Monday, January 31, 2011

Princess and the Boat, or, Two Days Later


The boat was probably twenty feet from shore, and another twenty down the beach, by then. Seamus was somewhere between tears and screaming. I had a sinking feeling, the kind you get when a plan starts taking on water. Like in the movies when one guy gets trapped behind a door in the flooding engine room, and his friend has to watch through the tiny glass window while the room fills up. We were frozen in place, standing on the cold rocks and sparse sand. And our little boat was bobbing away, Cthulhu's tentacled head and small plastic body drifting into the sound.

"I'll get it."

I honestly don't remember if there was any discussion. But Princess was in her skivvies, and wading into the water. I could see her shoulders shake with the cold as she half slid, half swam out to the boat. I could see her face contorting with the cold as she swam back, towing our boat behind her.

May I introduce Peter? (from my journal, 2/2/2001):

There was nothing left on TV. (Note: In those days we had a pretty basic cable package. I'm pretty sure it was late, but one way or another it was just the two of us sitting on the couch.)
"Let's write a story," Peter said.
"What's it gonna be about?"
I looked, and the first thing I saw was a six-pack of fishtail. "It's about a fish."
"Okay, what kind of fish?"
"A flying fish."
"Anything special about him?"
"Yeah, um, he's got a huge tail and he flies really fast."
"Cool. So, uh, what's he do?"
"Waddaya mean?"
"Like, why do we want to write a story about this guy?"
"Um, he's a spy. In the south seas."
"What year?"
"Who's he a spy for?"
"The Australians."
"They want the Nazis to win."
"Okay, why?"
"Cause they want to be free of their western ties."
"Alright, what's his name?"
"Tommy Tonqua."
And that's how it got started. We pumped each other for info. It probably lasted an hour. We ended with a page and a half of a story.


"That looks so good. I want a hamburger." He reached for the phone.
"Uh, Pete, what're you doing?"
"I'm hungry. I want a hamburger." He started dialing off the screen.
"Um, okay, but who are you calling?"
"I'm gonna order that thing."
"Because I want a hamburger."
"Um, Pete, you realize that thing won't get here for like eight weeks, right?"
"Whatever, I want a hamburger. I'm hungry."
"Dude, I'll drive down to Kid Valley if you wanna get a fucking burger. Don't order that stupid..."
"Hi, yeah, I'd like to place an order for the grill thing?"
"Dude, seriously, why are you ordering that thing? I'll drive you to get a burger!"
(Waving me off) "Yeah, how long will that take to be delivered? Okay. Uh huh. Peter Stansfield. 6814 30th Ave NW..."
In hindsight, this episode says a lot. One day I came home and found eight identical boxes from on our stoop. When Pete got home, he was fired up. "Yes, my printers are here."
"Dude, why did you order eight printers?"
"Great deal man. Great deal. Seriously. You want one? I figured I'd have one, give you one, maybe give one to Scotty, and then sell the others."
I took one. I don't actually know what happened to the rest of them.


When you have a guy like Peter bartending in a glorified video arcade, you're in for trouble. That's where I met him, at Gameworks, 1998. It was probably my third week when he hacked the computer system and gave everyone new nicknames. I don't remember most of them. The only one that stuck was Seamus. That's still what we call him. "Sean" sounds funny coming off my tongue. He gave the managers names that were, well, unflattering. And no one could figure out how he did it, or really that it was him. Well, everyone knew it was him, but no one could ever prove it, which is all that really matters.

Pete talked. He talked almost all the time, and if he wasn't talking, he was dead silent. That should have been a sign, too.

But my family isn't prone to mental health issues, at least not anyone close to me. And at 19, 20, even 21, I didn't know the signs. One day, Peter was in a good mood and telling me about the story he was working on about a peasant boy who accidentally releases a wasp demon one night while taking shelter in a cave during a storm. Or he was ordering a George Foreman grill because he was hungry and wanted a hamburger. Or he was holed up in the basement for a week straight, speaking to nobody, coming and going when no one was looking. But mostly manic. Almost always manic, as I remember. And he was brilliant. And this isn't true. It's just my memory, which is now ten years old, tonight. And those are the newest. Some of these memories are from 13 years ago, and I can't really be held liable. It might not all be the exact truth, but it's all the truth for me.

