initially posted as a comment on MetaFilter earlier today

In summer of 1989 I was in college and had been taking some summer courses. In one class I was taking, a drawing class, a fellow student and I were the most accomplished draftsmen in the class. Interested in each other’s work and one another, we struck up a casual friendship. He was from Beijing and he and his wife were enrolled in grad school at Indiana University.

He had graduated from a Chinese art school and repeatedly expressed frustration with his mastery of beaux-arts style draftsmanship – his work was astonishingly precise and controlled, and it was this reined-in quality that frustrated him about his own work. My bold slashing charcoal marks seemed liberated to him, just as his polished work appealed to me as beyond my own skills at the time.

As the protests gathered momentum in China, he became increasingly involved in the overseas support network, and we had many exciting discussions about what was happening in Beijing and what it meant within Chinese history and culture. He was quite certain that the protests were a watershed for the country, and based this partially on the numerous other turning points in Chinese history that had been catalyzed by student protests. The details escape me now, alas.

My parents and my younger sister had lived in Shanghai together and separately for a total of about two and a half years over the preceding four, while I remained in the states in (and out) of college. I was somewhat regretful that I had been too busy with my early-twenties concerns to go visit, a regret that has intensified over the years. I was a fool not to go.

As the news of gathering Army units passed into the square, the information (and attendant rumors) were transmitted back through the support network and in turn to me, when I would see my friend in class. It was electrifying to hear him recount the latest news and rumors and then to hear or see news coverage on CNN and NPR that would essentially confirm the information my friend was recounting.

As the end of May approached, his news became ever more daunting, ever more promising, ever more frightening. Factory workers had gone on strike all over the country. Beijing’s public transportation workers were joining the strike. It was a general strike that was affecting the entire country. Miners from a rural province were advancing on Beijing, determined to oust the students by force. There were tank brigades in the streets of Beijing. Entire battalions of the military had gone over to the students. There was a rift in governing council of the state. Civil war was imminent. The governing council had acceded to the student’s demands. Party newspapers were covering the protests accurately and openly. People were being kidnapped form the Square under cover of darkness. There was a ‘good army’ and a ‘bad army’ and there would be street warfare in Beijing. A thousand rumors, all shades of truth and fear and wishes.

At some point an important government official appeared in the square and was said to have tearfully begged the protestors’ forgiveness before leaving. My friend took this as a bad sign, and he told me that civil war was the only likely outcome. He told me bluntly that China was on the verge of returning to the era of the warlords in the 1920s and 30s. We parted on a somber note. It was June 2 or 3.

On my way home, I realized that my parents had mailed me an itinerary for a long international trip, as they did with numbing regularity (and still do, I must admit). The information was overwhelming in each one of these documents, and so I rarely examined them closely, noting only with great vagueness their departure and return dates, and almost never the destinations the trips involved.

On arriving at my house, I found the note and opened it to see the, um, concerning words:

“Shanghai, Shanghai Institute for Mechanical Engineering, International Business Association Conference, June 5-8, 1988. Travel dates June 2-4, arriving in Shanghai on June 4.”

(Please note the actual name of the conference and specific dates are fudged. Travel dates are correct, I think).

I do not recall if this was on June 3 or June 4. The dateline complicated things quite a bit.

I called my folks’ house. The phone rang and rang. They had already left. Looking over the itinerary, they had a serious haul to get in to Shanghai. I estimated that the travel day they had slated amounted to about 24 hours of solid travel, including layovers. I began trying to leave messages for them, hoping they would get one and call me back so i could review the news about the protests with them. I ended up leaving messages with every travel organization and airline and at each desk of each airline that they might pass by on the way to China. My best hope was in Hong Kong, where the airline personnel were as aware of and concerned about the latest developments as I.

In the end, unfortunately, my parents received none of the messages.

The next day, I began to call every number I had access to from my parents and my sister’s time in China. As I was doing this, I turned on CNN and saw that the Army had begun the advance into the square. Most of the people I reached did not speak English well enough to be of assistance. However, a native Chinese speaker picked up the phone in what had been my sister’s dorm and went to find another American who was living in the dorm. She did not know my sister, but she did speak Chinese, and of course was full of questions about what was happening in Beijing, as the Chinese media had gone dark.

I tried to describe what I was seeing on the TV, but of course could not (my recollection is telephoto night shots of the square, fires burning here and there). I ended up simply hanging the phone in front of the broadcast for about a half hour, until the newsreaders cycled back to the top of their headline list. The news was pretty thin, mostly US media noting that the Army was clearing the square, that events were underway, and the scale of the casualties was not known – more or less what we still know today.

I got off the phone and had a few moments of looking into an abyss – my friend had told me he expected the state to disintegrate. Although it is only tangential to this narrative, my frame of mind will be better illuminated if I note that my sister, who had been in Chine with my parents, had been killed in an auto-bicycle accident the preceding fall. Losing my parents to history was something that I was not prepared to accept. If things went they way my friend had predicted, I would have to go to China to find them, and I would have to do it very soon.

In the end, I am happy to report, they called me from Shanghai. They had no inkling of what was happening for the duration of the trip. The first they learned of things was only very obliquely, when my father’s colleague, a fellow professor at SIME, met them at the airport with a couple of grad students in tow. Things were vary bad, he told them, but would not elaborate. Public transportation workers in Shanghai were on strike, it turned out, and the only way to my father’s colleague’s home, where he insisted my parents stay, was to walk in to Shanghai from the airport – a distance, my parents told me, of about 20 miles. I cannot vouch for the accuracy of that estimate. I am certain that it felt like twenty miles after that punishing flight schedule.

They called me on arriving in town and after some sleep. I begged them to turn around and leave immediately, which they declined to do, as my father and his colleague were the co-chairs and primary sponsors for the conference. They determined to cancel the event and tried to contact the attendees, with varying success. As it happened, nearly no-one showed up, as one might expect. My parents remained in Shanghai as scheduled and departed as initially planned (as I recall).

My father’s colleague was actively disinterested in hearing the news I had passed on to my father on the phone – he had been through the Cultural Revolution and feared a rerun.

My father maintains strong professional ties to Chinese colleagues and travels to China frequently. I still haven’t ever been.


After writing this I wanted to call my father. I can’t; he and my mother are on an international trip and out of reach. I also had though that this tale was one I had long ago blogged in detail, but scrubbing my archives reveals only an oblique mention committed to the bitstream back in 2005.

My exposure to my friend’s excitement and disappointment (our class ended within a week of June 4, and I do not recall seeing him again) colored my expectations, concerns, and hopes for the Seattle WTO protests of 1999, I will note. By then I had also married a woman whose family fled a successful revolutionary moment, and my understanding of the consequences and opportunities of such a moment were correspondingly more nuanced. Perhaps this ten-year will again bring the tide of festival and revolt to a peak.

