The last few weeks have been ones of process, filled with manic activity and shifts in relationships. I have been absent from writing, because I had to choose between cooking, or writing here. I chose to feed us, but I didn't stop writing. I just stopped writing here. The digital format can be time consuming and particular. A notebook and pen are in my back pocket, and do not demand editing. And, sometimes, the thing you need to write can be difficult to begin.
We have lived in our current home for 11 years. I have experimented in my garden beds 8 out of the past 11 years. This year is finally a "night garden." I planted light colored flowers and fragrant herbs, sunflowers and nasturtium, and have at last my Three Sisters. My garden was again transformed, but not by me alone. I had help. I borrowed a truck from our landlord, Jeff, and filled it with soil from the farm of his son Matt and partner Jesse. Our eldest son works for Matt and Jesse, and rents a home from them. Jesse is a big sister to the first girlfriend our eldest son ever had. Our families have moved in and out of each others timelines for decades.
Community is fascinating. The ties we make, the relationships we forge. Until recently, my focus was always on our broader communities, of state and national politics, trends and themes in culture, and the development and construction of societies. This past year, my focus has shifted inward, to my immediate community of neighbors and friends I have made during my time here in Berks County. Their kindness, generosity, passion, and creativity teach and inspire me. I have thought about community these past few weeks, as I moved earth and dug my hands into dirt. I have thought about community these past few weeks, as I cleaned books on shelves and put my house in order.
The flow of life is unpredictable. Days may seem to take on routine as they follow one after the other, but it is unreliable. Even while committed to my graduate studies, and locked into the rhythms and patterns of academic semesters, the unexpected and unforeseen would occur. The scaffolding of academia provided some stability, but it was touch and go a few times. Like when our youngest, not yet four at the time, and right after we moved, was seriously injured halfway through my MA. Or when we found out that my brother closest in age to me committed suicide, a few months before my MPA program began. Or when I ended up in the hospital halfway through my MPA, and was not certain I would make it out.
In each of those cases, I reached out to people, to my friends and Pennsylvania family, for guidance, support, and strength. I persevered, and made it through my programs of study with my family and myself in tact. But, it was not easy, to reach out to others outside of my immediate family for help. Having lived a life on the edge of community, seeking support from those inside always feels like something new.
On May 10, a man by the name of Scott Hutchinson killed himself. He was the man behind the band Frightened Rabbit, which is how I know him. He was a very honest songwriter, and his music helped me get through the pain, emotions, and responsibilities of my brother's suicide. That was 2013. My brother hanged himself on April 8, but we did not learn of it until June 3. They had to track us down.
My brother did not have a drivers license, or bank card, or credit card, or phone contract. He had somehow managed to get a place in an apartment complex for men who needed mental health support. He was estranged from his wife, he told us they were divorced. For months prior to his final act, Mom, my sister and other brother, and I were in constant communication about my brother. We knew something was wrong. We knew he was lying to us. But, we never thought, we never thought, we never thought.
He used a shoelace. Perfectly executed, as was his style of play. He destroyed his viola. He taped his birth certificate to the underside of his bed. He trashed his room. He hid all things associated with our family beneath his bed. We never thought, we never thought, we never thought. We could not imagine. One cannot. He checked out early, and left us all behind to deal with it. To carry on.
The sorrow rests in the middle of my chest. Then, it was placed there with a blow that made my chest cave in, that took my breath away, that made my legs weak. Now, like a snake, at rest, coiled, but, it does strike. A piercing pain, minor paralysis, then constricted, my breath squeezed out of me.
Scott Hutchinson was an honest songwriter. He gave me hope, because, I thought, maybe, just maybe if you write about it truthfully you can make it to the other side. That honesty and transforming terrible pain into an artifact that stands apart from you, distinct from you, was a way to beat it. But it's not. Scott Hutchinson lost. My brother lost. But I still wake up every day, and deal with a day.
The sorrow will never go away, and neither will the anger. Twin to the sorrow, the anger rides on its back, then wraps tendrils around my brain after sorrow strikes. As a crown, it slowly tightens until I have to bring hands to eyes, and I want to break things. To throw things against walls, to rip and tear at the fabric of reality. To break everything. To rage against the dying of the light. To rage against the light of day I must live through, to collapse at the end in the dark of night.
When we were young, before our sister and baby brother, when it was just me and my brother, we lived on the shore of a lake. There was a pier that he would run down, he was always running away, and we would have to catch him before he got to the end. Since I was 8, I have had a reoccurring nightmare: It is night. I am in my nightgown. My brother, in diaper, runs down the pier. I chase after. I get to the end, and he has disappeared. Not a ripple in the water, just gone. I have not had that nightmare since June 2013.
I never knew Scott Hutchinson. I only knew his music, and the performer on stage. It is strange, how someone I did not know can be so tightly wound up in my life, so deeply entwined with my brother's death. On May 10, it all came crashing back on me, a wave I never saw coming in. I have been crawling out of the wet sand since then.
When the news broke that the body of Scott Hutchinson had been found, texts began flying, each of us trying to help one another through the shock and the sorrow. "Tears in Beers," a dear friend called it. A death that shook us all, because he had been so beautifully and brutally honest. We never thought, we never thought, we never thought. We could not imagine. One cannot.
I wonder if the music was a place they could go to to feel better. A place where their better angels could defeat their demons. I think that is why I chose to stay in this place.
I have difficulty making friends. I have trust issues. Yet, with that confession, over the years I have cultivated relationships with people whose lives make me stronger, just with their living. People who make beauty, who live their passions, who cultivate life. People who carry light when I am in dark, who lift the weight of the world enough that I can breath again. People that live on this land. Land that provides solace, in flower and tree and grass, birdsong and wind. Under sky that provides fortitude, in sun and star light. This is a place where my better angels can defeat my demons.
Our home is on earth that my bare feet can walk upon. A garden where I can dig my hands deep into dirt and see worms and roots, emerging seedlings, life beginning. Grass I can lie upon and see the wind move tree leaves and clouds, where I can watch hawks and song birds fly.
Community is all of that. It is everything. Love loud. Do not save the best words for the eulogy. Be kind and generous to yourself. Be kind and generous to others. We all have existence and mortality in common. We all have demons. We all have better angels.
This telling was difficult, because it is not just my story. This story is my mother's, my sister's, and my brothers'. I do not want to cause more pain to others I love so fiercely, and who have had so much already, and I fear this may. But, this telling is mine. I have always used writing as a way to contain something inside me, to bring it out and examine it. To externalize it. To Other it. To exorcize it. To, whatever. I am eternally sorry if the telling causes pain.
I needed to write this piece, because I don't know how long it would take until I could write about something else if I didn't. I needed to work through this process. I believe in, and trust process. I am human. I need to believe and trust in something. I write these words, and know not if anyone else will even read them. It matters not. I write because I must. But, if one person reads them, someone who needed to know that there is another who struggles to get through a day, that there is another who spent a day just trying not to have a panic attack in public, and now does know that there is another, then, good. I write here because I believe and trust in community.
I work to be a better writer. That requires honesty, with myself, even before others. This story has been beneath everything I do everyday since June 3 2013. I need to write past this. My brother was an amazing musician. My brother was in pain. My brother could be very cruel. My brother could be very kind. My brother played with a robin in our back yard one day when he was small. My brother played with Cat Powers, Nina Nastasia, Ben Folds Five, and so many others.
This brother's name is Dylan. Search for Dylan Willemsa. He was an amazing musician. Listen to his music, because I no longer can, and it is beautiful.
"You only live as long as the last person who remembers you." I try to carry some on, into the next day.
Be kind and generous to yourself and others. Love Loud.