The Main Event

We were all at the house already. It was early evening, but it was long since dark. Seattle in January. It gets dark by 4:00 PM that time of year. Anyway, there we were. Lucas, Malloy, Seamus, Disco, Sonyer, Princess, Laura, John, I'm sure a few others. I remember people were going in and out, even though it was cold and damp outside. Smoking on the stoop. Talking quietly. At least I think we were all there and it was night. But maybe it was the afternoon and it was just me and Lucas.

One way or another, the phone rang. And Lucas answered. And he went outside, and sounded agitated, and when he came back in his face was white and he screamed, "FUCK" and spiked the phone on the love seat. It bounced, high, and clattered down on the floor.
"Dude, what the fuck?"
He was red, now. Lucas is pretty hard to read, most of the time. Red isn't good. "Peter killed himself."
"Peter killed himself. Last night. At a hotel."
"He filled a bag with nitrous and put it over his head. The maid found him this morning."
If everyone wasn't already at our house, they got there soon enough. It was two days since we heard about Jason. I'm pretty sure everyone was there already because of that. But I could be wrong. It might have just been me and Lucas. But everyone else was there soon enough, in that case. Peter had moved out of our basement the day before. He got a pimp job at Microsoft, rented a sweet apartment in a high rise downtown at 9th and Pike. And then he rented a hotel room. He ate an expensive meal in a restaurant overlooking downtown. He drank a bottle of wine. And he pulled a bag over his head, filled it with nitrous oxide from a whipped cream bottle filled by those little silver cannisters, and laid back on the bed.


It was only the second time I'd ever been to a christian service of any kind, and the first time I'd been to a funeral. I didn't fly home for Jason's service, but this one was just over the hill. It was in that funeral home at the top of Dexter, where it hits Westlake and crosses the bridge. It seemed like everyone I knew was there. And somehow, for some reason, I didn't sit next to Sonyer. I wanted to sit with Malloy and Fresh, or something like that. I remember looking across the aisle and down a row to where she was sitting in the middle of the service. "God" this and "Jesus" that, "way and the light" and "he who believeth in me shall live forever." But Peter didn't believe. He was an athiest. And Sonyer was sitting across the aisle, and crying, and looking at me. And I wasn't crying, and I didn't feel anything at all. Just anger that they were talking about God at my friend's service. I thought about the boat in the trunk of the car, and that was the only thing that kept me from walking out. But she was crying, and I knew there would be hell to pay.

"I thought he was gonna do it when he told me he was moving in here," Sierra told us. "He's tried three times before. Pills once. And I think cutting himself or something. But this was the way he talked about. He used to tell me he would give away all his things, and move somewhere quiet, and put a bag over his head. He knew what he was doing. I thought he was going to do it when he moved into the basement, but then he seemed so happy here. I've never seen him happy for so long."
It wasn't clear at first. Not totally. Peter loved nitrous. More than anyone I've ever met. I'm not sure why. All I know is that, for me, it slows the world almost to stopping. Peter's mind was truly brilliant, and always going. Maybe it let him slow down enough, for just that minute. In any case, it could have been a stupid accident. That's what we wanted to believe, when everyone was there in the living room. I remember Princess and Laura were sitting on the couch, the one facing the big windows that looked down into Ravenna. But Sierra knew. She knew. And even though we wanted to think it was a mistake, a stupid way to get high that went horribly wrong, Sierra knew. And we did too. But it was just two days since we got the first call, the one about Jase, and it didn't seem possible. I remember Laura's face. It was kinda twisted. The way they say someone's "twisted with grief." I don't remember feeling anything.

Seamus was twisted up, too. I think the idea came to him the next day. "He told me he wanted a Viking funeral," he said. "We have to give it for him."
Things from those days aren't so clear, anymore. Here's what I remember, clearly. The pictures I have in my head.

Seamus and I, walking through a Home Depot with random lumber. Some 1x4's, and glue, and nails.

