Editor’s Note: Intare “JJ” Sanani was born on Jan. 22, 1998 and passed away on Dec. 13, 2019. He was a fourth-year pre-biology major at UC Santa Barbara. Below is a collection of memories and words to live by written by those closest to JJ.
Section I: Introduction by Gilbert Nazari
A whole community has lost a legend.
The truth of JJ’s life was obvious. The smile on his face meant what you thought it did, and the concern behind his voice was always genuine. JJ’s life at UCSB was filled with adventure because he knew the value of a life, before his closest friends had to realize it.
We lost JJ Sanani on the night of Dec. 13, 2019 — at the end of finals week in fall quarter.
He smoked Lucky Strikes (no filter) and drank Natty Daddy. He would rock a fit with sandals, too-short running shorts, a colorful shirt, a thick tan overcoat and some shades. When you told him something shocking, he always furrowed his brows and made a concerned face. He grew his hair out all year, and they were long enough where we called them worms. He was taller than everyone, and so he was able to really put his arm around you and he always pulled you closer. He would drop his head down to your level and say, “Listen…” before saying his words after you finished your story. He was a people person. He had love for everyone — himself, his closest friends and the friends that pissed him off most.
If there was an article written about JJ that did not mention the partying, the author did not know him. In a large crowd, JJ would always be caught with the biggest smile and unmatched excitement. Combining his hair, clothes and height, he was always the first one to be spotted in a crowd and he embraced all of that love. Believe me when I say that JJ always danced. And since he was so tall, so were his limbs, making him a bit lanky. Nevertheless, the man was able to move his hips (and we all knew it). I, and many others, are thankful that he provided an avenue to enjoy so many rowdy nights out. There is a video I have on my phone where JJ is on the roof wobblin’ so hard you couldn’t miss him. He stayed in his prime.
JJ would never answer his phone when people really needed to find him. Yes, it was difficult to get a hold of him, but once he locked his eyes on you — he didn’t let you go. JJ has pushed through crowds of people to put his arm around his special people and ask, genuinely, how they are. In those moments, his love showed so much that it melted everything else around him. Only you existed for a few minutes. He was down for the people, the thrill, the memories, all in an effort to battle the fleeting time of college.
Talk about living in the moment — the man constantly lost his phone. And his wallet. There were times where we talked about it and he told me that he kinda liked not having his phone because he would avoid distractions. The only way he could tell the time was by listening to the bells of Storke Tower. He was proud of living in the now, without any extra worries. Not only did he survive, but he thrived.
For sure, you notice his clothes and his hair, but his smile was beyond words, and you only ever saw it at its fullest. JJ’s truth lived on through his laugh. It’s easy to say that everything could be a joke to JJ, and his infamous chuckle is something that I hope my ears never unhear. He was also able to make you feel like he was truly listening to you. He asked all of the right questions, in the middle of it all. He knew how to console all of his friends, and he was appreciated for it.
Not only did he listen loudly, but he made sure we knew he loved us. He made sure to tell me on many occasions how much he loved and trusted me. It helps me to know that so many in Isla Vista got the same kind of treatment. He took the time to have those one-on-one conversations whenever it was needed. I am taking the time, now, to recognize that. I have a vivid memory of standing on his balcony during summer session where he told me something like, “You don’t get it Gilbert, I seriously seriously trust you — and you’re one of the only people I can say I’ve trusted with my life since day one. I don’t think you’ll ever get it dude, you are a special guy.”
The only person I was glad to have laugh at my problems. In the end, he was always able to bring it back to how tiny we are compared to the universe, and why that means we should just make the most of our life in motion. JJ was a reminder to not let it pass by you.
