I’m experiencing a awakening. The nature of it being immensely difficult to describe. As I write thunder cracks outside, light flashes behind the curtains of the bus and rain rattles atop the metal roof. Given my fear of lightning it all seems eerily fitting, perfect really, and the writing -oh so- necessary.
That green dot. That’s me. Right now.
I’m agnostic: neither an atheist nor a believer. Although, admittedly, I am spiritually curious and decidedly open.
Recently (very recently) I’ve come to an understanding about my being. My purpose. Maybe it’s not so much an understanding as I’ve always understood it.
It’s just I fought it for a very long time. I’m still fighting it a little right now.
You know what I mean though. Right? When you hear the soft whispers or see the little signs. The ones from, I don’t know where. Maybe the universe? God? Nature? Your soul?The whispers and signs that give you little glimpses of what your life is meant to look like?
Maybe you ignore them? Tell yourself they’re wrong? Or worse… Maybe you convince yourself they aren’t even real?
I did all those things too.
You know what happened?
The signs got bigger and the whispers grew louder. And frankly, I’m tired of telling myself things like..
I’m not that important! I mean, I’m not. At least not in the scheme of all time and space. I do realize that! But I am important in my own life, in the lives of my loved ones and in the lives of the people I connect with.
This isn’t meant for me. I can’t really do it. Because you know what? That is really just a bunch of crap. These messages are for me. I’m the one seeing them for freak’s sake. I can do it. It might just be a little scary.
Where is this coming from?
I’m turning 40 in a little over a week and our eldest son, Wolfgang Erik, is moving out in a few days. Neither is a bad thing but I’m really still working through Erik‘s death and these things keep the death fresh. Erik’s ashes sit, protected, in my clothes drawer until Jeff decides to release them. We both have ideas on how and where to do so but it’s really not my decision and I don’t see Jeff being ready anytime soon. I don’t blame him one bit either. Erik was his brother. The one person he’d known his entire life. The one with whom he shared the experience of multiple families (birth, foster and adoptive), pain, joy…just so much…but all of that really isn’t my story it’s Jeff’s.
For now I take comfort I can keep him safe until Jeff is ready.
I haven’t written about the how of what Erik did. But the more I think about it the more I am compelled to share. It was very significant and I think it was filled with so much meaning, to him, that I almost feel like we’ve been doing him/his memory a disservice by avoiding it. At the same time I don’t want to claim I know exactly what it meant to Erik and I also don’t want to assume I know what’s right for anyone else. If you can’t (or don’t want to) talk about it. That’s OK. But me? I need to. And I feel like I need to for him.
I have only theory about his choice of method and timing but parts of it bring me comfort. And, hopefully, what I share may bring some comfort to others as well.
Erik, to some degree, considered himself Buddhist. I know it was the religion which resonated with him the most. I know from conversations I had with both him and others close to him. I shared his love of Buddhism, although, Taoism resonates more deeply with me.
For Buddhists, self-immolation can be considered a selfless death; while other types of suicide are looked upon harshly. Self-immolation was something Erik contemplated for years. I’m not sure he openly discussed it (in regards to himself) with anyone. Maybe he did. I don’t know. I know he talked about suicide with family and friends, including me.
I remember once a few years ago I was hit particularly hard by one of his declarations that he was done with this world. I got unusually desperate. Maybe I thought he was serious. I don’t know but after trying to talk to him on the phone I wrote him rambling and begging he reconsider. I asked him please talk to someone, please don’t do it and told him both Jeff and I loved him so. He dismissed my concerns and told me he loved me and Jeff too. I didn’t stop. I shared what I saw as his value to the world. I told him things he could do, opportunities he yet to see and places where he might wish to go. And Jeff did his own pep-talk too. In the end we both told Erik that it was his decision to make but we wished he’d choose life.
That time, he did. And other times too.
