Death and All His Friends

As we grow older, we inevitably reach that point where life stops handing you things and starts taking them from you, and when that happens, you realize you really are an adult.  But the finality of death really seals that deal; and when it’s someone your age, you really begin to feel your own mortality.  Despite being in my late (shudder) 30s, I still feel like I did in my late 20s (which makes me either a youthful thirty-something, or that I was a mature 20-something).  But 2010 will go down as a year of infamy as it marked the passing of three different people I knew at very different stages of my life.

The first was my longtime manager Cathryn Jaymes, who left us in January of this year.  She had represented me since May 2001, which makes it the longest professional relationship of my career.  She managed actors and writers and directors for thirty years, was a model for a time in the late 60s, and her greatest notoriety came with one of the young clients she championed when nobody else would – Quentin Tarantino.  She was one of those people who was almost “too nice” for a rotten business that attracts more than its share of rotten people.  She never stopped believing in me and my work, and told me I’d “get there someday.”  I’m not surprised by that, because she was the one person who refused to give up on me and my work, especially at times when I was ready to do just that.  She once told me that I was the smartest writer she’d ever known and that intelligence translated to my writing (she also said that’s why it and I were a tough sell in Hollywood – a place where intelligence is viewed as a threat, not a boon).  I naturally took that as a compliment and resisted the urge to “dumb down” and compromise my principals and that carried through to the end when, even as she took ill, I refused to jump ship even though she and others urged me to.  How could I not stick by a person who stuck by me?

Then in September, Alwyn Rottschafer succumbed to a disease that took him very suddenly.  Alwyn was a talented musician, who played guitar in a garage band called Spaceman Spiff (who I wrote about here – check out the photo; Al is to the right).  My memories of him are faded, like that old photograph, but I do recall that he appeared as the Grim Reaper in a short film I shot for someone in my senior year of High School – I was cameraman, with the other guy writing and calling the shots.  He and his sister lived near me so there were also (probably) several instances of me giving them a lift home after school, or after the occasional party.  I am also reasonably sure Al was one of many who attended a 91 Pixies concert together. Now he’s a guy I lost touch with pretty quickly – one of those friendships that can be counted in months.  But the amazing thing about Alwyn was despite all the years that have passed, I never forgot him, whereas so many others are not even memories I can hang onto.

Now word has come that Alston Adams has lost his battle with the same wretched disease that took Alwyn and Cathryn.  Alston – Ali as we called him – lived the next street over from my place when I moved in 1986, so naturally we walked to and from school together frequently.  In fact one of the things we would talk about was the ongoing novel he was writing at age 13; a fictionalized account of the town, the school and our classmates, done in a Peyton PlaceDark Shadows vein (one of our classmates was a robot assassin sent by the Russians – hey, the Cold War was still on). He’d been battling the disease I won’t dignify by uttering its name for some time – well before he and I reconnected this past summer (same time as Alwyn).  In both cases I really wish I had gotten back in touch with them much sooner –as a mini-reunion this past summer showed me, it’s astonishingly easy to reconnect with people you haven’t seen in years.

With Al and Ali, the span of years knowing them was brief — 1986 to 1991 — but they might as well be lifetimes apart.  You don’t realize how much your life changes in that brief span from 13 to 18, but it’s a huge gulf, and probably the most radicla change in your life.  I was certainly much different at 18 than I was at 16 even.  But, the passing of these people has really made me think a lot about the places I’ve lived and the people I’ve known.  When people ask me where I’m from I never have an easy answer given we moved around a lot when I was young – eight moves in the first twelve years of my life.  I’m certain if I was to do a full accounting of every place I lived and every person I know, I’d find several of them no longer with us, and I honestly don’t know how to feel about that.  Should I be depressed?  Sad?  What should I feel?

We all feel invincible when we’re younger, but as we age, and as people start dying, we realize that’s not the case.  But I don’t necessarily think that death is something to be feared; why fear the inevitable?  Death could very well be the end, or it could embrace you like an old friend and usher you to the next stage of your journey … and what is life but a journey?  We all move through life at the same speed; some of us reach our destination sooner than others.  Sometimes the paths we take through life intersect with others on their paths.  The moment those paths cross can be brief, and they can be longer.  In a few rare instances our lives can follow parallel lines for years, decades even, before separating as they inevitably will.  I wonder if that’s the point of friendships, whether they last a month, a year or a lifetime; because we all need companions on the voyage.

I’m a deep dreamer; always have been and always will be.  And one thing about my dreams that I wonder if other’s share is this (and bear with me); Ever since I was a child, I have had repeated dreams of a place that’s familiar to me, even though I’ve never been there.  It’s a city that’s a mix of every city I’ve lived in or been to, with neighborhoods that are a composite of every house I’ve lived in or visited or spent any time in.  The surrounding lands are a mix of various places I’ve visited in my life; mountains and valleys, the ocean, the prairies, the desert.  Commensurate with my experience this subconscious land has grown as I have grown, taking on the characteristics of my life experiences.   It continues to this day; since I moved to New York this city has taken on certain New York characteristics and it’s populated by my memories of people I have known, whether briefly or for years.  Now it’s easy to see that this dreamscape is just the part of my subconscious that has catalogued every place I’ve been in my life and blended them together, and when I dream, it’s one of the parts of my subconscious that my mind wanders through. Yet to me it feels like Heaven would be and should be – a place we retire to at the end of our lives and exist on a higher, more abstract plain.  In rare cases you’re aware a dream is a dream, but for the most part you don’t, and this is what Heaven would be like.  So, I don’t think of these people as being gone – they’re just waiting for others to arrive at the big party in the great beyond, where it will not feel like an end, but a homecoming.