JJ was also known for being very vocal about his values and was not easily persuaded. From topics on religion, politics, education, social life and ethics, we’ve had all of those debates in my old bedroom. The point is that though JJ never really came out on top of those debates; he was humble enough to ask more about it and to concede when it was appropriate. To be able to admit fault and to adapt is rare. During freshman year, he would always get in arguments with our friend Daniel, and I had to come up with a safe word: “dolphins.” Look, a safe word for bickering sounds ridiculous, but it worked. Every. Single. Time. He stayed humble. All of this to say that JJ still fought to the end, with his teeth and his knees. His passion is what we all remember. Those values that he held closest to him, he never let go. He knew what it meant to respect and appreciate those he cared about and stood up against unfairness. It was hard to make him sit down.
Above all, JJ was known for being kind and loving. It was a unique love because it was so widespread. I don’t need to mention all of the times I’ve been stopped while we were walking together because everyone wants to say hello. His genuine words with individuals, his spirit filled with fire and his humble admiration for his friends around him is what he leaves for the rest of us. The irony is that my first memories with JJ are about discussing all the adventures that UCSB had to offer us, but JJ did not know that he would end up contributing to the community itself. JJ’s impact on Isla Vista was larger than he could even imagine, and he would be damn happy to know that he touched so many people.
Section II: A Mosaic – Accounts by those closest
Growing up with JJ, he always took a genuine interest in my life and my problems. He always had this profound wisdom he would share with me to uplift my spirits and he knew the right times I needed to hear it. I remember a time back in high school when I was going through a bit of a slump in my life and JJ and I were together hanging out in the backyard of my old house when he expressed to me, “Brandon, you do know that you’re my brother and one of the most unique and charismatic individuals that I have ever met in my life, right? I mean, that’s why so many people love you.” That statement hit me so hard I remember it to this day and it changed my whole perspective of who I am as a person. He just knew what to say and when to say it. No one else could give me those types of inspirational pep talks like JJ did because no one really knew me like he did. His uniqueness, selflessness, wisdom and authenticity amazed me throughout our friendship. He also had a catchphrase he would always say to me that described his life so perfectly, which was “c’est la vie,” meaning, “that’s life.” JJ always lived life to the fullest, fearless of risks and valued human connection with every single person he came in contact with. I would be a bit nervous about JJ organizing my bachelor party, but I used to always tell him that he was going to be the best man at my wedding. I knew regardless that he is my best man and will always be in my heart.
Words to Live by: It’s not about having anxiety for the future or regret from the past. It’s about living fully, like JJ did, in the present moment in our lives.
Upon first impression, JJ was notable for his good looks, his sense for cynical — yet truthful —humor, his nice smile and his unquestionably good sense of style. But one way that he really stood out in our community of Isla Vista was in his listening skills. In our modern day of technology and distractions, you will rarely come across a person who had the listening skills that JJ had. I always really enjoyed talking to him because a conversation with him was always rich. He was generally interested in what the people around him thought regarding deep subjects, such as the state of the world, science, religion and theology. Whether he knew you for days or years, he could engage with almost anyone at any time and make them feel that he was truly thinking about their words.
I really appreciated this quality of his when I was his roommate. Over the nine months that I lived with him, we got into some quarrels as roommates often do. Though at some points we wanted to bite each other’s heads off, we almost always could come to some conclusion and better understanding of one another that would help us resolve our issues. I think we both realized that oftentimes the anger we expressed at one another had sources that were external to our relationship, and that through discussing our issues, we understood each other better and the anger dissolved. One profound way in which he expressed his understanding was when I would call him out on his bullshit. After explaining to him why I thought his behavior was immoral or why it was bothering me, sometimes he would say, “You’re right, I’ll do better next time.” I’ve never met anyone who could admit fault like he could and who had the humility to tell someone else they were right when he realized they saw he was wrong. As I got to know him more and more, I really felt that he was one of the truest friends I had in my time at UCSB. Though it didn’t always seem like it through his flaws, I came to realize that he genuinely cared for all the people that were a part of his life, and he showed that he cared through how he spoke and listened to people. I really liked that he had this quality, which is so rare these days. When I think of him, I miss the pleasant and unpleasant conversations we used to have.
