A Splash of Liquor to the Earth for David Foster Wallace

I just randomly came across a piece in NY Times that seemed to be an obituary for David Foster Wallace. I didn’t understand how this could be, as he was still a young (relatively speaking) author full of potential. I was saddened to discover that he had hanged himself 2 days ago.

I had just picked up a book of his in the library, Oblivion, a collection of short stories published in 2004. I stopped reading it after a couple of stories because the author seemed disconnected from his subjects and just a little too clever for his own good. But I had loved Infinite Jest when I read it in my senior year of high school. It is a postmodern tour de force: indulgent, discursive, wordy, subversive, parodic, witty, and just plain intelligent and well-written fun.

I also loved his collection of essays and articles in A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, most especially the one on his acerbic take on the culture of cruise ships. David Foster Wallace (it seems impossible to state just his last name) possessed an intelligence and irony so penetrating that it seemed almost to turn in on itself, wrapping his writing in a blanket of disassociative tangents and footnotes that were all the more entertaining for their self-conscious stylization, ridiculousness, and biting wit.

It is truly a loss to the literary world that he chose to take his own life rather than stoop down to bestow the rest of us with another work of cynical genius. We will cherish Infinite Jest all the more for its singular—now, tragic—majesty.

Anxiety as an Inability to Voice What is Within

A man is programmed to hold his suffering within. And when this becomes too great to bear, his body turns on him, his throat constricts, his arteries strangle his own blood flow, his mind takes control of his lungs and subverts the most basic and essential of functions–breathing. How can this lonely, inexplicable impotence in the face of oneself be shared, voiced, exorcised?

The rush of adrenaline that comes in the face of danger, the so-called fight-or-flight response, is a residue of our evolutionary past, the reptilean brain survival mechanism. When the adrenaline fires without any visible signs of danger, without any immediate reason, how can this be explicated to anyone else? The fight and the flight is activated by oneself, against oneself, almost like an act of spite, an act of contrition, as if you are making yourself suffer for things that you are unable to define. It is not in the vernacular of our society to voice such things. How can one say, I am hurting, I am bleeding, watching people I care about destroying themselves, watching my nation destroy its future? How can one say, I cannot ignore this death around me, I cannot ignore all of the hidden suffering of everyone around me, I cannot pretend to be OK, I cannot pretend that everything is as it appears? How can one say, I am an open wound, I am not healing, I am scared that everyone else is also suffering alone, and there is nothing I can do, and nothing I can say to reach them?

So it is held within, to the point of bursting. It pushes away everyone you love. It expands a gigantic void within yourself, and you stumble through the day like a hollow husk, not knowing what is wrong, fearing the coming of the night, where you will toss and turn despite utter exhaustion, where you will feel like a track runner right before the gun goes off, where you will gasp like a fish at air seemingly devoid of oxygen, no matter how much you take into your lungs.

And how sweet, and how bitter, is the release when the tears suddenly well up in your eyes and your heart springs open to this hidden, inarticulate world of suffering that we smooth over so well everyday. This world of death, and pain, and suicide, and addiction. These are things we do not discuss. These are the things we fear.

Everytime someone you know passes from life, you sense the rupture in the barrier that you had put up between yourself and them. You feel guilty, as if you were involved in their death. Because you pretended that death did not exist, that they could never die, that you could never die. And now what is there to say, when you know how everyone is suffering, alone, hiding it, smiling, working through the day? How can you possibly reach one another across this void that keeps you apart even from yourself? How can you say anything to heal this, when you know that there is no healing of this wound?

