i’d kicked myself after the fact for not wearing my vintage paul frank tee that day, a collab with the andy warhol foundation, circa early aughts. maybe that’s what led to the fate of pan’s fifth, i thought.
we’d stayed until the museum closed, having wandered the galleries for hours, sometimes taking in side by side, oftentimes walking separate but together, snapping photographs in multitudes, as is our wont. & then somewhere between leaving sf moma and the gold coast dispensary — poof, there it fucking went, like the smoke at the end of the blunt we just shared.
i knew what it was, but held it together. this loss tragically ironic, i’d purposely kept all of the photos from january on, but hadn’t backed them up. that decision tragically ironic, too, so made because i wanted to keep the photos i’d left close to me and with me always. a reminder in my pocket of just how far i’d walked, a reminder in my pocket of what a fucking miracle my life had become.
it’s ironic, too, this time poetically, that i’m finishing this particular piece on this particular holiday, ticking away another with my very great love. i’d thought this week, in passing, of where my story was a year ago. it wasn’t until today, though, perusing my journal and looking back online that i realized just how dark it had been.
i didn’t know when i wrote that post that soon after, at the turn of the year, i’d emerge slowly back into life, the weight noticably lighter with the help of my friends, therapy, community. and i didn’t know then that four months later i would meet them, they the long ago “she”, now on my bathroom wall.
which makes the loss of my iphone that day sound all the more trivial. it was about more than just a “thing,” though. it was about keeping those first six months close — the lift of that weight, the return of my wonder & joy. in writing this though?
from there. from there on the couch. where i would wake at three a.m. one ordinary saturday morning, out of my doze to find my partner, then. dead on the floor, not yet forty years old.
a cruel trick of the fates, i’d find myself living another version of my own origin story as a motherless child, this time in the role of the father who would eventually become my Hook. but that isn’t what this is about.
thoughts ruminating as the year approached. on what to write. what to say. marveling at the distance yet not wanting to relive, rehash, revisit the depths to which i’d sunk into the trauma. upon trauma. upon trauma.
out of which i’d crawled, my fingertips & nails bloodied from holding on and slipping away again into the haze and the misery, moments of courage amongst swigs upon swigs of drink, amongst ideation – edgar only giving me pause, weeks upon weeks of therapy, individual and group – the metaphoric bloodletting of grief.
and then the turn, the turn, the turn of the new year out of the haze – the literal leaving behind.
i can’t recall when it was that i bought the three prints from them. photographs for sale for grad school supplies. three for thirty bucks. i’d finally framed them years later. she and i stood beneath them together as i shared with her who the artist was, never imagining as i stood with my arms around her shoulder so abrupt an end to her story, never imagining who the artist would become to me.
to here. those first tentative steps back into life.
to here. the end of the rainbow behind the House.
to here. captured moments laid upon my floor, two hands upon each of my shoulders, one made of stardust and one made of lost boi. each of their words, one past, one now, urging me through the door.
to here. another flight taken, another door opened.
to here. sitting upon their couch as i write this, three sixty five plus seventeen, into this dream of a life unfolding out from the endless Sea.
i’ve let the wind she’s become carry me on to the next part of the story / once it used to embrace me / now it has set me free.
i first wrote this line on the very first page of the very first tiny notebook i ever carried. begun years ago, the specific number of which i will forgo mentioning here. it was one of those lines that tend to pop into the mind of writers, seemingly out of nowhere, not related to or brought on by anything in particular, or so i thought at the time. i’d written it down for no other reason other than the fact that it sounded cool. and because it sounded like the truth to me. i see now that it more than sounded.
ordinary friday afternoon. i’m in third grade, preparing for our weekly jaunt down the hallway and around the bend to the music room for mrs. jennings’ class. which was at two, school let out at two-thirty, our teacher always had us get our bookbags ready to go home beforehand. i happened to glance out the window as i gathered my things and saw that harry’s van was parked outside.