Erik had a poster of a monk self-immolating when he was in college, maybe even before that. He quipped, “Sid’s Therapist?” on an image of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here album cover he posted on his facebook.
This is something he’d considered for years. This wasn’t an angry lashing out. This was an artistic and meaningful end to his struggles and his pain, I believe.
We are in Florida, the Tampa area. Jeff is working on a bus conversion for a midwife who plans to use the completed conversion as a mobile prenatal care unit for disadvantaged women. It’s a pretty amazing project we feel lucky to be a part of. We have our bus parked right by the bus Jeff is working on. Jeff’s daily commute consists of stepping off our bus and walking 15 or 20 feet to work.
It’s a pretty awesome gig. We are parked under a beautiful big tree, surrounded by strawberry fields and have the nicest “neighbors” – we feel pretty grateful for this opportunity.
The other night we had a little campfire. Those that know me know I love fire. It’s part of my soul. It heals me. It feeds me. When Jeff and I separated nearly five years ago it was fire that brought us back together. We’d sit night after night and talk in front of our fire trying to cauterize gushing holes in our hearts. The soundtrack of our reunion was NeedToBreathe’s The Heat. Eventually, we found ourselves whole again and celebrated with a huge bonfire and friends.
Although I don’t put too much stock in astrology, I have found whenever do a star-chart it’s (laughably) pretty darn accurate. I’m an Aries, a fire sign. Jeff is Sagittarius, a fire sign. The other night at the campfire, Wolfgang asked off-handedly, “Mom if you could control any element. What would it be? I mean like Avatar. Fire, Water…”
I interrupted him with, “Fire!”
“Really? Not air? I’d totally be air.”
Griffin even jumped in, “but if you control air you basically can control anything.”
Wolfgang, “and Fire would be…you picked the only one that can’t fly with.”
“Still fire. No doubt.”
I’ve started hooping, regularly. And later that evening I found myself almost transformed in another world (or time) as I hooped around the fire listening to the album Joy, by Phish. I felt myself shifting through time by the lyrics and the hooping carried me back to years when I would dance an entire set alone in a corner at a Phish show.
Erik loved Phish too. I remember the first time Jeff took me to meet him in at his dorm on the Plymouth State campus. Jeff introduced me all excited, “And she likes Phish!”
Erik looked me up and down skeptically before pausing to ask, ”How long have you been listening to them?” When I replied the first time I’d seen them was in 89 or 90 on some farm in Vermont he seemed satisfied and hugged me. That meeting was in 1993.
Phish, Twenty Years Later
I’ve pulled through air, though I feel I’m alone,
I stick with the others to the skin of the stone
I stop for a stranger just to give him a lift
I cling like a lizard to the side of the cliff
I treat every minute like an hour and then,
It seems like a year has flashed by again
We build a foundation but where do we stand
When all air is water and all water is land
Twenty years later, I’m still upside down
It’s a small world, and it’s turning real fast
(We’re upside down)
It’s a new day, and the morning has passed
(Turned upside down)
It’s a short road, but the mountains aren’t tall
(Lived upside down)
It’s a small world, and we all start out small
Feel it turning in circles and you’re never the same again
Spin slowly while sounds cascade and decay
Immersed in the moment with the smell of smoke, the softly-lit shapes of my sons and husband, the cool breeze mixed with the heat from the fire and the wisdom of those lyrics. I wished he was there. I thought he should be sitting by the fire playing guitar with Jeff laughing and swapping the happier stories of his youth with my boys. It hurt realizing that was not something that could ever happen. Or could it? Obviously, not in a physical sense. In that way he is gone but why not in spirit?
That’s when I felt it. Powerful. Joyful. And grateful.
He’s been helping me shift through this transition. He’s been giving me purpose. Reminding me of my value. I owe him gratitude. I wish, no I hope, he knows that. Somehow.