To Rod

He was 45 years old. He had two small children who loved him very much, even though he was far away. He was the kind of guy that would make an off-the-wall joke on the first thing that came into his mind to anyone within proximity, and then bust up laughing. He would push girls. He would punch guys. He was the most loveable asshole you knew. He was also one of the kindest older guys at camp, always ready to help you out, no matter what he was doing. He would help you fix things, he would help you heave heavy linen bags up into the truck–even when his back was hurting him and you told him to cut it out–he would buy you a 6-pack for things you didn’t even really expect a “thank-you” for. He had tousled brown hair and shocking blue bloodshot eyes, and he would drive around on truckster with his shirt off without sunscreen, his overweight dog Olie sitting proudly beside him. He seemed to strike stuck-up guests as some kind of wild animal. He would order his dog around in Mandarin. He was like a sailor that had somehow drifted into a lake from the wide sea. He was known long ago to have eaten a bag of uncooked rice one night after he came back from a party and couldn’t find any food. He had a cat which was just as overweight as his dog. He drank too much, he laughed too much, he felt too much. He had one of the biggest hearts in this world.

We miss you.

Insomniac Scribbling

I can’t sleep right now, so I’m back here, writing again, just trying to work out the anxiety and tension that won’t allow me to fall into sweet unconsciousness. I’ve realized that there’s this strange swirl of emotions going on inside of me, and I need to work through it, consciously, so that I don’t turn into a basket case. I’m simultaneously sad and happy at the same time. Sad, because someone I respected and looked up to (even as a father figure of sorts) died unnaturally. Happy, because I am in love and my love grows ever stronger and deeper every single day. This is indeed a confusing mix of emotions, because when I am feeling happy, I suddenly remember the sadness, and then almost feel guilty for the happiness, even though I know that I shouldn’t. And when I am feeling sad, my beloved gives me so much comfort and love that it is impossible for me to remain sad.

Which is to say, I guess, that dealing with untimely death this time around is more bearable simply because I have someone to support me.

And it is this love that I am so grateful for. And witnessing the heartbreaking self-destruction of people I know only makes me more grateful. I am incredibly blessed. I know what it feels like to be lonely, depressed, and only wanting to die. I’ve been there. I’ve been taken back there through Rod and Toby. And this only makes me realize just how important it is to have deep love and connectedness in life. It is the only thing that saves us from ourselves. When we tunnel down deep into the emptiness, the only thing that ties us to life is this knowledge that we are more than only ourselves. If you can go deep into this darkness with love in your heart, open to your suffering, then you can withstand the loneliness, you can withstand the surface storms of circumstance.

I had thought that maybe this place I work and live in is cursed. And while there are certainly some problems there that are in need of some major healing, I just got an email from a friend, and he also just heard about one of his friends killing himself. And I know someone else whose friend killed herself last year. So this sickness is not only in this place I’m at. It is in all of us, everywhere. This sickness of loneliness, inertia, and addiction. This sickness of disconnectedness, detachment, and disassociation. And all I can say is that we need a lot of love in this world right now. We need a lot of healing.

And when I say love, I’m not talking about finding some perfect person like in Hollywood movies. I’m talking about loving yourself. I’m talking about loving strangers. I’m talking about loving being alive, loving the light that comes through the trees, loving the mountains, loving the skyscrapers, loving the fall of clean water from your faucet, loving every minute, every second, every day.

To Suffer, To Heal

Something I thought of while feeling my heart cracking open and tears streaming out–I could feel how in some strange way, pain is the only way in which to heal, grow, and expand. It is the numbing of emotion that is the greatest of danger. Human beings numb themselves with alcohol, drugs, TV, dead-end jobs, abusive relationships, destructive gossip, religion–you name it. The only way for us to keep moving is by opening ourselves to what we know will cause us suffering.

When you are addicted to something, then you seek to alleviate the suffering of withdrawal by continuously getting more and more of what you are addicted to. You seek to numb yourself into normality, just so you can get by. This is not a disease or abnormal behavior. Everyone in this society is addicted to something, whether it is money or weed or sex or wanting other people to think of you as good looking. We look down on those who shoot up heroin or smoke crack, and then we turn around and purchase the latest video game system, or we pretend to laugh at someone else’s stupid joke just because we want them to like us.