“he’s a half hour early,” i remember thinking. “weird.”
and then. over the intercom. the school secretary’s voice,
“mandy young, please report to sister mary’s office.”
sister mary was the principal, so no surprise when a couple of classmates teased over my shoulder,
i walked the short distance from my classroom down the hall to the school office and remember the feeling of the secretary’s hand on the back of my shoulder, on the green plaid strap of my jumper, gently guiding the way.
ordinary sunday afternoon, this one marking the end of a local civic light opera run, one of the few back then i hadn’t worked. i’d shown up to work strike–dismantling rented scenery and set pieces after the last performance, then loading it back onto the truck. i’d taken a load off in the cage in front of the rails to peruse the show program, on the ogle prowl for cute chorus girls.
ordinary late night, riding an mta bus east on western, having decided “fuck it” after waiting too long for the train at willowbrook station. i was zoning out, people watching, grateful to be past usc, probably just ten minutes or so from home in ktown. we all might have seen it at once, a crowd of people spilling out onto the sidewalk and into the street. and then the bus slowed. and then the bus stopped.
ordinary sunday morning, woken slowly, puttering around, sipping coffee while waiting for my toast to pop when i checked my messages, “call me as soon as you get this.” variations on the same theme from more than one of my friends.
ordinary saturday morning. fallen asleep on the couch, i’d woke just after three and stretched myself up off the couch, stumbling off towards the bathroom.
rainy wednesday night. i’d shown up thinking it’d be a class, a seminar sort of thing in which they’d tell you what to put where and send you on your way, just the first step on a path made of many, then left knowing it was done, that it would be filed in two days, that there would be no court fees for me. my god. what?
i looked down at the time on the schedule. five minutes, the next bus forty-five later. oh, fuck. i don’t know the neighborhood, street names, which way is which, and the rain just makes it worse. with the way the ac’s been running i have no fucking time to spare.
rain is pouring down in sheets and i can’t see anything. across the street. yeah, that sign ain’t a bus stop. and there it is, my fucking number across the way, at the light about to turn green across my way. forty-five fucking minutes, there’s no way i’m missing this bus.
i wait for a break in traffic and don’t bother waving. there’s the break and i’m out in the street. and then. out of the darkness, parting falling sheets of water, this car. that stops short just in time. i know it’s close, too close. but i just have to get to this bus. and i do. and when i’m aboard i think to myself out loud,
“life and death in one hour.”
flashes, one right after the other.
finding elizabeth gone. life and death in one hour.
the news told to me that break had died the night before at nocturnal wonderland. the towers would fall the following week. life and death in one hour.
the driver screaming, “HIT THE DECK!!” before the big guns opened up on each other and the driver peeled out the tires on western. life and death in one hour.
opening the program for chorus girls and finding instead those words: dedicated to the memory of marc munoz. life and death in one hour.
walking into sister mary’s office, seeing harry, and hearing his words, “your mother’s died.” life and death in one hour.
the haunting nature of the words i never said.
i stepped out into the still falling sheets, ‘brella down, i tilt my head back and wept.
and then laugh my way up to the platform to wait for the richmond train home.
a not so ordinary wednesday morning when the phone rings.
“fuck. it’s the judge.”
we’d been playing phone tag the past few. i’d missed one of the signatures. i’d gone in expecting it’d be just another step out of, not many, at the very least, a few. i walked out, though, and it was done. three orders in my hands that said it was done, decreed it done. life and death in one hour.
i stepped out into the sun that day, the hour still morning, holding myself from my want– to share this with them right away, them in my home waiting for my return, well nested in my heart, from that first glance i saw of them across shattuck.
those flashes, those hours propelling me forward, out of the blue and into the pink. knowing again that death is no end. that they all are a part of me now as i begin writing something new.
This is a bittersweet fucking story to write. Only this far in, my eyes already filled from flipping through, trying to choose the first photo that I’ll use. She was unlike any other that had been in my life before that. My previous a Labrador / Pit Bull mix that came to be known as Pup, forever memorialized in the black and white of my Fairytale and now this little one will be, too.
I never expected that I’d ever want someone small.
I drove an hour east of L.A. that day, my clammy hands clenching Deborah’s little GT, telling myself over and over,
“And don’t just pick one because they’re fucking cute because they’re all gonna be fucking cute, all right?”