A happy update to my update! My parents arrived home today and called as I was serving dinner. We had a long, loving chat.

On a Lock of Miss Sarah Seward's Hair, Who Died in Her Twentieth Year

by Anna Seward, 1747-1809

My angel sister, though thy lovely form
Perished in youth’s gay morning, yet is mine
This precious ringlet!–still the soft hairs shine,
Still glow the nut-brown tints, all bright and warm
With sunny gleam!–Alas! each kindred charm
Vanished long since; deep in the silent shrine
Withered to shapeless dust!–and of their grace
Memory alone retains the faithful trace.–

Dear lock! had thy sweet owner lived, ere now
Time on her brow had faded thee!–My care
Screened from the sun and dew thy golden glow;
And thus her early beauty dost thou wear,
Thou all of that fair frame my love could save
From the resistless ravage of the grave!

… notes

Just a few jottings peripheral to my tear-stained opus this week.

First, thanks to Steve Bouton, who happened to be here visiting the week of September 11, 2002, and was no doubt perplexed by the fuligin funk I was in. I was perplexed myself until I saw the old invitation to that gallery opening and remembered I’ve been at least moody, and frequently downright glum, the second week of September ever since the events recounted in the essays. Steve was literally standing by my side when I saw the invitation and made the connection.

Second, in the four times I’ve been back to Bloomington since 1990, I have twice been attendant to other passings (in varying degree), both of friends’ parents. I must admit it makes me mildly thoughtful each time I consider a visit.

Third, there were at least two other newspaper articles concerning the accident and so forth published at the time in addition to the long article I mention in the body of the essays. I have them somewhere; when next they surface out of the sea of information through which I swim in the physical world, I’ll grasp them firmly, wet scales glistening beneath the overhead lights, and scan them in order to instantiate their digital doubles here, behind the glass.

Fourth, I am by no means the only person thinking about their dead this week. I suspect that after the media haze of 9-11: Year One cleared, most of us spent some time thinking about our loved and lost. Here are two:

Better Sportswear – Anne Zender

PSYCHE: 2, HEATHER: NIL – Heather the Little Cabbage

Heather’s dream and Frankenstein‘s declaration that September is Remembrance Month helped prompt me to write this, once I’d realized why I was sooo gloomy.

I’ve begun to receive emails from people concerned, somehow, about intruding by leaving a comment. I believe this is partly due to my mentioning the difficult issues of privacy and grief associated with the events. I made a decision to write this publicly; there’s some irony there, I guess. But I’m aware of the choice I made here. Feel free to comment: others will appreciate it too.

Concerning the writing itself: I, believe it or not, was also working very long hours on my first week at a new job, which I mentioned last week. I’m a News Editor at Cinescape, a web and print genre entertainment magazine; and getting going was very time consuming. So, you won’t be surprised to hear, was writing this series. I’d sit down between news cycles and write as directly, honestly, and for want of a better word, as hard as I could.

I did spellcheck. I did not outline or meaningfully revise. My thoughts to your thoughts, my mind to your mind… If you know your original series Trek, you know what Spock says to Kirk next.

Last but not least, in addition to the spookily resonant music of my main man Dale (I mean, come ON! “You and your Sister”? “Sometimes I wanna change the world all around”? ), and, as I’m sure you all know by now Jason Webley, allow me to give a shout out to the inimitable, lovely Neko Case, whose 2000 work of genius, Furnace Room Lullaby, was originally released on Mint Records. Ms. Case now has a brand new record out, Black Listed, I’ve not heard yet.

Thrice All American“, about hometowns and loss; and “South Tacoma Way” would cause me to stop and sing aloud each time they came on this week.

Chicagoans, get thee to her shows.

South Tacoma Way, Neko Case + Her Boyfriends
I put on that sweater you gave me
I woke up in the kitchen a few minutes later
I didn’t know how I had gotten there
did you guide me

I didn’t make it to your funeral
I didn’t want ritual nor resign
I just wanted to hold hands with
J.P. and Mary-Jo
But I couldn’t conjure tears

We’re too good for stupid angels
Blackness held his breath beside me
burned the air till it was gone
Till it was gone
Till it was gone

Couldn’t pay my respects to a dead man
your life was much more to me
and I chased away with sticks and stones
but that rage kept followin’ me
followin me
followin me

so lost up a sleeve in the palms of your hands
in dreams we were happy and safe
I can’t comprehend the ways I miss you
they come to life in my mistakes
in my mistakes
in my mistakes

Now I’m drivin’ down Tacoma Way
and the world turns in slow motion
It’s the twilight of our old home
and I’m still in love with you

oh here on South Tacoma Way
We’ve memories for matinees
and the tears come warm and heavy
and the cross streets bear your name
oh the cross streets bear your name

Thanks again to all of you for letting me do this. I don’t know what reading it has been like for you; I hope you found it worthwhile.

September 1988, part four

The date was September 12th or 13th. It was the day after I had the conversation recounted in my prior entry. My calendar informs me that these dates were Monday and Tuesday, respectively. It seems likely that the day was Monday. I had yet to formulate a clear plan of traveling to Indianapolis when I rung off. However, it was clearly the most important thing for me to do.

Those of you who know me also know that I have never had a driver’s license, and have only experienced two truncated bouts of car ownership. Therefore traveling on my own was not a viable option. I was also consumed with the unexpected responsibility of the emotional weight of the little shrine to my sister we’d included in the art opening. Understandably, I felt reluctant to ask others to perform the gallery-watching duties which accompanied shows at the space, a co-op called the Bellevue Gallery. Additionally, school had just started and i think I had some plan of getting advance assignments to cart up to Indy the next week.

In hindsight, it seems clear to me that in some way I was also avoiding an unpleasant duty, by not having traveled up sooner. Not that staying in Bloomington really succeeded as an avoidance, mind you; the fact, noted yesterday, that Suzy’s accident was among the first tragedies to ever strike our extended bohemian cohort meant that my family became a lightning rod for a wide range of people, seeking the same things any human seeks when confronted by the unknowable pain of loss and grief.

I have no recollection of the means whereby I reached the hospital in Indianapolis. It’s only logical to assume I was able to take advantage of a proffered ride, but I do not recall, precisely, who I traveled with. I know that at the hospital, Joey and Kara, and, I think, Jennifer were there, as well as others: Terri and also Burd, I think; Seth; my parents, obviously. I know there were more there, but my memories of my visit begin with my uncertain entry into the actual care facility of the intensive care unit.