The point being that all of us, in some way, seek to numb ourselves so that we don’t have to suffer. To suffer is to lay open your heart, surrender your illusions, and look fully at reality. And once you do that, then you have to change, you have to evolve, you have to accept responsibility for your life.

There is no more pain then when you see someone you know and respect and love destroy themselves. There is no denying suffering in the face of that. It overwhelms you, it overcomes you, it plows you into the emptiness beyond yourself, it rips your soul out of your body. And in this storm of emotion, you begin to see the light of love. How you are not only yourself–you are everyone connected to you. Because you can feel the hole torn from you where that person once was. There is no denying, in the face of such pain, that for someone to tear themself from life prematurely is like pulling a full grown tree from the earth. All of the roots extend into the same soil that nurtures you. All of the limbs and leaves reached out into the same light that bathes your days. That tree was you, is you, and will always be you. There is no isolated, separated, detached individual here in this world.

So to know of this man’s suffering . . . this is to know of my own suffering.

And then it comes

winterroad.jpg

I guess I was just in shock. I was standing in the middle of the room drinking wine when the pain hit me, the soul-ripping emptiness that collapses everything in your life into pure suffering. Beyond words, beyond logic, beyond anything but what it is. I think it was when I had to tell someone who didn’t know yet what had happened that brought it home to me. There’s no avoiding it when it comes. It hits you like a truck and runs you over. It seems like it was a long time ago that it happened but it was just yesterday afternoon. Still trying to associate the body with the man that I knew and connect the pieces. I just realized that it is actually more healing for the grieving to see the body, to visually and viscerally know that that person is indeed gone, that it is real. Then you can’t pretend or dissociate things with your mind.

I feel like an old man, tired and depleted. I feel like I’m living in a warzone. There’s really no words for this.

The Morning After the Cold

Ollie, Rod’s Dog

Given some more time to reflect, I’ve found that I am not emotionally devastated by Rod’s death the way I was by Toby’s. And I think that has to do with the knowledge that all of Rod’s friends were doing all that they could to help him. And he was reaching out. But then he decided to refuse all help. He consciously made his decision. This was a slow burn and downward spiral that everyone could see. When someone deliberately chooses to die rather than discover new life, it is sad–but ultimately you can only respect that decision. In a way people could see it coming–but no one ever wants to acknowledge just how horribly real the prospect of demise is. You think that with time they will pluck themselves out of their self-created mire, and find a new vision and purpose with all the life left before them. And everyone involved wanted him find that new path, but he refused to let go of the past. So there aren’t as many of those confused feelings of guilt and inaction that is generally involved in this kind of death. Like a cornered lion, he cleared out the space around himself, he readied others for what was to come. I feel really bad for his kids and family and for his closest friends, who still have to work through the bricolage of anger and pain for years to come.

Winter Coming

Footfall
First snowfall of the season today. Having grown up in Southern California, where the change of seasons is marked only by holidays, I am growing to cherish the feeling in the air when a season here shifts. The winter can be felt approaching, and things grow quieter, and I find myself similarly turning inward. A form of hibernation, I eat heavier foods and crave the occasional coffee drink.

I don’t want to be morbid or to give the appearance that I am dwelling on dark feelings, so please don’t take this the wrong way: in a couple of nights, it will have been exactly a year since a friend and co-worker of mine was found hanging in his room. This isn’t a topic I care to discuss much anymore, but I feel also that it isn’t something that I should be afraid to talk about. I’ve learned something about pain and grieving since then. I’ve learned that grieving isn’t something that you should ever hold onto, but it also isn’t something that you should ever deny, when it comes. It comes less and less now, like residual shockwaves rolling outward from a rock falling into a pond. The rock has sunk down into the deeps, to settle like a solid emptiness in my heart, a quiet stillness where once there was violent struggle, like the ruins of a sunken ship on the bottom of the ocean. Grief comes when it comes, and it rolls through me and then I’m left a little more at peace than before. When it comes, it’s just like it was that first night–the simple question that will never be answered . . . why?