Words to live by: Put down your phone to listen to what the people physically around you say, and try to understand where they are coming from. This is a positive quality that will help you make others feel special in our modern world.
I met JJ on the first day that we moved into Anacapa Hall, and it has been an adventure and friendship I could never expect. Coming to terms with such a loss, I can at least grab onto those moments where he told me, “I trust you more than anyone else out here.” He was able to share those moments of truth when I didn’t know I needed them. I will never forget how intensely JJ would introduce me to the people that were around him. Since I missed a year of college, I was always behind with meeting so many mutual friends, but JJ never stopped introducing me with fire in his words. He would tell people “I love this guy more than anyone!” or “You don’t know how lucky you are to meet Gilbert.” The passion in those introductions is something I’ll never forget. He’d wrap his long arms around my neck just to share me with his friends — making connections. Even his own backyard party where there were too many heads to count, when he saw my face in the crowd, he went after me. And he stayed so passionate about speaking beauty of his friends that I can’t forget it myself.
Words: When you love someone enough, you let them know. And when you introduce them to the friends you love, introduce them like your life depends on it.
Over the years, I’d run into JJ and, no matter how much time had passed, or what he had going on, he made me feel important and cared for. I think the thing he would tell me the most was just to relax, that I worried too much about everything. JJ taught me so much about how to enjoy life even when everything seems to be going wrong, because JJ knew that life was a gift and he wasn’t going to waste it. Even though we grew apart as life got in the way and sometimes weeks would go by without us seeing each other, every time we did, it went the same way. He’d show his big, toothy smile and shake his head, looking up to the sky with that carefree laugh, then he’d scoop me up in his arms and hug me tight enough so I could smell the stog he was probably smoking a few minutes before.
One time during our sophomore year, we ran into each other like this and JJ seemed especially excited. He started telling me about a class that he knew I would absolutely love because the majority of the work was done playing at recess with elementary schoolers. JJ and I would dream about being pediatricians together our freshman year of college. He reminded me of this and had me convinced. I remember the first time I went to a recess with him. To this day, I have never seen kids that excited to play with someone. Within a few seconds, the kindergarteners had climbed up and all over him. He had kids hanging from his arms, holding onto his legs, climbing onto his front and back and a few ran circles around him. He just looked at me and smiled so big. JJ was completely content; he loved these kids just as much as they loved him. The sight of a JJ jungle gym was so funny, and such a pure representation of who JJ was.
Words to Live by: Take care of those that you love and always let them know. JJ would carry you until his back broke and smile about it. He would make you laugh until you cried, or stop crying because you were laughing too hard. He’d call you out when you needed it but knew how to distract you. He was a true friend beyond space and time, and he will be forever missed.
JJ and I had many great memories which I will cherish for the rest of my life. I will always miss that amazing sense of humor, his inquisitive mind, his wonderful outlook on the world and the people he shared it with. Through the way he lived, he taught us all so much about how important it is to have a positive attitude and how that positivity can encourage those around you. The most important thing I learned from JJ, however, did not come from one of those great moments I was able to share with him. Instead, it came after one of the worst arguments I’ve had with a close friend. JJ was always incredibly sensitive to the feelings of others and was deeply in tune with his own feelings. That being said, one time he and I had a horrible argument where we hurt each other’s feelings and said some terribly damaging things to one another. However, in an act that was truly reflective of his character, JJ came into my room the next morning and told me that he was still deeply upset with what was said between us but more importantly, he said that he genuinely cherished our friendship and that our relationship meant more to him than anything that happened the night before while letting me know he still loved me deeply. JJ always sought to make things alright with everyone and was willing to put his friends above himself in all cases. He displayed an emotional maturity and deep level of caring for those around him that is simply invaluable and somewhat rare for people our age. No matter the instance, he sought to be the best person he could be and made a genuine effort to bring light and happiness to those around them. He never shied away from being the bigger person in order to preserve what he cared about more than anything else — his friendships and relationships with those he loved.
