About a decade and a half ago, a kitten told me I belonged to him, and I believed him.
I was visiting my mother, brother, and sister in Guerneville. This was some number of weeks after they had found and rescued the runt of a feral litter of kittens from certain death and nursed him back to health.
“You have to see this guy,” mom wrote, “His paws are gigantic.”
When I arrived, I had only a few minutes to say hello to people before this tiny creature peeked out at me from under a chair. He looked like he’d been put together by a committee. Of toddlers. Giant, crazy hairy ears. Huge, slightly wild eyes. Large, mittened paws with extra toes on each one. A tail that looked like an extra fuzzy bottlebrush held straight in the air. He was a cocky little fucker, even then.
I was informed that if I sat quietly, he’d come to me, so I did, and he cautiously crept over to make my acquaintance. This was a time in his young life where he was not sure whether people were monsters or trees, and so over the course of the evening, he alternated between treating me as both, occasionally taking breaks from climbing up me or running away from me to take treats from my hand.
He could not have been more adorable.
Some hours later, my mother and I sat down to watch a movie. And Thumper walked up, jumped into my lap, trilled at me, and then curled up and went to sleep, my heart wrapped up in his huge paws.
Eventually, I took him home with me, despite my mother’s rather astute observation that I am allergic to cats and would probably end up in the hospital. He’s been my home ever since.
Rest in peace, Thumper.
This is Thumper:
He has been my best buddy for fifteen years. In the last few days of those fifteen years, I have watched Thumper go from older, but still moderately spry, to weak and wobbly. Or rather, it feels that way; it’s entirely possible that this has been creeping up and I’ve been willfully ignoring that motion in the corner of my eye. I don’t know.
Our last trip to the vet left me feeling optimistic. She couldn’t believe how old he was. His teeth, ears, coat, weight—everything suggested that he was several years younger than he is.
Now he sits in front of me, swaying back and forth as he tries to maintain balance and not have his paws slip out from under him.
Now he’s lost significant weight, and the joke that he’s really all just fur and fluff is becoming less of a joke and more of a truth.
Now he doesn’t jump down from things so much as fall as strategically as he can, and it really makes a difference to him when I help him up to or down from my bed, which is less than two feet off the ground.
Now he feels almost impossibly fragile when I pick him up.
And I am fucking wrecked over it.
I know that one of the things we sign up for when we bring home our four-legged friends is a life span that is far shorter than
ours. I get that, intellectually. I understand that we don’t get to have them forever, no matter how well bonded we are. But that doesn’t make the thought of losing the best friend I have had for almost 15 years any easier, as it turns out. That doesn’t make me feel any less like my world is going to fall apart a little bit when it is time for him to go.
Note: if any of you feel the need to tell me how lucky I am to have gotten so much time with him already, please shove it somewhere dark and mildly uncomfortable, okay?
Thumper is the closest thing to one of Philip Pullman’s dæmons I will ever find in this world. While he may not be the metaphorical embodiment of any soul I may or may not have, he still knows me better than any creature on this earth and has been there for me through more heartbreak, tragedy, loss, depression, loves, victories, and achievements than anybody else in my life.
He knows when I am hurting, or sad. He knows when to walk up to me and shove his head against my side until I drag him onto my lap, or when to rest a giant mitten paw on my leg to tell me he’s right here. He knows when I need him to butt his head against my chin and purr for me, endlessly. He knows that when he walks up to me and yells at me that I know exactly what he is yelling about even if I pretend not to. He knows that if he catches my eyes, we will spend minutes just gazing at each other. He knows that if I walk through or out of a room, and I see him reach out for me with one of his massive paws, I will be unable to resist giving him the cuddles he is requesting. I know that when I put my face in his face, I will be rewarded with a kiss or nuzzle to my forehead. I know I can bury my face in his big white soft belly and all he will do is purr.
In human years, Thumper is about 80 years old. I don’t know how much more time I have with him. Might be a while, yet. Hell, we’ve been expecting each Christmas to be my friend’s cat Elliot’s last Christmas for years, but he has clearly made a deal with Death or made friends with a voodoo priest because that fucking cat is apparently not going anywhere until he is damn good and ready. So it’s possible that I have years left with my cranky old beast of a cat.