A hollowness that will never be filled, a piece of yourself torn from the deepest essential core of you, the part that connects you to all your friends and family and loved ones. In bridging the wound, you discover at the end of the tunnel that you are even closer now than ever to strangers, to acquaintances, as well as to loved ones. There is a kind of strange and cruel benediction in the healing, in which you find that Toby, through his self-destruction, has shown you the path to greater love. Never again can you take someone’s solitude for granted, assuming that they are alright with being alone. You know now the silent violent churning of loneliness within, and what kind of destruction it can leave in its wake when finally it is shared with the world.

Our culture of extreme individualism has created an environment where people are isolated and lonely, desperately searching for a way to be deeply interconnected but not knowing how to find such access. People use chatrooms, personals, MySpace, clubs, bars, searching searching for someone to see through to their divinity. Hungry to have the chance to show it. Hungry to the point of starving, hungry to the point that when the feelings finally come out, it is monsterous, and violent, and steeped in bitterness and anger.

In European cultures and in the beginning of American society, intellectualism–political and ideological debate–provided fuel for networking and conversation and sitting around sharing drinks and smoking. Now when we go to coffee shops or bars, it is to sit by ourselves or with a single friend. We are allergic, of course, to anything resembling intellectual elitism or artsy fartsy-ness, as well we should be. But we need to find a way to get together in groups, beyond concerts and clubs, a way to congregate and debate and share stories and find a way to acceptance of our differences and a way to understanding of our essential humanity. I guess blogs are a start, and that’s why I do this. But it’s still disconnected in terms of physical interaction. We need touch, we need voice, we need laughter.

Find a way to build this space for people, a place where they can interact without having to be alcoholics, a place where they can talk without having to wear designer clothing. There are, in fact, already places like these all around you–it is simply a matter of opening yourself up to them.

I miss my friend, I miss seeing him everyday. I miss his grumpiness and good work ethic. He taught me never to take anything or anyone for granted. He taught me that you can never know what another human being is going through inside. He taught me that I need to find a way to connect to other people, even when they give the appearance of not wanting a deeper connection. Everyone wants so desperately to be loved and understood. And everyone deserves to be.

Wind Chimes

Listening to the sound of the high sierra wind gusting through the pines, I am reminded again of the absence of Toby. He has been on my mind much recently now that it is summer, because we would hang out a lot more during this time, banding together against the summer invasion of families, tourists, and students. The wind plays in the windchimes my girlfriend got for our deck, and I realized the strange juxtaposition and harmony of past and future, of love and loneliness. Simultaneous happiness and sadness. Life teaches its lessons in painful ways. There is no love without suffering. I understand that Toby’s death and the love I now have in my heart are not two unrelated events. The desolate wind moving through the windchimes.

The Blessing (Finding Measures of Peace)

Incan Tunnel

The night before I left for el camino del Inca I had a dream in which Toby appeared. He was just the way I knew him, he was alive, he was smiling in that gruff yet child-like manner that he had, and I woke up because I realized in the dream that he really was gone. When I woke up his spirit was there with me, just like the first time when I dreamed of him a while ago, except this time he was close and I was not afraid. I was not afraid because I knew I was not imagining things. It was very real and very powerful and I went back to sleep almost immediately afterwards, at peace. For those of you who do not believe in spirits, wait until you are visited by the spirit of one whose death was close enough to you that you cannot push them away. I realized at that moment in the night that I had been visited before, because I knew the feeling well. But this time I was finally without fear for the first time. It felt like a blessing, and in fact throughout el camino del Inca I felt like I was carrying him with me.
A feeling I have had throughout this journey is that many things happening to me, the people I have met and the experiences that I have had, have been meant to happen. This is a feeling I’ve felt before my travels, but it’s an awareness that’s intensified in this kind of setting, where my spacial dynamics and language and social environment are constantly shifting. I feel like the more that I open myself to what is meant to happen, the fuller and more meaningful these experiences are when they occur. Por ejemplo, when I meet someone new, if I am in the kind of mindset where I am willing to suspend my expectations and am not delimiting who they can potentially be in my mind, then they open up in the immediate future with life affirming gifts of knowledge and love for me. And it is then that I sense that this person was meant to be there in that path in time just as I was meant to be. Gifts invisible at every turn, just when you gave it all away. I don’t mean any of that in the sense of predetermination. I mean that there is a potentiality in everyone for god. And when you catch a glimmer in someone else you catch a glimmer in yourself, and it is then that you know and you believe and you are strong, for an instant, for a moment, and there is nothing but one blood flowing through the limbs of one tree. Then you disintegrate back into yourself and them and you move on into tomorrow with one more piece of the light shot through you.

