I learned today that a friend succumbed to his depression and died. I saw the information ping on my phone through a text message while I was in a zoom meeting with curators, jurying an open call. I was pumped, thinking about these wonderful artists, when suddenly I could not sit still for another second. I looked frantically for a cigarette. I thought inhaling an unlit cigarette would calm me down. I couldn’t find one. I thought I could handle the news of Doug’s death for the balance of our meeting but found myself needing to throw up. I abruptly left. After walking around the Rail Park for an hour and then playing the piano in our building for an hour, I ran into Connie and Heidi and cried. I felt like an idiot so I hid in my office and then drifted in and out of my skin for another couple of hours, swearing you better not cry you fucking asshole. I couldn’t shake the nausea and my skin felt like it was twenty pounds lighter and hotter. It’s not that I don’t cry or don’t believe in crying. I just genuinely thought:
Why am I having such a visceral reaction to this?
The thing was, shock (which is definitely what I was experiencing) was actually packed inside intense guilt. I’d love to tell you Doug was a great friend. We were, once. We traveled to Japan, Miami, California together. Each of those places had its own peculiar set of adventures. He was roofied in Palm Springs. I developed an ulcer in Miami. We created purikura personas in Osaka that would stay with us the rest of…our lives.
One of the last interactions we had was the worst displays of my passivity. He was having another manic episode—invoicing me for ten thousand dollars to fund a charity to work with Beyonce, posting screen caps of our texts on instagram without my permission—so I muted and sequestered him from my social media, and then my phone altogether. I left him unacknowledged in my email and phone for weeks. I’d effectively unfriended him.
At the time, I reasoned that there were only so many crises I could handle. I was helping a friend through a grisly divorce. I was managing intense anxiety around my son’s speech development. I should’ve known the divorce would be a catapult and not an anchor; that my son’s going to be just fine if even a little “slow” compared to other kids. But at the time, I couldn’t handle someone who was asking this much from me, and asking it publicly.
Months later—a few weeks ago—he seemed to have come back to balance, and we started passively engaging on social media again. We liked each other’s posts. I’d learned that he had started working again, and I was very relieved. There are actually no words for how relieved I was that he was working. Because at least he would have something to preoccupy him. I wish it were love. I wish it were love that preoccupied him. I wish it were love, or lust, or fullblown irresponsible sex. He was HIV+ and one of the healthiest people I knew aside from his depression. I wish he had a mania of balance. I wish it were not work which preoccupied him, though it was a fine consolation. I wish he weren’t bipolar.
He’s dead and I am shocked because I cannot stop thinking about how little involvement I wanted with him when he was unwell.
I am submerged in my guilt. I am submerged in my guilt. I am submerged in my guilt.
By telling the story in this way, I realize I am currying a kind of favor. I assure you, I tell the story this way only because I am baffled and almost impressed by how susceptible I have become to the narcissism of my sentimentality. No one wants to stop throwing up and crying more than I do.
I would give anything to let Doug know one more time, that I cared deeply about him.
My week began with the loss of my wallet. I’m sorry. You were probably not expecting me to follow up the first story with this second one. But yes I’m contextualizing the guilt and grief for a deceased friend, with the fucking loss of my wallet. Because I knew when I lost it that it was my fault. Because I knew when I couldn’t find it that I could never actually retrace every single one of my steps leading to the moment of loss, without also losing time. With time passing, so would the opportunity to return to where we started.
Funny that. Time. I wonder if I’ll ever figure it out.