I have spent the last 15 years telling him he has to live forever, like I was casting a spell on him through sheer force of love and will. But I’m no magician.
I’m pretty sure Thumper got all the magic.
I suppose it’s time for my increasingly traditional annual retrospective.
If 2013 were a cartoon animal, it would be the Cat in the Hat, balancing too much shit and ultimately failing. Oh, don’t get me wrong, many, many good things happened in 2013.
- I went to Puerto Vallarta, my first vacation in six years.
- My friends generously helped me get Iago, my beloved motorcycle back on the road.
- With some overlap, my friends also helped me raise significant funds for the organization for which I work.
- I moved into a fantastic apartment in SF (with laundry AND a dishwasher AND hardwood floors AND natural light AND off-street parking).
- I met Allie Brosh.
- I got three raises (which add up to, in just a little over a year, a 29% raise from my first salary here).
- Luke and Marisa got married.
- Jay and Jenneviere got married.
- What I am hoping is becoming a Christmas tradition of spending one of the most annoying days of the year with my friends Lisa, Matt, and Elaine.
- I have met some new people and made some new friends, at least two of whom are definitely keepers (and one I just fucking love so much I gave her, as somebody pointed out when I mentioned the book signing, an original Allie Brosh drawing).
- I beat my all time best bowling score. Which isn’t amazing, but I’m still pretty pleased with myself. (Current best: 157.)
- I learned some new things about who I am and how my brain works that explains A LOT about me and is helping me to make sense of my life and who I am.
But 2013 also slipped on a gigantic pile of shit, twisted its ankle, and landed on its face in yet another gigantic pile of shit with its mouth wide fucking open, for me and for people I love.
Losing Sparkly Devil broke more hearts than mine, and I think some part of me is always going to be wondering when we are going to go get our next cocktail and talk about everything. I still make notes in my head for things I want to chat with her about. Apparently it’s going to be a while, so I should start writing them down.
- I have watched my friends lose people, family members, partners to death, relationship failure, and drama. Broken hearts everywhere.
- There are friends who have been too far away for me to give them the kind of support I wanted to give.
- I am having to face the fact that my beloved constant companion, my purrbucket, my cuddly, affectionate, loving, and deeply annoying cat Thumper is officially old. He still looks great in a bowtie, though.
I don’t do the resolution thing, really. I know what I want to accomplish in the next year. I don’t know how I am going to do all of it, yet, but I’ll figure it out.
Happy New Year.
This is something that happened. And it’s not cool. Please, if you are in the Bay Area, consider taking voice lessons from my amazing friend. And/or pass this along to your friends.
Originally posted on No Inside Voice:
As my heart is reeling from news of being laid off from my regular church today, I go back to a story. These all start with a story, all rife with feeling and promise. This one’s about a church.
In August 1999 I returned from New York. My mother had been dead a year, I was recovering in turmoil from a recently broken relationship that I had thought would last forever (I was 23. Of course I thought that.), I had been put through the wringer. It was January of 2000 before I licked my wounds enough to get back in the game. I needed more money than my DayJob provided, and I wanted to earn it by singing. But where to start? Where any tenacious, operatically-trained career rebel starts – the yellow pages. (For the younger folks in the audience, this was a book of businesses listed by type…
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I’ve been staring at the title of this post for about 20 minutes, now, and it’s not working. It’s not writing this post for me. It’s not finding any words. It’s not bringing my much-loved, talented, brilliant, and complicated friend back to life. I would prefer, out of the listed options, the last one.
So I guess I’ll just start writing.
Sunday afternoon I returned home from the movie theater to see that a friend had posted to Facebook: “FUCK THAT.” Being generally in favor of such sentiments, I commented, “WORD.” But then I checked in privately, and was informed that Sparkly Devil, internationally renowned burlesque performer, journalist, and all-around fantastic person, was killed in an auto accident on Highway 101 Saturday night.
My righteous indignation about the Star Trek sequel disappeared.
When I first met Sparkly, I was appalled. She was loud, brash, fierce, socially intimidating to my not-so-inner introvert, who wanted to flee. But my friends adored her, and she kept coming to various social gatherings and I very quickly figured out why.
When people say somebody is “larger than life”, what they really mean is, “almost like Sparkly”. Her creativity was big. Her ability to enjoy herself in any given situation was big. Her love for her friends was gigantic. Her hugs were epic. Her ass apparently problematic. She could bruise you with the enthusiasm of a kiss, blow you away with her insight, make you fall over laughing with her sense of humor.