Thoughts

For those of you who happen to be reading this blog & have read my writings in the past, I’m sure you’ve noted a discrepancy in style and content. I am well aware that this blog has turned from introspection outward to a diary style superficial action oriented narrative. This is the unfortunate by-product of the lack of either the means, space, or time for me to fully digest the experiences I am currently undergoing, and thus, I am unable to write any more eloquently or profoundly about them. So please take all of this with a grain of salt and understand that this is me largely unfiltered, in a foreign land alone attempting to come to grips with who I think I am and what I think of other people. I write and keep writing here in this forum because this is really my only link to the world from which I came, my link to those I love, and I hope that you will read this and continue to read this and understand why I write.
There are of course many things that have been going on in my head that I haven’t been articulating thus far. I’ve been thinking about the hordes of those living in poverty here and elsewhere. I´ve been confronting some of my perceptions of the “other” and about what I think I can do and about what I want to do to change my own life and perceptions. These are ideas in the making, that I don’t have the space right now to form.
On another level, I’ve still been processing Toby’s suicide. It’s something that comes back to me almost every day at seemingly random times. I kind of push it away mentally because I really don’t know what there is to think about it anymore. I had thought originally that I would find some kind of peace with it but that doesn’t seem possible to me anymore. Peace really only comes with time, there isn’t anything I can do or say that will make it better. It’s not something that hurts so much anymore as just kind of throbs in the background, and I feel a kind of deep-seated confusion and frustration about it, like when there’s an itch that you can’t possibly reach, and even if you could, scratching it would only make it worse.
I’ve been learning how to deal with expectations, as in not having any. Expectations only serve to create disappointment. I build up these castles of illusion and then when the sea of life comes to sweep me away into change then its disillusionment time again. I guess that’s part of being human. As long as I am building these castles with the full awareness that they are meant to be destroyed, then it’s alright I suppose.

Clearing the Air


All of the furniture and shelves in his room taken apart and cleared out. Lights turned on and windows opened. We got drunk and finally chilled in the room and drank some more and smoked the nargilah and burnt sage and introduced new life into the darkness. It felt good, it felt like many other nights spent in that very same room, except now it was empty, except now it was full of future. It was a fresh space again, no longer his, no longer occupied by his death, it was ours, all of ours. I still cried later on that night after I was really drunk and alone again, but whatever grief left over is fading. Grief is a selfish and lonely thing, and it is nothing worth holding onto.

Tonight

I am sitting in my cabin deliberately isolating myself from partying. And for the first time since Toby’s suicide I am feeling ok with that. Being comfortable with this space within myself and not selling it short simply because I am afraid of being alone.

When I was a child, there was nothing worse than what I might imagine.

I seek other people to confirm my fleeting impressions. But none of this reaches the deepest essence of what can never be conveyed. I have to be alone to discover what I really need to say. My self-knowledge comes out of cultivated silence. I like to sit and drink some good red wine and eat some Dagoba dark chocolate and listen to Milestones or Somethin’ Else or, of course, Kind of Blue. The way Miles plays to the silence, listening deep down within himself. He isn’t playing to the crowd, or to notions of what is good, or because he’s trying to connect himself to some greater purpose. He is playing to what he hears, based on a past of study and lifestyle deliberation. Miles was one lonely son of a bitch. And it was worth every note punched out of the void and sustained without vibratto, hanging liquid and elephantine and strong in the midst of all of that wondering hard-hitting rhythm and astral projected saxophone work.