I can see the light between me and my mind
I can feel memories fall behind
And the light is growing brighter now
And the light is growing brighter now
I see the future is less and less there
And the past has vanished in the air
And I’m left in the now with a wondrous glow
I think I’m still me
But how would you know?
It takes a few moments of whirling around
Before your feet finally leave the ground
And fending off fears and hearing the call
And finally waiting for nothing at all
And the light is growing brighter now
And the light is growing brighter now
Obstacles are stepping-stones
That guide us to our goals
Fences are filters
That purify our souls
Erik once asked me to be his therapist. He was having trouble finding someone he liked and trusted. He didn’t trust women. It was about 10 years ago. He and Jeff had built a recording studio in a shed behind our apartment building. After the kids would go to bed I’d come out and sit. Sometimes after they were done playing Erik and I would talk, sometimes for hours. I had just gone through a few years of dealing with another close family member and mental illness, I was a mom to three little kids and was doing my best to help Jeff through his own emotional struggles. I told him I couldn’t do it.
I said all the things I was supposed to. I’m sorry. I’m not a therapist. I don’t have the training. I can’t.
I knew I could help him. I felt I could. But I was just too overwhelmed with where I was in life. I regret deeply not being – at least – open to finding some way to make it work. I could have tried. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not blaming myself or his death. It’s not my doing. It’s his. He started that fire. But I wonder how far back the idea developed and if there was anyway, along the way, any of us could have…put the breaks on the idea? Or was this always part of his fate? Is there even such a thing?
When I sit down to write lately all that comes out is Erik. It’s like it’s not even coming from me. It just pours out of me. Inspiration. Connection. Memories. Ideas. Philosophy. Conversations. So, I stop writing. And I come back and sit down and try and write again about anything…what we are doing…where we are…how life is…and…It. All. Comes. Back. to Erik.
Phish, Steal Time From the Faulty Plan
Got a blank space where my mind should be
Got a cliff bar and some cold green tea
Got clouds that seem to follow me
Got strange demands piled up on me
Got memories, got memories
Got memories, memories of being free
He had a fascination with fire and a love of Buddhism that paralleled my own, although, we never really connected over either. We read some of the same books and admired many of the same artists but for (often) opposing reasons and our interpretations of the same philosophy rarely fell in alignment with one another. But there was a mutual respect and love between us.
He admired my work as well as Jeff’s. I remember when we first showed him the cover of Skeletons. It’s a very dark image.
He said, “That’s the most beautiful fucking thing I’ve ever seen!”
I responded with something like, ”You like it then?”
He replied smiling, “I’m so fucking jealous.”
After he died. I forced myself to look at images of monks self-immolating. Yes, it sounds incredibly morbid but I needed to. And, quite frankly, there are some beautiful images. (It’s graphic don’t click if it will hurt you–>).One that stands out is a monk walking, no he’s running actually. The image is striking.
Erik loved art. When I saw these images – the beautiful ones – I felt for a moment sad I wasn’t there to see him, to capture it for him. I know, even more morbid but I felt like he loved art, so much, he wanted to be art. I know (in my heart) he looked through these same images. I think he saw the same beauty I did. Not just the imagery but the political statement behind them, a complicated and multilayered beauty.
Erik enjoyed my photos and would be sure to let me know. He even asked to use some of them for projects he was working on. I’ve never got to see the finished work or even know what he was using them for.
There were times when he saw a future. Last summer he asked my (and Jeff’s) take on some video projects he had done and requested my help navigating his relationships with his nephews and niece. The last time we spoke was about a month before he died. It was a great conversation. He said he was happy and doing well for the first time in a long time. He was working on getting his head back on straight and wanted to start making art or creating music again.
Phish, Kill Devil Falls
How could you leave me? You heard what I said
I’ll be at the waterfall clearing my head
Soaking up nature and thinking of you
But leaving’s the last thing I thought you would do
The biggest part of my processing of Erik’s death is where did I fit in?