And that was sometimes before you even got in the door.
But it wasn’t until her wedding, to which I somehow got invited despite the fact that we were not yet close, that I realized what a caring, considerate, deeply emotional and thoughtful person she really was. And it was sitting in the audience for that wedding, watching her make her vows to Bones, that made me realize how fortunate I was to know this woman.
Some of it was just little things. The fact that I was invited in the first place. The fact that, because I had recently injured my knee, and despite the fact that we barely knew each other, she reserved a chair for me in the very limited seating available. The fact that she was patently thrilled that I was there.
Some of it was just her. Sparkly being Sparkly. Effusive, so in love with Bones, so in love with her friends and family, so in love with life. And that’s what it comes down to, with Sparkly. That’s a huge part of why her friends and family are and will remain in denial about the fact that she is no longer with us. She was in love with life.
It’s difficult not to love people like Sparkly. I think that we, as a species, tend to fall in love with people who are in love with life. Those people who seem bigger in some way (no, Sparkly, I’m not talking about your ass).
But when somebody is larger than life, it’s easy to forget how relentlessly human they are.
And Sparkly was human. So very human. She experienced pain and disappointment like the rest of us. She made mistakes. She cried very human tears. She had very human needs. Sparkly wasn’t just larger than life. She lived her life, and experienced life, and was derailed by it just like the rest of us.
The difference for me was, when I grew bitter about life and wanted to tell life to fuck right off, Sparkly would publicly join me in my bitterfest and privately remind me that living life was worth the cost of…well, of living life.
Now life is apparently supposed to be lived without her. And I want her to publicly rage with me at the unfairness of this, and privately tell me that my friends and I are awesome and will totally get through this. I want her to be waiting with all of us for Bones to recover from the accident, I want to be able to hug her close. I want her to be there when he fully regains consciousness, because I can only imagine and dread the despair he will feel when he knows that she is gone.
The last time I saw her, we’d met for dinner. I got sick, and had to cut the dinner short. We were in the process of rescheduling, so we could hang out again, and she could give me advice on where to go in Puerto Vallarta later this year. I owed her either a drink or a bowl of mashed potatoes (look, what you do with your friends is none of my business). She told me she had faith in my ability to have fun regardless. I am going to try to live up to that. Sparkly knew fun.
RIP Sarah “Sparkly Devil” Klein. I love you.
A year ago, I was in the middle of a fantastic evening. I’d gone to see Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter with C and some of my favorite people. C & I had parted for the evening, she to Muni and I to BART and I was turning on my phone and trying to decide if I had enough power to listen to music the entire ride home. I was high on my friends and C’s company, and a relentlessly silly movie.
So I had to read the words on my screen several times before I could make sense out of them.
A year ago began a time of waiting—less than a week. It was a time of hugs, and of stress, and of quietly and desperately wishing to be able to do something, or help, or find magical healing powers. It was a time of rediscovering an intense dislike of Oakland’s Highland Hospital, of sitting in painfully stark waiting rooms with friends and family while waiting to spend 15 minutes talking to a man being kept alive by machines. It was a time of everyone remembering to express love and appreciation for everybody else, before our oh so powerful minds stepped in once more to protect us from the constant awareness of the fragility and impermanence of life. It was a time of trying to believe in miracles.
The call was made. The machines were turned off. The time of waiting ended.
I wrote this post about Donovan when I was finally able to put something of how I was feeling into words. I wrote this post as I realized I was feeling, but not dealing with, my feels. I wrote this post as I flirted with coming to terms once again with the fact that I cannot protect everybody I love.
And this post? I guess it’s just to say…fucking hell, Donovan. I miss you.
I had high hopes for 2012. 2011 was such an unbearable year, I thought that it could only get better. Briefly, it did. And then it all went to hell, for me and mine.
The death toll of 2012 rivaled the first five minutes of a Michael Bay movie. Loved ones and loved ones of loved ones were lost to accident, suicide, illness, and just shitty, shitty luck. When I wasn’t powerless with regard to my grief, I was powerless in the face of grief suffered by people I love deeply and dearly.