The unit was laid out in ring around a central desk, a layout common to contemporary medical facilities where immediate patient access is a prerequisite. By stationing the staff centrally, it means the staff travels the same distance in the event of any given patient requiring urgent attention.

In my recollection, it is nighttime; the lights are dim, and the overheads in the unit are off, so that the light reflects off the polished buff tiles of the floor, and soft or intense pools of light mark the various locations that medical personnel are performing their tasks or have paused for the duration of the visitation schedule.

The fact that it is nighttime suggests that this is late Monday evening. So does the presence of friends who were still in high school, who presumably would have driven to Indianapolis following dinner at home.

I don’t know if there was a monolithic visitation schedule for the unit or if it was staggered; I suspect it must have been staggered, because I did not note other families moving in and out of the unit while I was there; this approach would also minimize the number of stressed out civilian visitors that the staff would need to keep track of at any given time.

At any rate, approaching the central desk, I quietly ask where my sister might be. I am alone, as just as at the emergency room, only one visitor at a a time is permitted. My voice cracks with emotion and fear that I am unaware of until I hear it. I look back at the double swinging doors of the entrance to the area, and I can see Joey and Kara’s face, peeping in. I wave, an acknowledgement and a farewell, because my sister is in a room out of line of sight from the windows in the door.

I may have been led into her room, or I may have simply entered at a direction from the duty nurse. The door to the room my sister is in is open, as, locally, are most of the doors to patient’s rooms. It’s about twelve hours since that troubling pressure spike was measured in my beautiful, wild sister’s still head. In twelve hours they will measure her interior cranial pressure again, in preparation for an EEG to determine her level of brain activity. I’m confident that the results of this test will be positive as I pause in the doorway, peering into the dark room, waiting for my eyes to adjust.

The darkness of the room ins bluish, and the light near the head of my sister’s bed is warm and yellow. Her arms are exposed atop the bed, and the back of the bed is lifted up by about eight or ten inches. I’m sure that the air around me is filled with the whooshes, pings, and creaks of the life support apparatus but I do not hear it. The sloppy tape and iodine stains are gone. So is some of her hair. There’s more tubes. Something’s different – she looks,uh, puffy, somehow. Not enough to really identify any specific change. Maybe it’s the drugs.

She lies still. I quietly approach the bed, a touch unsteady, reaching out for her hand.

“S-suzy? Are you – no, of course you’re not OK – uh I, uh, the opening went well – you have no idea how uh how, um. How many. Lots. Everyone’s thinking…”

I take her hand. It is limp. It is slightly cool. It is inert. It is uninhabited. It is an object. It is abandoned. It is empty. It is light. It is heavy. It is clammy. It is hot. It is painful to hold.

She’s fucking DEAD!


D E A D!


I have clear, unambiguous memories of some of the next few moments. I doubt I can fully express them in this medium. I immediately, and completely, lost all self control. I flung myself across the mechanically-maintained remains of my sister, sobbing uncontrollably. I believe I must have repeated, possibly yelling, what I am sure is the first word I ever learned: “NO!”



I don’t believe that continued for very long. I held her to my head, pressing her against my body, stroking her matted hair, sobbing and sobbing and sobbing, the muscles of my mouth frozen, aching, into a grimace I was utterly powerless to control or change even as facial cramps increased my already considerable discomfort. I frantically rubbed her shoulder and head, expressing my depth of adoration too late too late too late for ever for the rest of my life for ever gone.

Gone. Gone.

My sister, my love, my life; the yes to my no. We lived together the first summer after high-school and got the fighting out of the way then; after that, she was the closest person the world to me, who knew me, as, well, a sister. I knew when I was a child that I would never have kids; the incredible force of my negativity is something that no child should – or will – be exposed to in a full-time parenting environment.

My sister was the inverse of this, an earth-mother punk rock force of nature whose drive and intellect were on a par with my own. I recall violent teenage disagreements in which our combined hormonal misery and absurdly high intellects confounded every parental effort to mediate or rectify. I sometimes wonder what it was like for my parents, with two such iconoclasts competing with one another and the world at large for our own slice of adolescent self definition. Exhausting, I’m sure.

She had long-term struggles with clinical depression, and had been on and off medication for it for some time. This was pre-Xanax, and I think that the first drug she was on was Lithium; watching her incredible mood swings as she tapered off that drug made me permanently mistrustful of the psychiatric pharmacopeia. For the most part, however, that was behind her.

She’d chosen the inverse of my life, traveling and studying the world over. Between her high-school graduation (a year early, in my class, 1984) with a 4.0 GPA and this terrible night in September, a bit more than one month shy of her twenty-second birthday, my sister had studied in the Semester at Sea program, in which college students circle the globe in a cruise ship which is employed as a traveling university, lived and studied in Liege and Brussels, Belgium for, I believe, a year, and again for two years in Shanghai, China. She spoke fluent French, and was a much more diligent student of that language than I have ever been.

Generally speaking, where I can be counted to turn my intellectual and energetic resources to that which is discounted or credited as dangerous in the received wisdom of our culture, my sister applied herself diligently in the ways we’re encouraged to as youth. But for her it was in order to escape, and drove her to seek what she sought – the authentic, I believe – in other cultures, less homogeneous than ours, matured without the shade of endless carports and malls and cheap, mass-produced industrial goods.

I strove to demonstrate to her that authentic, organic culture – the culture that ultimately generates everything worthwhile and full of flavor in life – is inescapable, and all around us, and merely because much of it is ignored as unmarketable does not mean it’s not available for consumption and participation. Eventually, I am so very happy to recount, she accepted this view and turned her boundless energy and razor wit to exploring this in Bloomington, in the field of my friends and in the company of our peers.

That summer (or perhaps the summer before), for reasons I can only describe as of conscience, she single-handedly started a volunteer-run recycling pickup cooperative, at least three years before Bloomington established any sort of municipal recycling program. That core group of volunteers was nobody special (I mean in the world’s eyes, as I am describing some old and dear friends – you’re special to me and also to Fred Rogers, kids!), not particularly political, and basically simply composed of a subset of our friends who, via my sister’s inspired prompting, got organized. Their successful functioning was instrumental in providing a spur to the city government in finally beginning to establish municipal recycling in Bloomington.

But back to our story.

I stood outside the ICU, looking in at the figure of a young man, who, weeping, and staggering in the depths of his misery stumbled blindly, weaving, heaving, shaking, one hand to his tear-blinded eyes, the other outstretched in a gesture of both warding and seeking. He dragged his feet; he paused; his body warped and twisted under the gusts of his grief.

It took him an endless moment to cross the open space of the ICU; watching him was like watching an automobile accident. The people near me, crowded by the door, burst into tears all at once, crying out the name of the young man they watched in horror.