The den of a McMansion in an upper middle class suburb— their Mrs. Darling ushered the litter in and then another, older dog, a dog the young ones had never met before. All but one whimpered and cowered in the corner and that one was the small, fearless someone that I chose.
“What are you going to name her?”
Their Mrs. Darling looked at me quizzically before we flew on our way. She and I starting the first of many long journeys back together.
It was the week of Thanksgiving, still in our business of show days — animation production with another class of Lost Boys. The lone grown up in the office, our studio minder was gone on vacation, so with me to the office my little Stuart came. Her first day spent sitting atop my desk, tiny and new at six weeks. The second passed from person to person, cubbie to cubbie. She met a lot of people that week, as she would throughout her life. Now that I’m thinking about it, though, I imagine she must have been somewhat annoyed, coming to know her the way I did. She just really preferred everything be on her terms.
It was her first week home, too, that I’d almost lost her, thought I did, at least. I’d stepped out to check the mail, check on the laundry, I don’t even remember now, but I’d been back in my place for a bit and I hadn’t seen her around.
“Whatever, she’s small,”
I thought. Peeking around, under my desk, under my dresser,
Under the table, then, to myself,
“Where is she?”
And a rise of panic,
“Oh, Jesus Christ, no.”
And then frantic,
I didn’t even want to step outside to look. Because to step outside meant that I’d probably never find her again. I told myself,
“You have to.”
Open the door and there she is, sitting on the welcome mat looking up at me. Fucking six weeks old.
Our lair at the time just east of Downtown L.A., Ktown — one of many lives I’ve lived, you see. Alexandria Avenue, just off of Sixth and lined with palm trees, Koreatown rapist era. Then onto Dewey, just off of Olympic, a little bungalow behind a cut up Craftsman. Behind a crackhead, too, but that’s another story. Lived in the Hills of Hollywood together, but that’s another story, too.
It was always interesting to me, to see who she loathed and who she liked. Of course, she’d never show her cards to the person in question, she was always proper, always polite. I could tell, though, evidenced by the little curl in her lip that only I could see forming — very Anna Wintourish. My ex’s mother comes to mind. She would coo and carry on in one of those voices,
“Who’s a pretty little girl?”
“Oh, what a beautiful puppy,”
That sort of thing. And then would form the curl. Stuart just never really cared for the fact that my ex’s mother took the liberty to smoke inside of our house whenever she came to visit us, which, let me say, was rather often. That dog fucking hated smoke and I loved her for it?
When she loved, though, Stuart LOVED. She had close friendships in her life, besides me, and I loved that — Ronnie, the most recent. Our former neighbor here in Berkeley. Seven months pregnant during her senior year at Berkeley and her cat died. We had gone downstairs to check in and visit for a while. And when it was time to go? Stuart wouldn’t leave her side.
I guess it really is true — some creatures among us are so small their bodies are able to express only one feeling at a time…
We had the sort of shorthand that develops only with time and in living great adventures together. She came to know the things I would say out of anger, out of sadness, and joy, and would snap to reaction accordingly.
Once I began my studies at Berkeley I was introduced to a level of stress I’d never felt before. And lashed out accordingly, either throwing books across the room, crying, or some combination thereof, Stuart would come running in as the other pets often hid, looking at me as if to say,
“Can you please hold it together. This is embarrassing. And beneath you.”
We’d not been in Berkeley long, she’d been having these ticks, you see, facial ticks. They got to be so frequent that I could tell when they were coming, this restless way she’d get about her. A blood test later and we had our diagnosis. She was given three to six months and I began to count the days. Thirty then sixty then ninety and,
“Well, there are always exceptions.”
It was our golden age together, along with the time I spent at City College. Lots of time spent home together, she lazing about while I read or sat at my desk writing. She watched and helped me become.
That was five years ago, January.
Two years ago this last fall I’d received the news — the man who called himself my father died. My first thought,
“please not Stuart, too. Not yet. Please just a little more time.”
And one year ago, January? It was Stuart, the thought of her and her alone, that stayed ideation, preventing its evolution from into something more, and in doing so, quite literally, saved my life.