My attempts at finding love or even a halfway interested lover failed repeatedly, and early 2012 brought me a very badly broken heart and an utter loss of hope, not to mention a great deal of frustration and confusion. Many of my friends were unlucky in love and went through relationship strife as well.
There were a number of friendship upheavals about which I remain unsure, and I believe 2013 will involve some restructuring.
Things began to turn around for me toward the end of the year. Slowly, like the Titanic attempting to avoid the iceberg.
- I finally got a full time job at an amazing organization, working with phenomenal people and the best office dog in the world. I love my job. And it almost pays me enough to live on.
- As part of a last-ditch attempt to find somebody I might want to date, I showed up to a bar one evening with a book and a thirst for Scotch, and hoped that the woman I’d messaged on OKC wasn’t going to be a complete waste of time. Since I was pretty much over dating by this point, I wore the same unwashed jeans I’d been wearing for the past several days and a shirt I never checked for stains, and I didn’t bother to wait to start in on the whisky. I’ll go ahead and skip to the end of this one: She’s wonderful, hysterical, loving, caring, and has the prettiest, smiliest eyes. We just finished moving the rest of my possessions to her apartment in SF. She likes my cooking. (ETA: She has corrected this statement to make sure I know to call it OUR apartment.)
- My cat Thumper is in good health and happy in our new apartment, which is much smaller than our house in Oakland, but cozier and has many soft and warm things for him to sleep on. He even has his own chair, from which he can observe his neighbor cat girlfriend, Foxy. He and my lady absolutely adore each other.
- I opened up about a very serious topic in a very public forum and was rewarded by a show of love, support, and trust from individuals known and unknown to me.
2012 still sank, but I and many of my friends ended up on life rafts, paddling toward 2013.
I don’t think anybody expects 2013 to be amazing. But I am hoping that we all have the space to recover from losses, strengthen new and old foundations, and remind each other that we love and care for each other, that we are there for each other, and that we may occasionally want to give up on everything, but that we won’t give up on each other.
I can’t help but be a little optimistic; I’m in the best place I’ve been since maybe 2008. I’ve found love and employment, I have a roof over my head, and my cat has the most adorable mitteny paws in the world. Things are not easy; I don’t know if they ever will be. But it isn’t all difficult, and for the first time in a long time I really feel like it’s worth it to keep working, keep fighting, and keep pushing through. I am not in a place where I can say, “Bring it, 2013, I can take whatever you have to throw at me.” I am, however, in a place to say, let’s do this.
So. 2013. Let’s do this.
Last night I was talking to a friend of mine who is going through a really tough time, and she mentioned something that I related to entirely: the active and conscious effort she is having to put in to not jump in front of a bus. Now, before you all start screaming about intervention and 5150, let me explain something, first.
Because I think, given some of the ridiculously stupid shit people say about suicide to me and to others, it’s time to come out of the closet: almost every day for the past couple years (and actually, for much of my life) has included the conscious decision to survive the day. Some days, that’s easy. Some days I have to actively remind myself of why I should choose to live. Some days I just make myself numb with weed, watch tv and let the hours slide by, because that’s all I trust myself to do. But I choose to live, every day, whether it is a good day, or a bad day, or a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.
People talk about suicide in terms of weakness and strength, selfishness, rudeness. All of those things are factors. But there’s also the issue of perspective. Which is to say, what might seem like piddlyshit to one person might be devastating to the next. I have yet to meet the circumstance that would be sufficiently devastating to send me over the edge, but that doesn’t mean I won’t (doesn’t mean I will, either).
2010 and 2011 were brutal, and 2012 has brought blow after blow after blow and let me tell you, I am fucking tired of wishing that my heart had an “Eject” button. I am tired of living with everything I’ve had to live with (here is where I will get the “Buck up! That’s just life!” comment from some jackass who has never experienced the desire to just fucking end it. Save it. I know life is hard. But when every day in a given week—or every other day, or even a single day—feels like being thigh-deep in the Swamps of Sadness after watching Artax die, it becomes a little overwhelming).
Thus far there is nothing I haven’t been able to weather. People call this strength. But strength is a trap. When people expect you to be strong all the fucking time, showing weakness is nigh on impossible, which is why for the vast majority of my friends, this post is going to be news. There is no real break from being strong. There’s (prescription) drugs, but in the rare event that they work—my body laughs at most drugs and tells them to come back with something stronger, next time—while they mute the depression they also mute everything the fuck else, and I would rather feel everything I am feeling than feel nothing. I will resort to them when I know it is impossible to drag myself out of some pit without them, but not before.