“Mike! Mike! What is it, what happened?”

“Do you need help?”

“Is Suzy OK?”

“What’s going on, do you need a doctor, should we call someone?”

He pushed through the doors if the ICU into their midst, and I was mobbed by the concerned teenagers as I stood sobbing helplessly, wracked, great creaking loud gasps of air forcing my body into convulsive cycles and making it impossible to even mouth the formula the situation requires. I was not OK.

My emotive disarray had a kind of infectious effect on the people nearby, for, I’m sure, a variety of reasons. The increasing waves of fear, tears, and concern both rippled out from us and drew people to us, as I stumbled with the small knot of onlookers into the waiting area where the entire crowd of people who were paying court to my dying sister and our parents had assembled.

I have no clear memory, again, of the journalistic details of the situation. There may have been a total of ten people there in addition to my immediate family. There may have been as many as twenty all told. I do not know.

As my sisters’ crisis became the eye of a gathering storm of emotional concern among our peers, certain qualities that my family possesses began to accidentally shape the form of the concern and attention that was focused on us. First, we’re all good in a crisis. It takes events that are difficult for me to anticipate to powerfully and continually disrupt our ability to reason and think ahead, analytically seeking the optimum outcome. Second, my parents are as verbally facile as I am, and the combination of these skills means that our communications with those around us at this time became something unexpected.

Although I accept and treasure the form it took, I also regret that we did not have the foresight to create sufficient privacy for ourselves. As will be seen, we spent an inordinate amount of time helping others to manage their grief, something which fairly requires the use of the words “It will be OK”, words, which when uttered by the newly bereaved can only be described as a lie.

Due to the scale and intensity of our communities’ supportive reaction, neither my parents or myself were ever alone with our uncertainty and fear from, effectively, the moment we first heard about the accident. We were quite literally surrounded by and rocked in the bosom of our community. It was a remarkable experience, and at the time I was quite uncritically pleased and grateful for it. Since then, while still deeply gratified by the outpouring of support and concern we experienced, my understanding of the reaction has become more complex and taken on a critical overtone.

I became quickly, if haphazardly, self-educated about, for example, head injuries, brain damage, and the experiences associated with serious accidents and death. i learned about the stages of grief, which are helpfully provided in convenient pamphlet form to persons awaiting word on their loved ones in the ICU’s counseling lounge, which is a private room used to provide a private environment for medical personnel and chaplains or representatives of faith to perform an essential part of their profession, that of grief counselor.

Because of the unique circumstances surrounding my sister’s crisis, my family became amateur grief counselors to a surprisingly large number of persons, not all of them the youth who first inevitably adopted her moment of desperate need as, appropriately, a learning experience. I want to stress that this is natural.

Thus, when I entered the waiting are in search of my parents, it was not I alone with my parents who dealt with my grief and loss – there were many others there as well, with many, heartbreaking questions. We answered them as best we could, and my parents and I must have retired to the private lounge to discuss and review.

The pressure test and EEG was on the other side of an infinite night stretching before us. Although I was certain my sister was dead, she could not be declared medically dead until an EEG had been performed; should the EEG reveal no brain activity, we would face a decision concerning the prolongation of life through artificial means. I was adamant. “Pull the damn plug!”, I practically shouted; my parents had discussed this among themselves and come to the same conclusions, thankfully.

And so we attempted to sleep. The lounge looked like an encampment of street people, black leather and combat boots under army blankets. Little subunits would venture off to smoke or get food and then return.

The pay phones in the waiting area rang constantly, for us, and for other distraught families.

Eventually, I believe the next morning, I answered the phone to hear the voice of a colleague of my father’s, a man I’d known since I was eleven or so, calling from an airplane. He had lost a child in a boating accident long, long ago, and I knew that the loss of that child has had a profound effect on his family ever since. His son, a few years older than I, is one of the greatest young American writers of the present day, and his talent has been hailed since he first began publishing in the late eighties, as I recall. It’s my firm belief that this writer’s fierce pursuit – courtship, even – of danger and death is partially related to the loss of his sibling.

I recall reading an article of his in a pop-culture magazine in which he journalistically recounted the experience of being a passenger in a car somewhere in the former Yugoslavia when it went over a land mine and killed the other occupants of the car, journalists with whom I believe he’d been working. Although he was unhurt physically, he recounted his wandering through the war-torn countryside in such a way as to make it clear how deeply affected he was by the event.

I was in an airport awaiting a friend’s arrival, and on reading this passage, I knew he flashed back to the death of his sister as he went into shock. I knew this irrationally, however. I knew it because on reading it I flashed back to my experience in the ICU, and to my experience of answering the phone to find his father on the line. The writer’s father, my dad’s colleague, attempted to speak to me and simply burst into great sobbing tears, repeating variations on “I’m so sorry”. I waited for him, and listened, and one thing he told me which I recall and which is true is that “It doesn’t go away. Time will cover it, but you’ll experience things in your life – as what’s happened to your sister is affecting me – that will bring it painfully anew to the surface of your psyche.”

Since that day, these words have come true again and again.

Eventually, my parents returned, and I was able to put my father on the phone with his friend. Let’s assume that they were off, attending the EEG. My mother told me that, as expected, there was no further electrical activity in my sister’s battered brain.

From here again, things are not clear in memory.

I attended my sister’s bedside with my parents, and, weeping, I cut a great forelock she’d grown and repeatedly cultivated as a fantastic item of plumage, dyeing and redyeing it, dredding it and coloring it with henna, cutting it off and regrowing it as she hung the dredd precursor from the handlebars of her bike.


Months later, miles from my parent’s house, I found the dredded handlebar ornament in the gutter by the sidewalk. I have no idea how it got there, but it was certainly hers, and I picked it up and retain it yet.


On September 18, 1988, we held a memorial service for my sister. My family practices cremation and has no graves; my sister’s body had already been consigned to the flames.

We stood in the warm September sun greeting people. If I recall correctly, a columnist for the local paper had written an article about the life and death of my sister which had been published that week, possibly (although it seems doubtful, really) on the bottom of the front page, for which I and several friends had been interviewed.

So we greeted them as they came in. We greeted my parents’ peers, and the congregation of our childhood church, and our friends from high school and from college. We greeted our teachers from high school, and from middle school. We greeted our professors from the university. We greeted fellow-students from IU, and former roommates, and co-workers, and the families of all of these people.

And still we greeted them. We greeted former lovers and ex-girlfriends and casual dates and people I sort of knew and people I didn’t know at all and their families.

And still we greeted them.

Finally, as the staff of the funeral home scrambled to set up more chairs, and still the line stretched around the building and snaked up the parking lot past the cars of people waiting to pull in and doubled back on itself, my father retired us from greeting; I think close relatives took over. The funeral home could not possibly contain them all. We were assured the PA could pipe the eulogies outside.

