If There is Only Today

Posted by on February 1, 2018 in Hooked Favorites | 3 comments

Kevin, sweet­ie –

Over 18 years antic­i­pat­ing your death, brac­ing for it, while near­ly believ­ing the leg­ends of your immor­tal­i­ty. Want­i­ng to believe them. Over 18 years prepar­ing for a loss that, turns out, can’t be pre­pared for at all.

You looked like you were dying when we met. Decem­ber 7, 1999. T & K showed up at my alley win­dow & casu­al­ly report­ed your ill­ness. I was still new to the Ave, bare­ly 21, and didn’t yet under­stand the will-he-make-it-through-this-one-or-won’t-he tightrope that was your per­pet­u­al state of being. Fear still felt urgent. We got to know each oth­er over the next few hours — one of us slumped on the side­walk, the oth­er cajol­ing, then plead­ing. When the cops showed up, you man­aged to get halfway down the block before col­laps­ing. The ER or jail, they said. As EMTs led you to the ambu­lance, you broke away long enough to grab my arm & pull me along with you.

If I’m going, you’re going with me.”

You last­ed about ten min­utes in the exam room before storm­ing out. (The first les­son of many you’d impart: on future ER vis­its, I’d know bet­ter than to pas­sive­ly wait in the lob­by, nego­ti­at­ing access for behind-the-scenes advo­ca­cy.) You spent that night on my apart­ment floor, tucked beneath my grandmother’s crazy quilt. My bound­aries were already shit; what else was there to do with you that cold, wet night?

Over our years of more hos­pi­tal trips, jail vis­its, prison let­ters, ban­daged feet, clean socks, cups of tea, spi­ral-bound note­books, Pepe’s bur­ri­tos, more “Ay, love, can I get a favor?” than I could count, you taught me the ques­tion wasn’t what to do with you, but with all out­liers. Any­one too unpre­dictable, too non-com­pli­ant, too fuck­ing much to be grant­ed food, shel­ter, health care, a toi­let, pri­va­cy, eye con­tact, dig­ni­ty, human recog­ni­tion. Those so deeply wound­ed, car­ry­ing oceans of pain that sys­tems won’t accom­mo­date and the unscathed can’t bear to be near. You taught me to ques­tion my role as a ser­vice provider, to under­stand that, for some, there wasn’t going to be a tran­si­tion­al hous­ing pro­gram or achiev­able end-goal. There would only be today.

(If all I can give is today, am I still worth your time?)

When you stole from me, it was nev­er as much as you could have. When you lied to me, I learned not to get hung up on debat­able details, but to hear what was unspo­ken. None of these lessons were unique­ly mine. Did any­one make it off the Ave with­out dream­ing they might pull you up with them? A clos­et floor, reg­u­lar sleep & meals, a safe place to get clean: wish­ing those things could be enough to bring you peace. Every­one want­ed to be the one to save you. In you, we embraced con­tra­dic­tion: your volatile and pre­car­i­ous well­be­ing; the cer­tain­ty of your hugs. Blue eyes rolling in their sock­ets, one sen­tence flail­ing over the next; off-the-charts smarts. Your irre­press­ible charis­ma. That dark place where it was near­ly impos­si­ble to reach you. You were a flame draw­ing so many of us close, and no flame ever burned brighter than a play­ful Pup­pet, that wild cack­le ric­o­chet­ing down the alley.

You taught me to love with­out agen­da – not in spite of That or in hopes of This; just as you were. Just as you were… A human being who laughed and encour­aged and looked out for, who was gen­er­ous and fun­ny and ruth­less­ly self-aware, fre­quent­ly & bit­ter­ly dis­ap­point­ed by those of us who failed to live up to your fierce loy­al­ty, who hurt oth­ers and hurt your­self more, who lived with unfath­omable pain and self-loathing and some­how, through some mea­sure of resilience I will nev­er com­pre­hend, some­how always kept on liv­ing.

Until you didn’t.

If I could tell you just one thing? It would be I’m sor­ry. I’m sor­ry I let the ocean wash between us, more and more time seep­ing between let­ters until years had passed. And if I could tell you one more thing? It would be thank you. While those social work days are long behind this fish­er­man, I am for­ev­er grate­ful that you pulled me along with you that cold Decem­ber night, into that ambu­lance and on into your life. I would answer the unspo­ken ques­tion you nev­er stopped ask­ing.

(You were, love. You were worth it all.)

But the win­dow for telling you any­thing has closed. All that’s left is this – telling any­one and every­one else, peo­ple who nev­er knew you, who would have crossed the street to avoid you, that your life mat­tered, and your death doesn’t go un-mourned. For this, I wish I could scream as loud as you. It still wouldn’t be loud enough.

So tonight I light a can­dle for you, sweet­ie, and for all who loved you. And that’s the fuck­ing heart­break of it all – there were so, so many more of us than you ever believed. I hope you can believe it now.

Love,
T

 

 

3 Comments

  1. Friends. Please read this before com­ment­ing.

    Many of you have asked me to make pub­lic what was a pri­vate Face­book eulo­gy. You’ve asked to share this with oth­ers who’ve had sim­i­lar jour­neys and loss­es. So it’s here – but in turn, here’s my request of you:

    Please don’t com­ment on the writ­ing, or the “gift” I was in Kevin’s life. When we met, my life was rid­dled with its own man­ner of chaos, & on more than one occa­sion, Kevin inter­vened on my behalf. Peo­ple tasked with kick­ing him off the prop­er­ties he’d been tres­passed from still cared for his well­be­ing. Cops who spent the past 20 years arrest­ing him recall con­ver­sa­tions with him as the high­light of their day. Know­ing Kevin was the gift, and lov­ing him was nev­er a self­less act.

    If these words touched you? Please, rather than tap­ping out com­pli­ments of sen­tence struc­ture, please instead take that time to sit with your feel­ings. Go deep­er. Look beyond the indi­vid­u­als in this exam­ple and con­sid­er who the Kevins are in your own life. Trust me, they’re there – the bipo­lar daugh­ter of a friend, the man stand­ing at the free­way on-ramp whose eyes you don’t meet. If you’ve ever won­dered “Why can’t she get her shit togeth­er,” or “Why doesn’t he just get a job?” I ask you to fun­nel the feel­ings you’re hav­ing about this eulo­gy into crit­i­cal think­ing, to decon­struct the rugged indi­vid­u­al­ism, boot­strap bull­shit we’ve all inter­nal­ized and con­sid­er the inten­tion­al bar­ri­ers built into a soci­ety con­tin­gent on entire swaths of its cit­i­zens being dis­pos­able. Sys­tems that exist to hold peo­ple down while con­vinc­ing them & every­one else that there’s no boot on their throat; it’s their own fault they can’t breathe.

    Because while my heart is bro­ken by Kevin’s death, friends, I am fuck­ing enraged at the soci­ety that failed his life.

  2. Thanks, Tele…for both the eulo­gy and your inspi­ra­tion.

  3. Tele, your words writ­ten in eulo­gy to Kevin and your com­ments prob­a­bly go deep­er than we can ever know. Your gen­tle reminder of we are all peo­ple on a very per­son­al jour­ney. Not know­ing what’s over the next wave. Two steps for­ward one back we sway. In our heads as always as we swim through life. Ques­tions are always there in which way to decide to go, yet the answers seam to some­times take a life­time to find.
    You, Kevin and the rest of us are all a gift to each oth­er. I hope that we can all find hap­pi­ness and peace in this crazy world of ours.
    Thanks for being you in my life!❤️

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