Seamus and I, sitting on the floor of the basement. In the southwest corner of the basement, where there was a big, open space and a light hanging from a chain and the cobwebs are considerate enough to stay in the corner. Everyone else had given up, by then. We're not exactly shipwrights. I don't remember what tools I had at that point, but at best a few power tools, a hammer and some screwdrivers. The light cast those ugly, deep shadows everywhere. But I remember Seamus's face. It was even longer than usual, and sunken a little, and his eyes were somewhere between frantic and pleading. And I knew that if we were going to come out of this, we had to finish the boat. I remember the sawdust on the floor, and the glue, and the nails. I remember the look on Seamus's face when we affixed our dowel-mast, and put the action figure body with Cthulhu's head in place beside the mast.

I remember the way the frozen grass sounded at Carkeek. The way it crunched underfoot, and thinking that if I was barefoot it would be stabbing into my feet. It was cold as fuck. Colder than Seattle usually gets. There were maybe ten of us. And I was helping Sean carry our makeshift boat, soaked in gasoline. Cthulhu was tipped over beside the mast. The mast didn't have a sail, as I remember. And the boat was nothing like a Viking ship. More like some child's idea of a rowboat with a mast, much too small, stuck in the middle. But it was our boat. And Seamus was carrying it with the kind of reverence that befits some ancient treasure. I remember the service was bouncing in my head. "Yea, tho I walk in the Valley of the Shadow," and all that. I remember the inside of the funeral home like it was burned into my eyes, white walls, flowers, folding chairs. Coulda been an al-anon meeting. I skipped the casket, I think. I remember flashing to that room, as we walked through the park. I think there was snow on the ground, although that might have been a year later, with his parents, when we went for a memorial. But the main thing I remember is nothing. I felt nothing. I wasn't angry. I wasn't hurting. I was only cold, I just knew that we had to put that boat into the water, we had to light it on fire, we had to send Cthulhu-Pete to his Viking funeral. For Seamus, if for no one else. There was something that told me that, the same thing that knew the only thing I could say to Seamus 5 years later, in much darker times still. But that's another story.

And when we got to the shore, and put the boat to sea, we loaded our Roman Candles, lit the fuses, and waited.

But the little balls of spark blew away down the wind. Or they broke up before they reached the boat, little green and yellow and red sparks overwhelmed by winter and wind and sea. And pretty soon the candles stopped hissing and popping, and we were just standing there, watching our little boat float away dark against the dark water of the Puget Sound.

"What're we going to do? We have to set it on fire," Seamus said. When they say that someone "sounded small" that's the voice I imagine. A desperation that's just not enough to beat the wind, not enough to carry to the waves, not enough for a sea god, or even a nymph, to hear and take pity. He sounded small, and I felt small. I looked at him, and I knew he was right, but I couldn't do anything, didn't feel anything.

The boat was probably twenty feet from shore, and another twenty down the beach, by then. Seamus was somewhere between tears and screaming. I had a sinking feeling, the kind you get when a plan starts taking on water. Like in the movies when one guy gets trapped behind a door in the flooding engine room, and his friend has to watch through the tiny glass window while the room fills up. We were frozen in place, standing on the cold rocks and sparse sand. And our little boat was bobbing away, Cthulhu's tentacled head and small plastic body drifting into the sound.

"I'll get it."

I honestly don't remember if there was much discussion. But Princess was in her skivvies, and wading into the water. I could see her shoulders shake with the cold as she half slid, half swam out to the boat. I could see her face contorting with the cold as she swam back, towing our boat behind her.

How it Ends

She pulled it onto the rocky beach, shivering. Maybe it's just how I want to remember things, but I'm pretty sure I gave her my overcoat. She pulled her clothes on over her wet panties and bra, and she stood shivering. "Well? Are you guys going to light it?" she asked. Diana. That was always what drew me to her, even though our moth and candle routine never lined up right for either of us to see what it would be like. When I was the moth, her flame was covered, and when she was the moth, another girl always had my flame. But that was what drew me, first, her attitude. She never waited for concensus, like the rest of the city. She just acted. She just did. She just said. Acted on what no one else would. Did what no one else thought of. Said what everyone was thinking. Like jumping into February water in the Puget Sound to drag a boat back to shore. Like saying, "Well? Are you guys going to light it?"

We didn't waste any time, then. But the gas had either been waterlogged or evaporated, and it was hard to light. Even if we'd scored a direct hit with every ball, I don't think the Roman Candles would have caught it on fire. But our lighters did, after a while. A kind of weak, low flame, barely standing up to the wind. But we pushed our little boat into the current, and watched the prow rise above the foam, then sink into the waves. We watched until we couldn't see the flames anymore, until the dark and the wind and the sound swallowed even the shadow. And Princess never complained of the cold, huddled under someone's jacket, maybe mine.