In my estimation, between 500 and 700, but possibly more, people attended. I honestly do not recall if the article was published prior to the memorial service or not. At any rate, I think that the mass of people represented three distinct social circles who had all been affected by the life of my sister. First, the immediate social group of my parents, constituted of church people and university people.

I’d estimate my parents’ extended peer network at about 300 persons. Then, my sister’s university, internationalist, and activist circle, again, a group with between 200-300 persons. Finally, the peer group my sister and I shared, what may be described as the bohemian community of Bloomington; again, this group numbered between 300 and 450 persons, in my estimation. Thus, our family’s moment of loss became a lightning rod for at least three distinct, thriving, well-populated social networks; her death became theirs to mourn as well.


I left Bloomington for Seattle in 1990, just as the Gulf War events were set in motion. I had (more or less) finished college (damn pesky French requirement rules change). I’ve been here ever since. My parents left Bloomington for Chapel Hill the same year. By about 1992, most of the people my sister and I grew up with had left Bloomington.

Between now and then, the circle of invulnerability around our shining youth abraded away. Brian and Robbie, each dead in different motorcycle accidents. Laird, lying in the soil at Puerto Vallarta. Heather, dead more awfully than i care to reflect on. Steve. Those of you I knew back then, I’m sure there’s plenty of others; those of you who’ve met me since, I’m sure you have your own dead.

They’ve been standing at your shoulder this week as you read this, every death you’ll ever experience; reading about my loss through your eyes, whispering in your ears of your own echoes of loss and the ways it’s warped and knotted the trunk of your life. You’ve grown over that barbed wire, or been bent by the wind, or sought the sun, and they live on in you, in your refractions of them and reflections upon them. Each time you animate them by taking their puppet of memory off the shelf, they’re really right there with you, not quite as before.

But there, and with you.

Raise a glass.

Repeat after me: “To absent friends!”


(As I finish this, I smell my sister’s sweat. Perhaps it’s from the hair i scanned: her body oils on it moistened by my fingertips bloom a gift of scent to me. There are many good reasons for keepsakes.)

Her death dramatically changed my life, not entirely in positive ways. I treat those around me, most of the time, as though you might be dead tomorrow. Or so I’d like to think. Unfortunately for my morale, that means I engage in a great deal more anxious introspection than I did previously. On balance, though, I’d rather be kind to you than act thoughtlessly for my own gratification… Or so I’d like to think.

My lifestyle is much more conventionally bounded these days than it was at the time, as well. Today, you could take me home to your folks without worrying I’d drink all your liquor, flirt with your mom, or pick a political fight with your dad. I miss doing those things, but I’ve made my choice.

There are a few more pictures of my sister (sorry, no larger links behind them – perhaps later) at Reloading the page randomly loads another image. There are about ten images, I think.


Suzy (left) and Danielle, at the House of Ragin’ Women*, circa 1987. photo by Matt Uhlmann.

I should write more about her life now, but this has been quite a labor this week. I’ll close by noting that people were thoughtful enough to keep bringing items of personal significance even to the memorial service. Some have expressed their loss in other ways later, too.

Thanks to all of you who were their at the time, and thanks again to all of you who joined me for this long memoir of another sad September, a long time ago, when my world was young. Every September since then, I fall into a funk by the end of the first week, and it takes until around my Dad’s birthday, the 18th, to figure out why. This year, and presumably for the rest of my life, there will be more public grieving overlaying my own reactions to this damnable time of year. Next year, I will be, I think, better prepared for it.

*Yes, it was really called that, and yes, I know about Jaime’s excellent book. His came out shortly after the place was named; just coincidence.



Done reading? Thank you, and click here.

September 1988, part three

In lieu of providing a detailed account of the art opening, I have chosen, instead, to show polaroids taken earlier the same summer, in the same gallery, at a different art opening in which we four artists – Mike Whybark, Matt Uhlmann, Bill Foster, and Nathaniel Rust (grandly assuming the collective moniker of Ohm International) – introduced an art-making concept called “Art Booty”, in which a marathon three-day seven-card-Lanny poker game is held. The stakes are art commissioned by the winner of a hand from the low hand or loser in a showdown and executed on the spot from materials provided in the gallery.


Seven card Lanny was named after Lanny S., who taught us how to play. It’s also known as seven-card no peek. Deal seven around, face down, no peeking. Cut the remainder, show a card. Bets go around, each player turning one card face up on the table as the play progresses. If a card of the same denomination as the cut card surfaces, the next turned card, and all cards of that denomination in play, are wild. If the cut card shows up again (that’s the Lanny, see?), the wilds change as indicated above.


It’s a slippery, slippery game.


Our Humours show was considerably more conventional in terms of presentation of the artworks. However the opening reception was raucous and wild and filled with defiant, fearful energy.


The attendees had responded en masse to my printed suggestion, “please bring an object of personal significance”. The table in the corner beneath the portrait of my sister filled rapidly with mementoes, many of which I can identify by donor in the photos below. Much of my evening consisted of repeating the information contained in the two entries recounting the events leading up to the opening, over and over again.


As the opening cleared out, I drunkenly took these pictures.


The black and white photos of Suzy were taken by Matt.


The large Jesus was placed by Frankie Camaro. The vintage 1968 Young Americans for Freedom membership card (R. Emmet Tryell, chapter president) had belonged to at the time and was placed by Steve Millen. I can identify more objects, but will save it.


After taking these shots, I and Matt closed up for the night. Tottering down the dark street in the humid night, I encountered some stragglers who were quite disappointed to not have made it to the opening; unfortunately, I’d left my gallery key with someone else. I immediately climbed the outside of the building to the second story window which let into the gallery while my friends gaped in concern. As I reached for the window I realized that I could NOT get into the gallery, and, owing partially to my intoxication, I was both in serious danger and unable to climb down.

So I waited.

Eventually, my concerned friends managed to make it into the building and procure a tenant with a key to the gallery – if I’m not mistaken, that key holder was another person I’d known since sixth grade, Peter. At any rate, they opened the window and hauled me into the gallery, where Matt proceeded to read me the riot act, emphasizing what an idiot I had been to scale the building’s wall and concluding by calling me “some sort of caped asshole”, which I have ever since cherished as an ideal superhero moniker.

With that, the evening of our art opening and the opening of the expressions of public concern for the well-being of my sister following her accident drew to an unsteady close.



(In order to meet my publication schedule and provide you, dear reader, with an appropriately divided reading experience, I am forced to post two chapters of this piece as one. My apologies, and thanks for taking the time.)

