Saturday, February 5, 2011

Twisting the Kaleidoscope

Full disclosure: I'm stealing the title of this post from a writer/friend who uses it as the title of her blog.

Over the last week, since I posted my first bit about Jason, I've been talking to friends, and engaged in conversations we never had. And what strikes me most is this effect, the kaleidoscope. One note in particular got me thinking, a little tweetback from an old friend:

There are other comments, and emails, too. Corrections on failed memory - Seamus collected the lumber for Peter's boat himself, carless, and brought it on the bus to the Summerhouse. Addition of forgotten pieces - the "PJS" we carved in the prow of Peter's boat. Holes filled in - Jason's journey cross-country with Lael after leaving Seattle. And confessions made in response to my own writing that I can't repeat here. And what continues to strike me are the ways that the cells change, as you twist it, and the strange places where the image crosses, intersects, and forms a new picture for everyone.

And what strikes me now, looking back on the five friends who took their own lives through suicide or overdose, is the isolation. Death is a lonely time, regardless. But not all death is the same. In murder, I felt community, as we rallied around our friend. In disease and old age, sorrow muted by family and acceptance of an immutable cycle. But I look at the strange chasm that opened and widened in my own life through those self inflicted deaths, and wonder how I didn't even realize at the time that I had stumbled into it alone.

My experience, looking now, was one of sudden isolation. At one moment, walking with friends through life. And then, without warning, suddenly wandering a series of deep canyons with sheer walls, the kind that close in above you and block out all but a sliver of the sky. The only comfort also a cold knowledge - my friends, recently walking beside me, were wandering in similar canyons. Their voices sometimes breaking through in whispers bending around curves. Occasionally finding one another around one turn - Seamus and I building a boat in our basement, or working with Diana, Michael and Brie to pack and sort Ro's things - only to be separated as suddenly at another corner. And the words, or voices, whispering "sorry," or "that's horrible," or "tell me if there's anything I can do," echoing from the canyon walls high above, disembodied and empty. Anyone who was not in a canyon like mine, anyone still standing on a place with a view of the horizon, was hopelessly lost to me. And everyone in another tunnel too close for comfort, too far for safety. And no way to describe the canyon walls.

Oddly, the one comment that ever made it through was the cruelest. Not meant as cruel, mind you, but the one that took any pity or sympathy and turned it into self interest masked in humor. It was fifteen months after Peter, still some four years before Ro. After nearly a year without death, Morgan was murdered and Judy succombed to cancer and hospital mismanagement in a two month stretch.

Sitting in the Irish Immigrant at trivia night, at one of the round cocktail tables, Brie was doodling on a page. "I dunno, I might have to stop hanging out with you," she said, sort of nervously glancing up from her sketch. "Being your friend is awfully dangerous." She chuckled in that way that means you're not sure whether what you said was ok or not. The whole table kind of stopped. I remember Darin was there, but not who else. And it was the only time a voice made it in. In many ways, it's the moment that drew me to her.

Because, after Peter, that was how it felt. That there was no safe ground, anymore. Jason was not a surprise, and in many ways a relief. I could see his pain, and his struggle, and relief mixed with guilt. That didn't change the isolation, but at least the canyon made some sense. For me, and for many of us, Peter was like stepping on stone only to find air. And when Morgan and Judy went, it started feeling like it would just be like that forever. Like no one was a safe bet, and the vanishing point was just waiting around the corner.

And somehow, to hear someone give credence to that little whisper I was holding in the back of my mind, that made it something real. It meant that it wasn't just some cold voice in the back of my head. It meant that it was something other people wondered, too. And somehow, that meant I didn't have to worry about it anymore.

It's strange, what's remembered and what's forgotten. I've been combing through old journals, reading little snippets of what I wrote in the aftermath. There's oddly little, especially at a time when I was otherwise writing prodigiously. One piece on Jason, nearly identical to a section of the post I wrote last week. I read it and wondered how it could have echoed back so clearly, like my hands remembered the pattern of the words and wrote them again in muscle memory. Of Peter, precious little. A few small snippets. An entry from the hours when we were still trying to convince ourselves that it was a stupid, drug induced accident, not a calculated execution. And then beyond, the slow slide into the mania that gripped me for months after.

I'll write a bit more about that time later. About the busses, and the train. About running so hard after a dream, and then running away once I found it. And I hope, as I sort through the lenses, that I'll keep hearing from my friends. Keep seeing the kaleidoscope twist in front of me. Keep finding the angled light that casts a completely different shadow, be shown the tunnels and crevasses that others saw. If only so that I can walk more in history than memory. And maybe, just maybe, really find my way out of that tunnel I've been running through for so long.


glasseye said...

Memory is a strange thing, and memories of a traumatic event can truly become twisted over time – whether due to self-preservation or misunderstanding or the fact that everything you see during a time like that is colored by sorrow. I have found it difficult to remember my dad with an unbiased eye, and I'm okay with that. We can only absorb so much.

Thank you for these beautiful posts. said...

You write beautifully about a subject we need to talk about more. Keep writing, and we can all keep talking.