I think it was New Year’s Eve, maybe even the infamous Y2K. It’s hard to say for sure, possibly because I am getting older and my memory is starting to fail. Also because that time of my life was a big blur. But I distinctly remember sitting on my overstuffed beige couch as my friend Chris sat at my coffee table drawing on a piece of paper with a Sharpie.
I hadn’t really seen anything like it before. A twisted cartoon face that looked as if it was melting. I complimented him on it, and in his quiet way he rebuffed the praise. He described it as an exercise. He would just start drawing lines with a pen and see where they took him. There was no such thing as a mistake. Whatever he drew, he had to figure out a way to incorporate it.
Many years later, long after Chris and I had stopped hanging out, I found myself doodling in a similar way. It was my son’s first day of Kindergarten, and I felt lost as to what to do with myself. My mind was not prepared for the wave of emotion that flooded over me upon hitting this childhood milestone. Unable to navigate my feelings, I grabbed a Sharpie and started drawing.
(doodle from that first day of Kindergarten)
Doodling became a habit for me, a meditation in pen when I couldn’t decipher my own thoughts and needed release. But I never traced the origin of this practice until the past week.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how people come into our lives and influence us and we don’t really grasp their impact until much later, if at all. Some times the influence is fun and silly. I ran into a relative at my brother’s memorial and she remarked that I probably did not remember staying at her house when I was a little girl. But I did. I recalled that she let me make pigs in a blanket and I thought it was so cool that I got to prepare my own meal. The first time my kids had friends over for dinner, we made the same meal for just that reason.
Sometimes the impact is so huge, it is unfathomable. Going through my brother’s writings, I found a short essay he had written. We were part of the same writing collective. For one of our anthologies, we would send out a topic each day, and everyone would write on that idea. For this essay, the topic was “Last Night a DJ Saved My Life.” Chris wrote about going through a depression, to the point of being suicidal- a topic I am not unfamiliar with. He wouldn’t talk to anyone, couldn’t find a way to release the emotions he was feeling. On a drive, he listened to a song sung by a friend. In that moment, he started crying and was able to rid himself of all of that pain, anger, and sadness. The friend knew Chris loved his music and admired him as an artist, but did not know that by singing that song, he really saved Chris’s life.
I think about the person I want to be. The crew at the Black Sheep was kind enough to set up a website for donations, to assist my mother and brother with funeral expenses and additional costs, and to provide for Chris’s daughter, Allie Kat. Looking over the list of donors, I was surprised to see many people say “I didn’t know your brother, but I want to help your family.” My friends in Arizona set up a meal train so I would not have to worry about preparing dinner for a few weeks. I noticed a name I recognized, but I had never met the woman in person. She is the friend of my friend. It was as if she was saying “This person is important to you, and you are important to me, so I want to help.”
Would I be that person offering comfort to a stranger? Probably not. I tend to keep to myself and the people who are close to me. I can be selfish, focused on my own needs and not very aware of those around me. Some people thrive outside their comfort zones. I keep myself firmly planted in what is familiar.
On the drive to Colorado and back, I crocheted part of a blanket. I learned to crochet from a group of ladies I met in Phoenix. For a time, the were my lifeline to normalcy. When I moved to Arizona and had no friends, I took a chance on a meetup group. I met them and felt an immediate connection. For the first time, instead of wishing to be back in Colorado, I began to think of making a home in this new place.
I had babies, and motherhood took over. I started seeing these ladies less and less, and finally not at all. I would make up timelines for future gatherings, telling myself I’d have more time to hang out “once I get the baby sleeping through the night,” or “once I’m done potty training.” But then that time came. My kids got older and I had time for myself. By then I felt like an alien to these women. Rather than going through an awkward period of getting reacquainted, I simply stayed away.
But time is ticking. As a friend at Chris’s memorial said “I hate that we are now old enough that dying of natural causes is an actual possibility.” We may not get the chance to thank the people that matter to us, unless we create the opportunity.
So, I’m taking steps and and attempting to make actual connections. Sometimes the practice feels foreign, but not as much as I anticipated. I used to be this person. I held epic parties. I created writing collectives and craft organizations and philosophy discussion gatherings. I used to be a person someone actually described as a catalyst. It is a bizarre process to have your past and present selves come together to create your future.