The weekend passed with people dropping by the gallery all day on Saturday and Sunday, often friends, usually with some small item to leave at the table. Strangers who wandered in began asking what the table was for, and I had the distinctly uncomfortable experience, soon to grow all too familiar, of explaining my sister’s straits to persons I’d never seen before in my life. The effect of the story, and the table of mementoes, was inevitably the same.

A gasp of sympathetic horror and shock; followed by a moue of sympathy and a reflexive turning to another in their party if any. If lovers, they would hold one another for a moment. Then, clearly feeling obligated (a reaction unanticipated by me, in my ignorance), they would dig in purse or pocket for some small item they’d carried into the gallery with them.

Another class of concerned visitor were younger acquaintances of my sister and myself. We knew many punk rock kids who were still in high school. For the great majority of these people, my sister’s crisis was the first time the cold breath of those dark wings had stirred the hairs on their fantastically beautiful, innocent heads. In point of fact, it should be noted that during the whole span of my adolescence and early adulthood, not one peer that I can recall had suffered debilitating injury or death.

In the social circles of my youth, as well, violence itself was utterly eschewed, and there was no faster route to social ostracism than to pick a fight. Curiously, given the absolute predominance of recreational drug use and alcohol intake among my peers – the bad and the bright of my hometown, geeks and bikers, punk rockers and aged poets and gifted or poor musicians – there had been no accidental overdoses, no wars between dealers, or any evidence (to my youthful eys) of the spectacular misfortunes assiduously chronicled in the nation’s press with regard to the scourge of our streets.

In short, we were all as innocent of the potential for loss each member of humanity carries from birth as my teenage friends were. They were profoundly direct in their expressions of concern and the particular meanings it carried for each of them; while my older peers were somewhat more circumspect but clearly as hypnotized by the fearful possibility inherent in my sister’s mechanically regulated breathing.

shhh clik

shhh clik

shhh clik

The few young people who first went to sit with my parents in Indianapolis multiplied; my sister’s closest friends were there. Shifts of drivers ferried carloads up and down, bringing food, and changes of clothing, and the like. I deferred repeated offers to travel to Indianapolis courtesy of this virtual bus line because of my duties at the gallery through the weekend.

I spoke with my parents daily, monitoring what they knew of my sister’s condition and the ever increasing settlement of our friends who were in Indianapolis. My sister’s professors, some of whom were my professors, began considering a visit to the hospital. My parents’ peer group – other members of our church congregation, my father’s colleagues at the business school – ventured up to show their concern, to be, I must imagine, at least surprised to see the fluctuating cluster of black-clad youth attending to my beloved parents.

Finally, on what I believe to have been the following Wednesday, I was given some concerning news from my folks. Over the period from my sister’s accident, the pressure in her cranium had not appreciably lessened, and several things were occurring as a result.

First, powerful drugs were being continually introduced into her system to help her body adapt to (I think) being under mechanically maintained life support. These drugs begin to have an adverse affect after about one week, and after that period of time, as I understand it, begin to break down the tissues themselves. Please note that my understanding of these matters is not definitive; it reflects the impressions and opinions I formed at the time and not further research or factual knowledge.

Second, in order to effectively measure the pressure within Suzy’s skull, something had to be inserted into the skull; there may have been an associated proactive surgical treatment as well. At any rate each time her pressure was taken, there was a danger of the catastrophic pressure increase I mentioned earlier in this narrative.

Prior to my parents’ telephone conversation with me, just such an increase had been observed, and as a result, they were waiting for twenty-four hours before attempting the procedure again; however, the possibility that the spike represented the actual moment when my sister’s brain truly ceased to function was quite high, and it was necessary to prepare my parents

It was necessary to be prepared for

I had to consider that

One was forced to recognize

The hospital staff warned my parents to expect that when the care-team took an EEG about twenty-four hours after the measured, and threatening, pressure spike, it was very much most probable that the amount of measurable brain activity




------------------------------ -- -- -- --   -   -   -   -          -          -         -

(more tomorrow…)

September, 1988, part two

We pulled into the hospital parking lot without further incident. We’d not sideswiped anyone or been pulled over in our mad dash. Again, certain details are difficult for me to recall, but I have sense impressions of entering the emergency room area of the facility, slightly befuddled by layers of cool blue glass which gave the area the illusion of perfect depopulation.

Somehow, I found myself at my sister’s bedside. She was unconscious, blood-and-iodine stained, and in a room by herself. There were curious clicking, booping, and whirring noises all around. Large and small tubes hastily festooned her face and body, sloppy, hurried tape holding them in place around her mouth and nose. I saw some bruises on her face, but she was not hideously swollen or obviously hurt in any way that I could see.

I took her hand and shakingly spoke to her.

“Suzy? It’s Mike. I don’t know if you can hear me but… I uh I I love you very much, and uh”

I felt her hand squeeze mine.

“Oh god, you do what you have to, Suze. Please get better, you get to work and concentrate on getting back in shape. You know you look pretty good – I mean for someone with tubes taped to their face and funny yellow disinfectant stains and all. Mom and Dad are here, and I’m sure you’ve spent time with them.

Seth drove me up. Did you know he found you – he went to look for you, and he saw you being loaded into the ambulance and he found our parents and he drove me here and he’s really not doing well.

I haven’t really talked to anyone about your accident, yet, so I don’t know much about how you are from a medical perspective or anything, you know? I mean I talked to Seth but he’s really upset and hasn’t had time to talk to anyone in detail yet either.

I love you and I know you’re going to be fine. I probably will need to go back to Bloomington – geez, did you even know you’re in Indy? – tonight because we have that art opening on Friday to get ready for. The works look really good! I’m really looking forward to it. Hey, maybe you’ll be there, huh? Well, I’m sure you will in spirit, anyway.

Hurm, uh, we’re going to call the show, uh, Humours, you know, like the medieval system of medicine? And, unh, um, that poster of you I made when you were living in Belgium, you know, that says ‘Miss this Woman’ and hung up all over town? The one I made from that picture of you looking all cool under the Golden Gate? Well, that’s in the show; Matt and Nathaniel and Bill all have photos to show, and I have some lithos and a painting or two and some street posters.

Geez, it’s weird about the choice of title and that poster. Really.

You know what, I bet I need to give people an opportunity to express their love and concern for you at the show. I – um. I could ask everyone to bring something that means something to them to the opening. Plus it can’t hurt, right? I mean, we can mock superstition and practice it at the same time, right? Oh, I guess I’m talking to myself now.

Well, I’m sure folks will appreciate the chance to express their concern. Holy geez, I have a ton of more stuff to do now. I really have to get back.

I love you so much, little sister. You hang on, and get better, and I’ll be back up here as soon as I can after the opening – probably over the weekend, Suzy.