Words to Live By: JJ taught us to love deeply and to do everything you do with your entire heart, to be genuine with those around you and most importantly, to never let anything get in the way of spending time with those you love. It is because of this beautiful legacy that JJ will reign forever in our minds and our hearts.
It’s been 89 days and from time to time, I still forget that you are gone. When I watch the sunset and remember the raw conversations we had, I think of you. When I see someone trying so hard to become a better version of themself than they were the day before, I think of you. When I see someone who is hurting but tries to run from their pain by loving others harder, I think of you. The expression we had for you was “tell me you love me.” This quote was so perfectly representative of who you were: an expression that showed your vulnerability, but also your strength. You weren’t afraid of talking about topics like love with me. You showed me the importance of not being afraid to share your true emotions with both those you love and those you had just met. By doing this, you were able to create a bond that was individually special, raw and unique to each person you talked to. You had a way of pushing my buttons just hard enough to see how deep I could go. You weren’t afraid of seeing my pain, but instead, you would often seek it out just so you could show me that I wasn’t alone through it. You pushed me through stuff I didn’t want to deal with because you truly cared about me. Finally, JJ, you taught me how to love unconditionally, through all of the darkness. You are forever in my heart. I’m sorry that I didn’t tell you I loved you enough when I could have. When I see you up there, you won’t have to ever say our quote again. Until then, with my whole heart, I love you buddy. Rest easy, brother.
Words to Live By: Don’t be afraid to smile in the face of your own vulnerabilities.
JJ was the first person that I met at UCSB and living with him in the dorms our first year was an experience I’ll never forget. Going into college, I knew that JJ and our other roommate, Jack, had been good friends since high school. I was definitely worried that I would be the odd man out, but JJ put that fear to rest on the first day that I met him. Talking to JJ was always so easy, even if the subject matter got serious, and he quickly became my closest friend at UCSB. I started freshman year as an introvert, but JJ helped me get out of my comfort zone and I met most of my close friends through him. I remember my favorite moments with him were late at night when we would sit by the lagoon and just talk about all the crazy stuff happening to us. There was this spot that we would chill at almost every night that looked right over the water. We were there after my first breakup and after my first failed college class, and he was always so quick to remind me of all the good stuff happening in our lives. He was just such an easygoing person that it was hard to stay upset around him. JJ was a true friend and he helped me get through some of the toughest moments of my life. I honestly don’t know what I would have done without him.
Words to Live by:
What we are going through right now is only temporary and in no way defines us. We are in one of the most beautiful places in the world right now, with some beautiful people — let’s make the most of it.
The first and most important thing you need to understand about my relationship with JJ is that we never agreed. Not on a single issue. But, for some reason, that strengthened our relationship more than any commonality could ever have. We were diametrically opposed and yet, two sides of the same coin; fundamentally, I think, we were somehow the same person, striving for the same goals, haunted by the same fears, but manifested in two wildly different personalities. That’s why JJ was my best friend, because no one understood me, or people, better than him. No one could wrap you around his finger, or build you up from dark places, like JJ. No matter how angry we might have been at each other, no matter how frustrated and high-strung from balancing our S.T.E.M. education with daily degeneracy, JJ and I always bonded through debates about art, religion, philosophy, our lives, marriage and the meaning of happiness.