After we left New Hampshire this past December - after having returned for Erik’s memorial – we made a few stops and landed in the New Orleans area. It was about a week after we arrived. We went to a Mardi Gras parade. It was our second one and it was called Petite Rex. All of the floats were shoebox size. The kids were enjoying themselves. Jeff was smiling and all around we were enjoying life and this new experience. I glanced across the street and there was this little girl.
She reminded me so much of a little girl I once knew. A little sister of a kindergarten classmate of Wolfgang’s. The resemblance was uncanny. I pointed her out to Jeff and the kids. The kids didn’t remember the family and Jeff was a happily preoccupied. This girl would be Xoey’s age now (15) and in New Hampshire – so clearly it wasn’t her. But she never left my line of sight the entire night and she floated in and out of my mind over the next few days. Then one afternoon my mother called. She asked if I was alone and if it was a good time to talk and other odd sorts of “feeling me out” questions.
Turns out she had news for me, news she and the rest of my family were trying to keep from us until they thought we’d be ready to deal with it. Who knows when anyone is ready for news like this? Shortly after we left New Hampshire - just a matter of days after - that same kindergarten classmate (who’s sister I’d been thinking about and seeing) committed suicide. It had been years since we’d seen the family. At one time we were pretty close with the family. It hit me hard. Not only did I feel terrible for the loss of little boy I remembered and a deep sadness for his parents, his brothers and his sister but I felt so guilty. It had been almost a month since he died. How do you manage condolences for something of this magnitude, that late?
Both Jeff and I sent messages to his parents. And then, for me, things started to get a little weird. The sister, has a very unique name (I’ve literally never met or heard of anyone else with this name), and her name started showing up for me everywhere. I’d see her image in my Facebook or Instagram feed. I’d wake up dreaming about her. I started seeing her name everywhere…on a license plate and street signs. We arrive at this job in Florida only to find the town next to where we are parked bears her name. There is even a bottled water here with her name. It’s everywhere.
I felt haunted. After hearing a song that also shared her name (while in a store), I figured there must be meaning to this! And I started trying to figure it out. Maybe I’m supposed to reach out to her? But what the heck would I say?! She doesn’t know me! Maybe I should tell his parents? No! That would be cruel. The last thing they need is some crazy old friend contacting them over a “weird feeling” and some odd coincidences. I dismissed all those ideas outright and just tried to put it out of my mind.
It’s been going on for a month now and today when I saw her name just before reading a message of support from someone who loved Erik. And it all sort of clicked for me.
I think it’s the answer to my struggles: What was my place in Erik’s life?
I was his sister. I really was his sister. Our relationship was as deep in friendship as it was complicated in family. We had a shared love for both Jeff and each other. I am so grateful I had an opportunity to be a part of his life, as complex as it was.
Phish, Kill Devil Falls
And I stand at the base of the mountain, don’t follow me
And I step right up to the cliff side, gotta learn how to leap
And I stare straight into the future, tell me what do you see?
Birthdays have always felt like New Years to me. My very own clean slate, a rebirth of sorts. And this year my birthday (my 40th) falls on Easter. As I said, I’m not a religious sort of person but I can’t help but feel the opportunity for rebirth more profoundly this year. Truly a time for new beginnings/changes…A metamorphosis of Joy and Enlightenment.
When we were young we thought life was a game
But then somebody leaves you and you’re never the same
All of the places and people belong to the puzzle
But one of the pieces is gone and it’s you
It’s you, it’s you, Joy, it’s you
We want you to be happy, don’t live inside the gloom
We want you to be happy, come step outside your room
We want you to be happy ’cause this is your song too
In time we’ll weather this storm inside together
You’ll see the change when the sun shines through
I’ll miss you Erik. I’m sorry and I want to thank you for believing in me…more than I did. Let the rain pour and the thunder crack. I won’t be afraid anymore. And when I see the lightening I’ll think of the fire and feel comforted. <3