I love you! Get better!”

I reluctantly left – I backed out of the room, adoring my little sister, certain that her wild strength would see her through.

I found my parents and Seth sitting in the waiting area, among the other stressed and frightened families awaiting the latest word on the puissance of science or the hand of god. The hushed ambience of the room, freighted with it’s cargo of mortal uncertainty, was, naturally, disrespectfully molested by the soulless warbling of easy-listening adaptations of popular hits. The presence of this pallid audio garbage in the context of the public space where we conduct our most intimate human dramas – reunions, deathwatches, and the like – has added uncounted layers of suffocating misery to the world. It’s as though persons at the height of stress and tragedy in their lives were also forced to endure being physically wrapped in cold, transparent plastic tarpaulins in order to emphasize the degree of isolation each of us can experience.

I sat and strongly encouraged Seth to go in and visit with Suzy. I don’t recall if he had to have one of us with him in order for him to be permitted in the room – I don’t believe that was the case, however. At any rate, I was able to discuss my sister’s accident and her condition for the first time with my parents. She had been struck from the side by a person driving a station wagon, possibly a missed stop sign being the cause. Her bike had been trapped under the car and dragged for a few feet, while she had been flung up over the car’s hood, striking and shattering the windshield of the car with her head. She, as with the great majority of bicyclists as recently as 1988, was not wearing a helmet.

The paramedics had arrived with great speed and apparently performed well, especially considering that Seth had become concerned quite quickly about her absence and thus it seems likely that my sister began receiving treatment within five minutes of her injury.

This was information I had, more or less, sorted out from my ride with Seth.

Seeing her had been good for my spirits. She’d responded to my voice; I’d been able to contextualize her accident within the framework of activity I was committed to, and she showed no obvious sign of severe injury.

I asked my parents both why she’d been flown here and why they had that damn tube down her throat. I believe I must have expressed this inappropriately, and I recall receiving an admonitory look from my mother.

My parents then began to both take heart from my relatively good spirits, and to tell me things that began to dampen them. The tube I’d so casually damned was a respirator, which in conjunction with certain other items, were what was actually allowing my sister to breathe. Her auotnomic nervous system was not functioning, and according to my parents’ understanding, that meant that it was not possible for voluntary or reactive muscle movement to take place.

At this news, I exclaimed, “But she squeezed my hand!”

This outburst stunned my parents, slightly, but they quickly recovered, discounting my perceptions, unfortunately for the rest of the conversation. I stubbornly, and then somewhat angrily, insisted that her hand had closed firmly on mine as I spoke her name and identified myself to her. My mother just as strongly insisted that according to what she’d been told by the doctors involved with my sister’s care, such a thing was not possible, although some sort of reflex response might still be possible (although no-one had yet broached this with a health-care professional).

I very strongly resented this dismissal, but realized that arguing about it would prevent my folks from telling me more about my sister’s condition and course of projected treatment.

Briefly, the impact of my sister’s head with the car had happened at such a velocity that the tissues of her brain had been, essentially, bruised. I don’t believe it’s called that, but the effect is similar: a bruise swells. So does a brain that has experienced this kind of trauma. However, brains already occupy all the available space in the cranium. Therefore, as the tissues swell, the pressure they experience increases, and the worse the swelling, the greater the pressure.

The result of this pressure? Ruptured and destroyed brain cells. The worse the pressure, the greater the brain damage. At the time, the only treatment was to open a hole in the skull to allow the excess material (which I recall hearing described as “water”, although to this day I do not know what it was) to drain. For all I know, that’s still the case. However, operating on the skull creates more trauma for the braincase and can cause the already high interior pressure to spike, which carries with it the very real possibility of immediate brain death.

Therefore, treatment teams prefer to wait a day or to see if the pressure subsides or stabilizes. It was this course of action which was to be pursued with Suzy. Shortly, possibly by the next day, she’d be transferred out of the ER and into the ICU.

At that point I began to insist that my experience with my sister regarding her hand be conveyed to her caregivers, which we were able to do with relative immediacy. I recall being disappointed in what I still regard as a dismissive reaction; however it was clear that it was emotionally important to my parents to support the decisions that the care team was making. Rather than add to an already unpleasant experience with my desire to argue the point, I began to press Seth for a ride back to Bloomington.

Over the next three or so days (I believe her accident was on the 8th or the 9th) I worked my ass off preparing for the art opening. I added a line to the invitations and flyers reading “please bring an object of personal significance” and bought cloth and candles to define the space where my sisters’s portrait – the flyer reading “MISS THIS WOMAN” – was to hang in the tiny, second floor gallery space.

A stream of well wishers began to pay calls on my sister and parents in the ICU in Indy. My parents had taken to spending the night in the waiting area in Indianapolis. Some of their visitors decided to join them as well. Soon, my parents had an honor guard of five to ten punk rock kids huddling with them through the muzak-stained nights.

Matt, Bill, Nathaniel and I hung the show on Thursday night, sweating in the unseasonably warm and muggy night to the Ramones End of the Century; “Danny Says”, their ode to the isolation and absurdity of the road (with a few beer-inspired lyrical adaptations), became our anthem for the evening.


Danny sez we gotta go – gotta go to hang the show
but we can’t go see ya cuz we gotta hang the show, o-oh aoh

Art’s hung including you – all your friends are missing you
Oh, but I can’t wait to be with you tomorrow.


Oho-ho-ho, we got nowhere to go and it may sound
Funny, but’s true. Hangin’ out in the gallery watching
Get Smart on TV. Thinkin’ about.
You and me and you and me.

Sometime in the very early morning hours of September 11, 1988, the show was up, and all that remained was prepping the opening with food and beer for the evening. We lit the candles on the green-clad table beneath my sister’s portrait, one for each humour:

Green – Phlegm

Red – Blood

Black – Black Bile

Yellow – Yellow Bile

There are many resources on the significance of this belief system and the traces it’s left in our culture. It’s fascinating, and well worth reading up on. We’d selected it because our works all turned, we thought, on issues of faith and humor, in the sense of satires, pranks, and silliness. The humor of Raven and Coyote, of Punch and Harlequin.

Harlequin’s motley, no doubt, is colored red, black, green, and yellow. We made the works and hung the show with no sympathy for Pierrot and his bloodless, moonlit sorrow. Harlequin’s lustful joy was to carry the day and provide us, and our dear circle of friends, a tool with which we might pry the clutches of the Reaper away from my dearest beloved, my sister, myself, and chase Death beyond the fire with the light of the bright sun of Reason.

And so, sweaty, girded for battle, ready to bind our love to one another in the glory of our youth, we retired for the night.