There is much critical cutting thought that is applied to the way we live our lives. What is most important is what we learn from each other and take into ourselves to grow. The excess dies or gets lopped off or burnt. The root is the feeling that we had at the moment of conception, when we broke through the shell and instinctively drove directly to the source. Without preconceived notions or fears or hesitancy. We knew what was there and did it because we had to if we wanted to survive.

This is how I hope to write. To write striving directly for the heart that lies deeply beneath anything that could be known.

Searching for Peace

I dreamed of Toby’s spirit last night. When he came near to show me his death I was frightened and I did not want him in my loft. I tried to ask him why, why did he do this, but I did not let him close enough to listen. Maybe I didn’t really want to hear the answer. I could hear his footsteps outside on the deck. I realized then that I needed to forgive him for what he had done. I need to be at peace with him in his death as I was with him in his life. I am not ready for this yet, though, and so his spirit will continue to haunt me. I am not ready to let him go so easily. I am having a hard time finding respect for his method of leaving this world. I am having a hard time accepting that he is even gone at all. It is difficult to reconcile the fact that he is gone with the fact that I expect to see him walking around here all the time. I expect and rely on him to be here, working, smoking his cigarettes out on his porch, coming by my cabin after work to smoke the nargilah and drink scotch every now and then. This is all gone, all of what he was, and I still can’t quite understand that. It hurts terribly when I do. It’s hurts and I don’t want to hurt anymore and so I am pushing it away. I don’t want to be angry with him, and I don’t want to be frightened of his spirit. But I am not ready yet to be at peace with the self-destructive violence of his death–because its shrapnel is still tearing into my heart.

I will stay away from people & study my way into myself

The wind from out of the Sierras
blows into the depths of my heart,
and in a hurricane of drunkenness
I grasp out in the darkness for lines
to myself that can sustain hope.
It is like searching for a fish
in the middle of the deep sea
without a hook.
I fall into this space within myself,
again and again,
learning over and over again
where to place my fear
and my suffering to climb back into the light.
I forget that it is there.
I forget that it is there and then suddenly
none of the outside world can reach me,
and there is nothing I can say
and there is noone who can understand.

God, divine interconnected fabric of the universe:
give me a golden thread to find some source
of joy in the midst of such sorrow.

Meaning

Everything, people say with a nodding of their heads, happens for a reason. There is some greater underlying purpose to the random personal dramatic events of our lives. Not necessarily due to some god or divine intervention–simply to say that things happen as a matter of karmic inevitability–that as individual entities weaving our lives into a cosmic whole, we must undergo transformations in consciousness to cope with the greater responsibility of being much more and much less than ourselves.

I am sad and lonely as always, but with a much greater weight. Because I know now that everything that I hold against other people will come to light despite any illusions of shadow.

Everything that I am must be shared. Everything that I am is subject to change. Everything that I am is nothing and everything and stands and falls as the basis for understanding with you.

Relapse

I thought all of it was gone, I had dealt with it, I was ok. I had said goodbye, I had felt intense pain, I had done everything I needed to do. But then suddenly it keeps coming back and hurting.

I remember when I had a dream I had hung myself in my bathroom at home, and my tongue was hanging out and I was hanging there bloated in the mirror.

The image of a hanging is an accusation, it is a sentence carried out, it is suffering confined to a rope around the neck, it is horrible and ugly and people used to watch this?

Because the breathing is stopped. The neck is not broken unless it’s of the officially sanctioned kind, you are hanging there for minutes with your breath taken from you and your body struggles inadvertently, there is nothing you can do once you’ve made that choice and you’re swinging. You are committed to death. Your body flails but death is coming because the mind already chose and now everything else must pay.