But the boat was too far out against the black soon enough. And we began walking back, feet crunching in the snow. And Diana's teeth chattering. We laughed about our little boat on the high seas. About a cruise ship passing it. About it washing ashore in China, or Kamchatka. About someone finding Cthulhu-Peter in this little charred boat, somewhere across the sea. The fire wasn't enough to engulf the boat, no true Viking funeral. But it was enough to melt a little plastic action figure into a puddle. It was enough to burn the Cthulhu head Peter had put on the figure, so I guess it was a kind of Viking funeral. I remember the way Diana's teeth chattered. I remember that Seamus looked present again. Like he had done what he needed to do for himself, for Pete. And I remember feeling nothing.


I started at Gameworks when I was nineteen. Within a month, all my friends were 21, except the girls. Diana was still seventeen, then, and so was Laura. But they were cute girls with fake ID's. After work, everyone went to Von's Martini-Manhattan Memorial. Or to Blowfish (it was still called Blowfish back then). Everyone except me.

Sometime in the fall of the next year, when I was twenty, I got off shift and Pete was getting off, too. He said, "C'mon, let's go to Von's." I didn't say anything, I just went, praying not to get carded. I didn't. And then we went to the 'Fish. And I didn't get carded. And after everyone else had joined us, and we were well toasted, Pete came back from the bathroom. "Hey, you never came out before. Let's see your ID. It must be good. I wouldn't serve you." Everyone laughed.
"I don't have one."
"You've been with me all night, dude. I don't have one. No one's carded me."
Pete looked around the bar. He looked back at me and laughed.

When I started writing this, I looked around for pictures of Pete. I only found the one. It's from a party we threw in October, 2000. About 4 months before Peter put a bag over his head. He's sitting on Lucas's bed, dressed as Rasputin.
Most of his costume is off by that point. We were throwing a "Dark Shadows" party for Halloween. He's holding a whipped cream cracker. From the look of his face, it's post-hit. Nitrous slow and laughing. I remember when we found that picture, a few months later. No one else wanted it. But I thought it was appropriate. Peter would have liked it.

Peter didn't go out without humor. Things kept coming to us, for months. First it was the Girl Scout. She showed up to deliver cookies for us. None of us had ordered cookies. "The receipt says it's a gift from Peter Stansfield."

And the magazine. A gay newsletter, addressed to Seamus. Peter went out with humor, left little traces for us to wonder over, or laugh at. I wonder if it was his way of saying sorry? Or maybe just his idea of a good joke to play, on his way out the door. Gay magazines and cookies from beyond the grave.

Pete, I wish I could remember the story you told me, beyond the wasp demon. We were walking to catch the 64 over on 35th. I don't remember where we were going, but it was late summer, or maybe early spring. It was warm, and you were walking fast, talking faster, and wearing your khaki shorts and black hiking boots. I wish I had that story, or something else you'd written. I wish I had the story we wrote together, about an Australian Nazi fish spy, but it's not in my journals anywhere. I wish I had more to go on than a memory of you and Scott fighting to see who could leave the biggest tip at the 'Fish. I wish I had been a little older when you went, so I could have understood better. You were probably the brightest man I ever knew. And, other than your choice to leave, one of the best friends. I didn't understand then. I understand a little more, now.

I've been listening to Pandora, something you would have loved, while I'm writing this. And of all the random things, it decided to play something from those days. Moby came on. I can't help but think this has some small synergy. So this one is for you, Pete. I hope your boat made it to warm water, somewhere. I hope Cthulhu-Peter survived the fire, lived to baffle some fisherman, on some distant shore.

Hey, Hey, Hey, Woman, it's alright.
Hey, Hey, Hey, Woman, it's alright.

In my dreams I'm dying all the time
When I wake its kaleidoscopic mind
I never meant to hurt you
I never meant to lie
So this is goodbye
This is goodbye

Hey, Hey, Hey, Woman, it's alright.
Hey, Hey, Hey, Woman, it's alright.

Tell the truth you never wanted me

Tell me...