(more tomorrow…)

A suggested soundtrack to this week's material

It’s a good idea to listen to the music of Right to Left and the Vulgar Boatmen as you read my entries for this week. It was what we were listening to at the time, and the songs seem to be about these events.

When we Walk
All of My Friends
Morgan Says
Good Night, Jeanne-Marie
Wide Awake
You and Your Sister
Drive Somewhere
Sometimes I just Wanna Change the World All Around


No Nostalgia has six VB songs available for free downloading.

my lil mp3 server offers two live Right to Left tracks.

There is a yahoo groups site for the Vulgar Boatmen, but I’m experiencing a domain name server outage at the moment, so I can’t reach the link. There are more free and live tracks available there.

UPDATE: here’s the link; you may need to sign up for access. Available are a cover of Believe What You Say from a 2001 show at Schuba’s in Chicago; The Kind of Girl I Could Love from a Monkees tribute compilation. Wide Awake, Let’s Take Some Drugs and Drive Around, and I’m Sorry are all from a very well-recorded live show in Germany, 1992.

And Finally, you can access the VB’s “You and Your Sister” at as mp3’s. They offer a 50-song free trial with signup (you must cancel or you’ll be billed as a subscriber); the downloads should still generate some revenue for the label and therefore presumably for the band.

September 1988, part one

I walked to work through the bright September day in a good mood. School was going well, and I was enjoying my job, setting type and designing flyers and resumes for my respected bohemian elder D. Self, who taught me, among other things, the virtues of Dunhills and of Patti Smith.

The walk from campus to my workplace just off the square in my hometown of Bloomington, Indiana was at the time (and may still be) a very pleasant stroll through quiet, tree-shaded streets that date to the late 1880s, although most of the buildings are somewhat more recent, dating between the turn of the century and the Depression, with some modern exceptions. Bloomington’s economic and social heart is the ebb and flow of students through the limestone gates of Indiana University, and in September, when school has just begun and the streets are full of students greeting old friends and seeking romance, it feels as much like spring as it does fall.

One constantly encounters acquaintances and friends, and the constant stream of young people is as pleasing to the eye as the just-turning leaves on the trees. It’s fashionable, if you’re a native, to complain about the influx of traffic, to be irritated by the herds of chanting sorority rushees and packs of roaming drunken teenage midwesterners. Fashion being culture, not nature, one must admit that the season from September to mid-November is the most beautiful time of year in Southern Indiana in general, and in Bloomington in particular.

As I approached the shop I saw Seth’s distinctive chopped VW bug pickup, gleaming green and chrome and wood in the afternoon sunlight. He was seated on the hood, smoking, and stood as he saw me approach. I was pleased to see him, as we’d known one another since the sixth grade, and he was currently seeing my sister. It was quite uncharacteristic, however, to find him awaiting me on the sidewalk in front of my work.

I greeted him in good spirits, possibly with a hug. “Seth! How are you?”

He paused (I thought taken aback by my effusiveness). I don’t recall his reply.

“What brings you down” – a gesture, taking in the vicinity – “here?”

He looked at me, unsure of what to say for a moment, and then, uncomfortably, but calmly, said, “Ah – there’s been an accident; your parents are on their way to be with your sister, who has been taken to the hospital because she was in an accident.”

I looked at him, gesturing for more, listening seriously. I believe I’d lit a cigarette.

“Your parents sent me to get you, and they knew you’d be here after class. I’m supposed to take you to the hospital.”

I said that was fine, and that I needed a minute to tell my boss I had to take the afternoon off. I knew it would be fine; I could always make up the time if we had some deadlines later. I ducked in and grabbed some boards for a flyer I had laid out for an art show I was helping to organize that friday, and let D. know what was going on. Fine, fine. Things were gong to be fine. It was fine. That was fine.

I hopped in Seth’s remarkable custom bug, and he pulled out. When he hit the main drag and began to head for the highway at the edge of town that leads north, instead of driving the ten blocks or so west from the square to go to the hospital, I was momentarily confused.

“Hey! Where are we going?”, I demanded.

Seth was again silent for a moment before replying. “Indianapolis.”

“Indy! I thought you said that my sister was at the hospital!”

“Well, uh… yes. She’s at the trauma center in Indy. They flew her there after the accident.”

Flew her?”


I digested this for a moment.

“Seth, uh, maybe you should tell me about the accident.”

This may not have been the right thing to say, as he began to tell me how my sister hadn’t shown up at his house after having called him to say she was on her way. They were less than five minutes apart by bike, and so he set out to walk the route she was set to ride on her bike. About three surburban blocks from his house (his childhood house; both Seth and my sister had been living with our respective parents that summer) he came across a cluster of police, emergency vehicles, sirens, and onlookers. They were clustered around paramedics who were preparing to remove the victim, an unconscious figure being moved to a stretcher.

Drawing closer, he recognized the twisted wreck of my sister’s bicycle and with what I can only imagine to be a shock of horror knew that the unconscious, bloody person being prepped for evacuation was his lover, my sister.

As Seth communicated this to me, his ability to convey what he knew verbally deteriorated, words broken by deep breaths in an attempt to remain calm enough to drive. The weight of emotion and of grief in this moment of reliving his helplessness overwhelmed his ability to communicate using language. Somehow, it’s difficult for me to summon precise momories of how Seth told me the rest of the story.

Unable to demonstrate that he was family, he was prevented from traveling with my sister in the ambulance, but was told which hospital they were taking her to. He immediately set out for my parents house, I think, where he may have found both of my folks at home. I don’t know. At any rate, he was able to convey to them what had happened, and then all three were able to rush to Bloomington Hospital, as I understand it, in time for them to learn that Suzy’s injuries were serious enough to require an emergency helicopter flight to the region’s major trauma center in Indianapolis.

My parents are generally very calm and collected people, and so they asked Seth to pick me up at work, and he had, and so now it’s about three hours after the accident and Seth is bawling like a baby, pounding the dash of his car in frustration as we drive as fast as the little bug-pickup can go – seventy – eighty miles an hour as the erect middle finger of the power plant on Indianapolis’ southern edge heaves into view around the last bend in I-65. We’re both chainsmoking, making more smoke than I’ve ever seen that stack produce.

There’s no music. There may never be any music ever again.

(more tomorrow…)

and these few precious days I'll spend with you

This year, a heavy gloom came upon me just after the first week of the month of September. I put it down to the same things you all did. Yet, although last year I felt wrecked by the news, I didn’t recall such a paralyzing black mood as that which held me in its smothering paws last week. And yet, it seemed, somehow, familiar.

I am going to tell you a sad, sad story this week.

You may wish to look at the date in the flyer I reproduce above. Click it for a larger view.