of us remaining, and drinks drifted onto my dinner table.
As the night wore on, the scene wasn’t so very different from that of our 20s, eating and drinking and smoking in the San Frediano restaurant, finally reaching that moment that was Hitch’s ideal: the “ruined table.” This meant one littered with the detritus of dirty plates and cigarette butts and stained wineglasses, but also one where the cacophony of chatting, laughing, and venting hung directly overhead, competing for airspace with a heavy, dense cloud of smoke and alcohol fumes.
There was nothing that Hitch liked to do more than talk—and all the better if talking meant arguing. Hitch didn’t care if he agreed with you or not; In fact, he’d be contrary just for the hell of it. Yet no matter how combative he got, it did nothing to diminish our—my—love and affection for him. And that night in July, he seemed exactly as we all remembered him. I saw Hitch again at Thanksgiving, when I went to visit him in the hospital. He was sitting upright heroically typing away on his computer, working on his next book, surrounded by the New York Times and all other types of paraphernalia, hell-bent on creating his own last ruined table. As Sir Winston Churchill said: “Let us command the moment to remain.”