And it’s really difficult some days when somebody says, “You’re strong, you can do this” to respond with, “I know,” and not with, “Fuck you. I want to be weak, this time. I want to give up.”
I don’t call it “strength”. I call it “determination”.
People talk about how selfish people have to be to commit suicide. Yes. Ultimately it is a selfish act. It is an act done for that person and that person, alone. They may have convinced themselves that people would be better off without them; obviously most of the time they are utterly incorrect. But that justification at its foundation remains a selfish one.
The experience will be different for everybody, but part of my conscious decision to live involves remembering all the people who would be hurt and confused by my death. But, as I said, I have yet to experience something devastating enough to make me lose sight of them, and I remain fully aware that this is a possibility. So I never judge people who have genuinely attempted or committed suicide—not for their selfishness. I just assume that the decision was made at a point where the people they loved stopped being real to them in the face of whatever anguish drove them to the act.
I find that the people who don’t understand this have little-to-no experience with that level of depression and pain, and are assuming that whatever depths of sadness they have experienced are the most extreme anybody else might suffer as well. I have begun calling it “emotional privilege” in my head. I’ll never forget the day I was watching The Wall with a woman I was seeing and she turned to me halfway through the movie and said, “But why doesn’t he just get over it?”
(Click to see entire picture @ the source)
Now, let me make something clear: I am not defending suicide as an option. If I thought it was viable, I might not be sitting here in my messy room writing this post while I have Top Gun on in the background to unheavy this shit a little bit. I have lost people to suicide. Both friends and family. I have experienced that particular hurt and confusion, the search for answers, the need to find meaning in an act that causes such extraordinary pain to those who have been left behind, the endless questioning—what if I had been there, called more, texted back, remembered to say “I love you”? Oh, God, what did they need? What could I have done?
But what I am saying is that this has been my experience. And I am not the only one who feels that way. And talking to my friend yesterday was helpful to me, and hopefully to her, because when it becomes a shared experience, when you can remember that one other person has some understanding of it, then it becomes more difficult to forget that there are other people in your life, in general, and more difficult to lose sight of them.
Most days I’m fine. I’m not always walking around in a lightless slimy pit of despair, and I don’t want to give the impression that I am.
This post isn’t a ploy for attention. It is not a plea for help. I am not writing this for your advice (in fact, unless you have something in mind that is mind-blowingly new and possibly alien, don’t fucking bother. I’ve been dealing with my own issues far longer than you have and I have made my decisions for how to manage my situation consciously and with pretty comprehensive knowledge of what is available to me). Actually, it was really difficult to make the decision to write it, because I don’t want my friends to change the way they act around me or talk to me. I don’t want people to freak out, or worry. I am hoping that everybody realizes that this is not new and that I am still exactly the same person they knew before they read this. I want the opposite of attention.
This post is partly an attempt to educate, but mostly putting myself out there in the hopes that the people who need to find this post, do. And when they do, I hope they reach out. I’ll be waiting right here.
I have been waffling about writing this post, because I haven’t the faintest idea of how to describe where my mind and heart have been over the past few days.
Sunday night I learned that Donovan Pugh, a friend and member of my essential chosen family, was in the ICU at Highland. He was comatose after a severe head injury.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I lost my shit. I lost my shit, and then prepared to visit Donovan, to see him in his bed in the ICU, to tell him I love him, to hope he could hear me. Monday afternoon I told him everything I could in the twenty minutes I had with him. Monday night I went to work and tried not to let everything I was feeling, all the anguish and the fear that I was losing my friend, show. I failed, of course.
But this was true of all of us, to some extent or other. For some reason, as my friend Marisa observed, time and the world didn’t stop and wait for us to catch up with them. And the people around us—at work, on BART, in the corner store—somehow didn’t know that one of the most magnificent people in the world was fighting for his life in a tiny, ugly room in Oakland. I almost got into a fight with a guy who was self-righteously butt-hurt that I didn’t take the time to sign his petition when I was on my way to visit the ICU.