Her time finally came this past December. It came as no surprise. I knew. Though I tried in vain to tell myself otherwise. Even talking to her about a dog carrier backpack I’d found, so I could take her on hikes in the woods. Deep down, though, I knew it would be our last journey back. And it was. I cried all that day. And when I sat at work the next day, I questioned if my life even had meaning anymore. It was always Stuart and I. I walked home that night, crying, lamenting my loss, kicking myself for all of the things I thought I could have done differently. Deep down, though, I knew she wouldn’t have left if I hadn’t been ready.
And that’s when I came upon a green satchel with yellow lettering, laying there upon the just rained upon sidewalk. A look around and no one there, I snatched it up and stashed it in my bag. I’d emptied the contents out when I got home: a quarter ounce of top shelf marijuana, gram of hash, along with a sweet little pipe.
I have no doubt that was her.
She’s been gone now just over three months, my life has gone on, of course. It wasn’t long after that my bird landed — my Stuart, my faithful little fairy had brought me my Wendy.
It wasn’t until I began writing this piece that I realized what it was about her that drew me to her — she had no fear. It wasn’t until I began writing that I realized, too — she reflected the very best parts of me, strong and loving, before I was able to see them in myself.
It didn’t occur to me, that it was possible it could happen again — I mean, I couldn’t imagine what the odds would be and math isn’t my strong suit, anyway. And, yes, there is no doubt in my mind that my life is fucking magic, I see proof of it every day — but I’m also not a complete fool, you know? Last time was along about five years ago, the second of January, as I drove north out of town on the 405 freeway, the day that I left L.A. With each passing mile I felt the end of one story fall away, the new beginning of another coalescing before my eyes and in my mind…
I can’t tell you what it was, exactly, that brought it on when I left to meet her that evening in Oaktown, not nervous at all, which is totally out of character, cause I’m not smooth or whatever at all. I felt, though, that my life was about to change and scribbled it in my tiny notebook as I rode the tunnels in the last car of the train.
We walked out of the bar that night and on to the next place, a chill brought on by the blowing of the breeze between the buildings downtown, she hooked her arm through mine and it felt like the most natural thing — another feeling brought, too, a new adventure in a place I’d never imagined was possible. As I recall it, I can’t remember if it was before or after we both waxed romantic on Toulouse-Lautrec, and as I recall it, I can’t remember if it was before or after that I knew I was done for, either.
A couple of days after that she asked whether it’s possible to know in four minutes that you’re in love with someone. I thought, quietly, to myself, of course, absolutely, and told her later that in extremely, very rare cases one could even know in four texts.
Before, actually, now that I’m thinking about it, if my Peter Pan memory is serving me well as I write this, when she waxed on her books and the authors that wrote them and the things her Father always told her, revealing herself as the song from the pan flute of my pen.
Christmas Eve, met up with a friend for some last minute shopping, my life all of sudden including a family to buy for — my bird and her little bee. We walked the gauntlet of street vendors on Telegraph, a scarf caught my eye, hanging beneath a tarp and blowing in breeze, Peter Pan green, like her eyes — feminine, embroidered with pink.
I’d slowly emerged from the wreckage and the darkness of the past two years — the death of the father that never was and the string of toxic paramours that followed, chaos fairies of the finest order, I must say. I felt the moment as it passed, the weight, quite literally, lifted off of my shoulders. It’s quite possible I might have pushed it off, myself. I can’t really be sure. Entanglements written away and then my own admission, finally laying claim to my dream.
We’ve lived a beautiful, two month blur together in our Neverland, unexpected she making her nest in the strong and loving house of my name, drawing out my strong and loving Pan as she lays her head upon my chest, the birds inked on our bodies tangling up together her hand on my shoulder, comforting my broken little girl just with her presence.
Their birthdays aren’t very far apart, you know…
I am living with her the beginning of a story that reads like one of the many happy endings I’ve written for myself over the years and the one I gave myself that day that I drove out of L.A. Only now my ending is real — my bird, my Wendy doesn’t grow up and Syrinx does hear my song.
These are the pages I know that I’ll surround myself with, pinned up on the walls as the world burns down all around us.