In my dreams I'm jealous all the time
Then I wake I'm going out of my mind
Going out of my mind

Hey, Hey, Hey, Woman, it's alright

Friday, January 28, 2011

In The Beginning

The year I really grew up actually started two months before. I was 21 then, in November. I was sitting alone in my girlfriend's dank basement apartment. My dad called. He said, "son, your dog is dying."

But that's a prelude, and for another time. Tonight, my story is about Jason, and about the next year, the first year I really grew up. The year that started ten years ago tonight.

I don't really remember when I met Jase. But there are a lot of memories. I remember walking towards the main entrance, on the second floor of LHS, and Jason smiling and swinging his backpack. I don't remember where we were headed. I remember skipping 5th period (we all had 4th off and first lunch) so we could finish watching Billy Madison for the 18th time, or so we could keep playing Street Fighter Alpha in his basement.

I remember his patented line: "You're a deeee-iiick! Get outa my house!" I remember the night I was sitting on his bed, and he poured beer on my shoe. It ran off my shoe and onto his blanket. And somehow that was my fault, and I got the line. I remember laughing in his kitchen one night, laughing so hard I almost puked, and I remember the night we took turns downing double shots from a handle of Captain Morgan until I did puke. He ended up worshiping the toilet, and I spent several hours under a bush in the back yard. I remember teaching him the Mohawk words of greeting, the "words that come before all else." Years later, before I really understood the depths of his darkness, he still held those words close in a way that makes me feel a little less sad now.

And I remember his guitar. I don't remember the name of the instrumental he wrote. Blue something. I don't remember the notes or the tune. But I remember the tone, and the slow building as the melody unfolds, like going somewhere else, like the world of suburbia, and high school angst, and nights spent driving around listlessly looking for anything, and the girl who wouldn't look at me after I asked her out, like all of it was some dream and now I was waking up in the real world. Waking up in the world where I belonged. It was about four minutes, but it always felt a lot longer.

This blog has been dead for a while. It's been more than a year since I last wrote here. And I suppose it's fitting that I resurrect it now, and for this. For death. The year that I turned 22, and the five years that followed, those were death's years. But none more than 2001. 2001 was the year that began the Suicide Squeeze. A vice of confusion that squeezed adulthood into us and pressed down hard, fast and relentlessly. I lost four friends in 14 months, and more over the next five years. And I've never really talked about any of them. Now that it's been ten years since it started, it's probably time to say something. If only so I don't forget. So this will be a chronicle, of sorts, a decade-old memorial. It's probably about time I took the journey. And tonight is Jason's night.

Jason loved music. He loved a joke. And he loved hallucinogenic drugs. LSD, 'shrooms, E, Special K. I guess I'll never quite understand, although I dipped in all of them at times, what they did for him. They were his refuge from something, but became the place he couldn't escape. I remember the day Janine broke up with him. We were standing on the corner, and he was yelling. I think it was cold, but it might have only felt that way. He was swinging his bag, angry, and he followed it with a hit of paper. I think it might have come off the sheet I bought that fall that lasted into the winter. I don't remember that part clearly. I remember wondering why he would want to take acid at a time like that. And I remember not saying anything.

By the time we all drove to Seattle, he had begun to show the strain. Who knows what crevasses the drugs opened in his mind, but they were beginning to widen by then. Alex and I drove together first, then Jase and Dan followed a few weeks later. To hear Dan tell it, Jase drove with a kind of fanatic adherence to illogical principals, putting the car in neutral on any downslope, and riding the pedal to the floor on an incline. Seeing how he operated on arrival it's easy to believe.

When we settled into our new home, Jase started to wander. Over the year, he was more and more prone to strange outbursts and changes of mind. I would come home to find him alone in the living room, moving like someone stuck in a vat of jello. If he acknowledged me, he would stop, and smile his lopsided smile. "Tai Chi," he would grin. But it wasn't. You could see he was just trying to make sense of space.

He invited random strangers to our house. One night, he brought home a couple of Ave Rats, the homeless kids who scam and busk and hustle on University Way. They were nice enough, but I had to ask them not to shoot up in my bathroom anymore. Jase loaned them his guitar the next day, and it never came back. He didn't believe that could happen, that they'd just take his guitar. I remember him on the living room floor, half squatting, other half in a lotus position, rocking and scratching his head and asking himself why. He wasn't angry at himself for the obvious mistake of loaning a strange, homeless junkie his guitar. He was asking why they had taken it and not come back.