You son of a bitch. I thought I was past the anger. I am not past anything. I am so angry this son of a bitch just decides on a whim that it’s ok to hang himself because he’s so fucking down and out and this and that. You poor fucking son of a bitch. You sick fucker. You actually did it. You actually stepped out and swung in the air and struggled against yourself and felt maybe some kind of release? You achieved nothing but death and despair and spread it throughout all of the outer world. We must all eventually come to death, yes, but to take all of our unresolved problems out on everyone who we barely made an attempt to befriend. You sick lonely motherfucker. To vent all of your self-pity and insecurity just like that. Like, ok, I give up. Take this.

Well, now we have to. Now I have to go through the rest of my life dealing with your self-destruction and rejection of all that I know is good. You said, this isn’t good enough. You said, you aren’t good enough. You said, I’m not good enough.

So fuck you, fuck you fuck you.

I have to keep on living with your cop out. I have to keep on living with this big fucking hole shot out of inside of me. I have to keep dealing with this pain and suffering that you just could not work past, that you just were too fucking prideful to come to me or to anyone who cared about you for help. You fucking son of a bitch. You were so fucking full of your goddam self that you could only kill yourself instead of just moving on and sucking it up and living like a human fucking being like all the rest of us.

You think I don’t feel sad and depressed and hate myself and insecure and all that stupid shit that everyone who isn’t a magazine model snorting cocaine feels?

Why couldn’t you just fucking deal with it? Now I have to deal with your stupid shit and it’s tearing me up. I’m sick of crying. I’m sick of having to walk around this place acting like I’m ok when I’m a fucking zombie, and people are looking at me and asking me to make sure I’m ok, and I’m like, I’m ok, I’m fine, and I even feel fine, I feel ok, and then I remember that you are no longer here and then I remember why.

There is nothing to say about what you did. You did it and it fucking sucks. You did it and that’s fucking great, you’re off in heaven or some reincarnation or some kind of fucking place where those go who have no other place. And all the rest of us have to keep moving on and dealing with our own shit and now your shit too.

I’m tired. I’m tired and I’m drunk and I’m scared. I’m scared that I won’t ever be the same person that I was 10 days ago. I know I won’t be that person. And I’m scared. And I’m alone. And I’m angry that all it takes is some self-pitying, selfish motherfucker to make me feel that way. And yes, I can hear myself saying that and know that it’s me. It’s me and it’s me and it’s me and then it’s you.

You ruined everything around you to escape yourself.

Baby Talk

I have never experienced any greater happiness than in causing my nephew, Bjorn, to smile. It’s the most fulfilling experience, to watch pure joy spread like a light across his little face and knowing that I somehow managed to cause it. It’s a happiness akin to awe. I always have this underlying fear around babies that they will look at me and begin to cry.
It’s amazing how receptive babies are to their environment, the way information is conveyed so transparently on their faces.
I was reminded when I was crying recently of watching Bjorn sobbing when he pooped his pants. The anguish in his crying was expressed in all parts of his being, his tiny plump limbs convulsing, coming from the very core of his existence. I felt like I was crying in the way he cried, raw and wailing. To grieve is to become like a baby, vulnerable to the heavens.

In Memorium

We held a memorial for Toby today and planted a sequoia tree for him. I spoke these words to him: 

Toby, my brother, pieces of the suffering that you could no longer bear are now embedded within all of us gathered here today. And we will bear it for you to the ends of the earth, my friend–because you were a part of something much greater than only yourself. You were part of a family, part of a community, part of a world so intertwined that your passing is felt by everyone connected to you like a wind blowing down from the Sierras, cold, powerful, and desolate. We need each other, Toby–we needed you, and there is an emptiness where you once stood in our lives. And in this place we will plant the memories of what was beautiful in your life and in all of our lives. Out of the scars of this suffering will grow a new and deeper love, and it will be in your name. Because something like this draws us all together even stronger against despair. Despite all of our differences, and all of our own personal histories, we are one, we are forever tied to each other as one, and everything we choose to do has a powerful effect on everybody. I know that you didn’t mean to hurt us. So now I must say goodbye to you in one sense, Toby, but you will never really leave us. I love you, brother, and I will remember you for what was good in your heart.