Almost all of my memories about JJ from our sophomore year revolve around our room. We had the deepest — and often most heated — talks of our relationship in that room, amongst mountains of his unending laundry and a littering of my various foodstuffs. Seated on a cigarette-stained futon with our feet propped on a posh leather footrest stolen from God-knows-where, our hopelessly broken windows streaming in afternoon light and the ocean breeze, we poured our hearts out. I specifically remember one of those afternoons: The conversation was more or less a rerun of talks we’d had before, until one of us decided to play music on our “shared” bar speaker. It evolved into an arrangement of our favorite songs, a wispy reflection of our lives as LA-born, beach-town college kids. A dash of Frank Ocean, some of JJ’s favorite Bob Marley, RHCP and then, for the climax, the bittersweet beauty of “Hotel California” by the Eagles. As we mouthed the lyrics and air-strummed Joe Walsh’s power chords, it became a song that so perfectly captured the crescendo of our lives.
Entranced by an ephemeral dream, drawn in by a beautiful woman, and ensnared in a seemingly ceaseless cycle of partying, remorse, abstinence and partying.
We imagined this world we’d built as a tautology, a prison. But the kind of prison that life would be meaningless without. Every time I think of JJ, I think of him as the patron saint of the Hotel California, something like flame incarnate: so bright and frenetic and hopelessly confined, yet, somehow, so unabashedly free.
Words to Live by: Love life, and all of life’s people, in the most essential form. In spite of our tendency to love conditionally — because of our goals, purpose, good luck or motives — JJ knew, more than anyone I ever met, why we need to love life and people unconditionally — for their intrinsic and ungraspable beauty.
Section III: Isla Vista Memorial by Nick Lombardi
The memorial we had for you brought out over 400 people that you left an impact on in your three-and-a-half years here at UCSB. We shared stories, we shared laughs and we shared tears just remembering the love you brought to each of us individually. Thank you for that opportunity. Thank you for your beautiful gift of bringing entire communities together through your love. You helped teach me what community truly is. You helped teach us that we are not alone in our struggles. You helped teach us what being there for one another really means.
It was really difficult planning the memorial for JJ. It did not require a massive amount of work but given the situation, it was the only thing on my mind for those three weeks leading up to it. There was so much support from the community, all just wanting to contribute and honor the man we miss so much. I set up a Facebook event page and helped decide exactly what we wanted to do for him. I had no clue what a memorial should look like or what we were even going to do at first, but as I kept thinking about it, I realized the message behind it was the community unity and support for each other.
Because he passed away right as school was out, most people heard about the news when they were alone or with family. I was so thankful to have been with my father at the time, but what I needed and was missing was to be with my housemates and those who knew him. That month was agonizing, knowing that so many of us had to get through this loss without the support of one another right there. By the time of the memorial, I feel like it was difficult for a lot of people to reopen the wound. Within literal minutes of when we asked people to show up at our house, the entire house was shoulder-to-shoulder packed with JJ’s loved ones. From the house, we walked down the street with each person carrying a lit candle. It was something I will never forget. 400 strong, we were able to show the support we had for one another.
The memorial was for JJ, but in a way, it was more a way to show that we, as a community, had each other to lean back on. To cry and to just love one another. To show each other that this was not something anyone should get through by themselves.
Once we arrived at the bluffs overlooking Devereux Point, I told the group that this was a time to just be unified together. A friend of JJ’s named Peyton and I set up blankets prior to the group arriving. Whether people wanted to share funny stories or the way he impacted their lives, they were free to do so. However, I told them that if they just wanted to sit there in silence and just grieve with one another, that was so okay also. Some people spoke, but some of it was silence and an overwhelming feeling of love. We cried and just held onto one another.
In the front, I got a slab of plywood that I painted white. It was there for people to write a goodbye letter or anything they felt like they needed JJ to know. We sat together as the sun set. The event was really raw and beautiful and sad. For me, it was therapeutic and encouraging.
I am so thankful to everyone who was there in person and in spirit. Planning this was something I felt I had an obligation to do well; however, I was not the reason it was so impactful. It was the collection of people who showed up and faced this pain head-on that made it so beautiful. It would have been easier to not think about and not face, but that is not what this community did. I am so proud to say that this is the community JJ surrounded himself with. A community that was there for him in the hardest of times. To all that were there, I am so thankful that you loved him well.