By the time our year in that apartment ran out, Jase was gone. But we were all a little too young to really understand. I'm not sure what we would have done if we did, or if we could have done something. But the fact was, we didn't. Jason's erratic behavior and swings of mood were annoying, frustrating, but not frightening as they should have been. We were supposed to be out on the first of October, 1999, and everyone else had a plan of where to go. I was at school in Olympia, for a short lived stint at Evergreen. Alex and Dan found a place in Northgate up the street from a strip club. But Jason seemed lost. Well, no, he was lost. I came back on the second, and found him still in the apartment, none of his things packed. I was furious. But there he was, sitting on the living room floor, in a four-bedroom apartment empty of anything that wasn't his. And I couldn't stay angry, because he was clearly scared. He didn't seem to understand where he was, really. He told me he wanted to go home.

I don't really remember what happened over the next year, for him. Jason packed some few of his things and drove his old beater home. Home to Lexington. I remember that Shar was worried about him, and called us. But I didn't know what to say. Jase found his way into a halfway house. He would call, once or twice a month, to say hi. Then it dropped to six weeks, then eight.

And then, on January 29th, 2001, my mom called. I don't remember where she got it from. Dan called right after. Ma Dukes had called him, too. We gathered up in the Summerhouse. I remember two scenes from that night. In the first, we were sitting on the stoop in front, silent. In the second, we were on the couch, talking. I don't remember anything that was said.

Over the coming days, we got more of the story. He had been doing better, was the story. He was living in a halfway house in Vermont, and when I talked to him the last few times, he sounded clear. But the voices wouldn't stop talking to him. Eventually, he did the only thing he could do. He knelt in the bathtub, over the drain, and opened his throat. It sounded like he didn't want to leave a mess. He was always considerate, in the oddest ways sometimes. I don't know how he managed, but, when he had lost most of his blood, he found his way outside. That was fitting. Jase was always happiest in the woods. He let the last drops go in the air, in Vermont, in January. It was cold that night. There's no other kind of night at that time of year in Vermont. But I hope he could see the stars.

I remember two conversations with Jason, late in the game. I'm not sure when the first happened, but it was one of the last times I saw his face. He had the same look he had when the Ave Rats took his guitar. He was pained, didn't understand something. And he said to me, almost pleading, "Shonkwaia'tishon Wat'ganowalando. Prayerful greeting, Creator. You taught me that, Ev. I remember," (Mohawk friends, please forgive my egregious misspelling). The second, and the last time I spoke to him, he was doing well, he said. He wanted to send me money he owed me. I was driving his car when two tires went flat. He wanted to pay me back. Some now, some later.

It was ten years ago tonight that it happened. Ten years ago tomorrow that they found him outside the house, and ten years tomorrow night when word found us. I'm on my couch with my laptop, writing in candlelight. Our power just went out, again. It was out for two days from 4" of snow, a laughable situation if it wasn't so fucking cold. It came back this afternoon, then blinked out again. I've got enough battery to finish my post and an air card to post from, and I'm glad for that.

I remember you, Jason. You had the brightest smile, and the goofiest laugh. You were a monster if you landed Ryu, and I don't know if I ever won against you in that fight. You had the most delicate hands. All they needed was a string, and the world melted away. It was a frightening world, then, as it is for everyone at 17, but I think perhaps more frightening for you. I wonder where your music took you. I wish it could have taken you somewhere far enough that you didn't have to leave us forever, somewhere you could go on it and then come home.

I was so angry, when they told me. Angry, and scared, and guilty. Angry, and scared, and guilty, and no room, then, for real sorrow. But tonight is ten years. Almost exactly now, near midnight. And tonight I cry for you, Jason "Cheetah" Hester. For the first time, after all these years.

I wish I had known how to help you, or even that help was deeply needed. I wish I could have seen past the petty annoyances and understood your pain. I wish I could have told you what your guitar and your laugh meant, back when we still had them. I wish we could have saved you. And since I know that I can't change any of those things, I'll change the one thing I can. Tonight, my friend, I'll cry for you.