It was a powerful event, his family was there and people who had worked at camp at various different times. When people come together like this to mourn someone’s life, it’s a powerful demonstration of how interconnected we are, how someone choosing to take their own life tears into our connecting fabric, it rips a big fucking hole in all of us. How we are not alone, we are never alone, even in our darkest hour everyone we know is there. This is why it hurts so much–because he took us all into that room with him and we all had to sit down and watch him string himself up and he couldn’t hear us screaming at him and we couldn’t do anything to stop him.

Sometimes it takes something like this to show you how important everyone in your life is to you.

The Process

I don't want to be morbid and keep dwelling on it, but it's hard
when every time you walk by his cabin you can see him hanging there,
baseball cap still on. His spirit is still here, I keep thinking I'm
going to see him walking around, I almost called him on the radio today
to see where he was. I know that I need to go through this 'grieving
process.' It's hard to deal with the fluctuation of my feelings, when
one moment I will be perfectly fine, as if nothing's even happened, and
then suddenly I have what amounts to a physical need to cry again. His
death revealed him as what showed up within him in fleeting glimpses
during my relationship with him. He was a 30 year old little boy. He
was this lonely man with a little boy inside of him that couldn't speak
and couldn't get out. I could see that little boy within him, I could
hear the echoes in his laughter.

I never shut you out of my heart, brother. Know this, know this in
that place where you have gone to in your despair. I have always
respected you.

Right now I am trying to forgive him for what he has done to
himself and everyone who cared for him. People trying to console me
tell me that he must have had on-going problems with depression and
there was nothing anyone could do. But I've been near to a place like
that before, I've seen the whispered edges of the kind of darkness and
despair that it would take to do something like this–and I know that
if he had just taken the vacation he was supposed to be taking, if he
had just waited it out, if instead of stepping off of the side of his
bed into a noose, he had just stepped outside and gone on that fucking
vacation–he would have been ok. He would have gotten through it. I
don't care how long he may have been dealing with his "manic
depression" or however it may be classified. He could have ridden it
out. He could have been ok. I don't want to hear anyone ever justify a
suicide. He did not need to leave us. He did not need to kill himself.
And I know this because I could see the little boy inside of him that
he kept shut so tight. That little boy just needed to be taken by the
hand and brought into the light. And my God I wish I could have found a
way to reach into that darkness in his heart and lead him out.

And I don't blame myself but no one can tell me to stop feeling
this regret. His final act of selfishness revealed to me my own
selfishness. I knew better than to blind myself to all but appearances.
But I allowed myself to harden my heart against him, and now, yes, I am
feeling probably exactly what the fucker would have wanted me to feel
in his self-pity and self-loathing as he knotted the rope and strung it
up and stepped up on the side of his bed. I feel bitter regret that I
was not a better friend. I feel bitter regret that I did not walk down
to the beach when he asked me to the last night I saw him. I feel
bitter regret that I did not come by his room more often to play
dominoes and drink whiskey with him the way he wanted me to. I am
fucking regretful of all of this, and I miss him, I miss him more than
he ever could have known.

I feel sometimes as I walk around here as if a bomb had exploded
and I am walking around in numb horror, wandering aimlessly like a
child abandoned in a crowd. Hopeless and stumbling about and there is
nowhere to go, and there is no one to comfort me. There are moments
when I feel as though I have no friends at all and there is no one who
can understand. These moments are the hardest. Thank God there are
people who are there in my life to take my hand and lead me into
understanding. And I am comforted by everyone around me who has been
reaching out to me and giving me a hug throughout the day, letting me
know that they are there. Sometimes it's like you are in the dark and
you can't see anyone until they stop you and take you in their arms.
Then you know they understand.