So all of the people who love Donovan had to somehow keep moving and keep functioning as if we weren’t terrified that an integral part of our world might be ending.
Thursday evening Donovan moved on to the next party, and we were all left behind to keep this one going.
I have been wrestling with grief, and the forms it can take. I’ve been fundamentally relieved and confused by the way in which my grief over the loss of Donovan is so intertwined with the joy I have been finding with this woman for whom I have fallen so very, very hard. I’ve been comforted by the fact that he would be the last person in the world to begrudge me my happiness despite this loss, and he would have loved her for, if nothing else, the fact that she’s been so wonderfully supportive and kind throughout.
I have been reading people’s stories and memories of Donovan, and looking at the pictures they have been posting, and it’s been truly amazing. He managed to touch so many people (some of them appropriately) and it shows. People have displayed a fantastic combination of love, exasperation, and humor in their efforts to remember Donovan at his best and at his most improper. It has made me think about this post, which I wrote after attending the most depressing wake in the history of wakes, and realizing how true it remains.
I have been avoiding imagining a world without Donovan, and his soundtracking tweets, and his Ren Faire shenanigans. I have not been allowing myself to fathom family events without his hugs and his ability to throw dignity and decorum to the wind (if he even arrived with them in the first place, which was unlikely). I have not been allowing myself to see the ways in which the world has grown visibly darker without him. And when I do, I know my heart will continue to break.
If there is a party in the sky, I hope they have plenty of pickle juice. If there is another destination, I hope they appreciate the occasional reacharound. If there is an afterlife, it just got a hell of a lot more fun. RIP†, Donovan Pugh. I love you.
†Wherein the P stands for…Party? Pickle? Prank? It’s unclear.
In the last week, I received news of the deaths of no fewer than three people I know. One of those was somebody with whom I went to high school. Two of them were friends. Two of the three were suicides.
I have been flailing emotionally. I didn’t realize it until today. In the process of this flailing I managed to be extra irritable, totally failed to communicate properly, and I appear to have alienated somebody I really like. This was a major failure on my part—normally I am much more in touch with how I am feeling, and why. Additionally, some of this might have been avoided had I managed to mention any of this to anybody.
I. Death death death—afternoon tea…
I think this is first due to the magnitude of the news: the untimely death of one friend has enough of an effect on a person. The untimely death of three in rapid succession is just overwhelming, like a personal version of Eddie Izzard’s murder standards: Well done! Three of your friends died recently, two by their own hand? They must get up very early in the morning.
II. Family Traditions
Then there’s the suicide bit. The people in my family tend to kill themselves, either quickly or slowly (or in the case of my grandmother, both). Suicide and attempted suicide run rampant in my family. So there’s that. Additionally, I haven’t figured out where I come down on the issue, myself. I have heard suicide characterized as rude, selfish, tragic. I believe strongly in the idea that we should have complete power over our own lives—not just how we live and die, but whether we live and die (to the extent that we have that choice to make).
I also believe strongly that the day I give up and take my own life, I have failed, utterly. But that’s not to say I don’t believe that despair cannot be so all encompassing that death seems like the better option, and that’s not to say I haven’t experienced that level of despair.
Grief is probably the biggest emotion I just swallow and deal with. When I have multiple levels of headfuckery going on around the grief, I choke on it—without, apparently, realizing that I am choking.
But then there’s the standard issues—the questions, the guilt, the realization that now I get to miss these people forever, that there will never be another chat conversation, another movie, another night of Jameson shots and bad bar food. There’s wondering about who they left behind: their families, their lovers, their pets. There’s the inevitable: would my being there more have changed anything at all?
To be perfectly honest, I don’t talk about any of this stuff because I don’t even know where to begin. I prefer not to waste words, and to avoid statements of the obvious like, “This makes me feel sad.” I tend to only say such things to people who are grieving with me over the same people—as more of an acknowledgement of what they are feeling than anything else.
While avoiding statements of the obvious, and chewing on the complicated, I fail to communicate anything at all.
Obviously that has to change. I just haven’t the faintest idea of how to change it.
In the mean time, I am going to watch an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in honor of one of them. I am going to raise a glass of Jameson to all three of them. And if I have enough Jameson, I will likely pull out my guitar to sing a song I learned for yet another dead friend.
Three people I know are dead. This makes me sad.