Saturday, December 31, 2016

Cycles amd Stories... 2016's nut of a shell

As if to illustrate my final frustrations with this year, my eloquent wrap up that I wrote on my long drive was not saved, and I haven't found the motivation to rewrite it.
I've changed tones a bit, however, as I've spent the last few days in a much different place than I started this year.
In 2015, I became fascinated with two concepts that carry our culture: the stories we build and the cycles of life that we drift between. I was crowned weave this year into the them of stories and cycles-- appreciating the evolution of my own story, cultivating my instinct to share stories all under an acknowledgement and appreciation for the cycles happening around us: seasonal cycles and revolutions around the Earth as much as the Nitrogen, Carbon, Rock and water cycles we often neglect. At my first recollection, I considered I had failed this theme, because I hadn't regarded it too often throughout my year. This year, my story took a sharp turn, however. I appreciated the familiarity of the cycles around me as my story changed with each season. 

I started this year in love with a man I had wished for half my life, on a rooftop in Manitou, Colorado. A few weeks later, between 500-mile drives, we talked about marriage, and how to co-exist together. A few months later his addiction to alcohol resulted in his death, and a chapter of my life closed forever. The end of this year finds me doing squats in line outside of an REI in 33 degree rain in Albuquerque. I'm in love again. I'm spending the holiday with my boyfriends' kids at my space in a 27 acre park in my favorite city in New Mexico. I have a job I love but work hard at, I have a space to call home, my car just turned a year old and I've got it 65% paid off, I have my health, though I'm about 12 lbs lighter than last year (for better or worse), I own a gun, and I have a huge path of possibility before me.

Below I will recount the achievements and losses I have grown through this year. But undeniably the greatest thing I've learned, felt, exuded... is the power of love. Especially unconditional love.
There will be times when love is all you have. Life will frustrate you, cripple you, anger you, and pain you. People will do this too. I have been faulted and appreciated for finding the beauty in the worst of things-- even people. But everything has beauty. And everyone needs love. And if you love so hard you hold on... then you'll be rewarded. Whether it's with a huge or a smile or a lifetime of opportunities, it's worth it to love. Sometimes it hurts, and often it's confusing, but love is something no one can take away or control, but you. 

Rather than simply review, here's my 2016 in stats.

-Miles Driven: 23,000k my car ~5,000 miles in 15 passenger vans and probably another 5,000 in other cars. This equates to over 300 hours sitting in my car, plus at least as much driving around for work. And I HATE sitting. 

-Mountain Summits: West Spanish Peak, Colorado 

-Two friends lost to alcoholic hepatitis

-New states added to my list!: MI, MN, ID, NE
(4 trips from New Mexico to Michigan/Minnesota)

-Countries added to list: England

-Number of nights traveling/camping vs in my own bed 145/221

-Friends that visited me: Brother, Elliot, Sarah 

-Number of books read: Just ONE! What a year...

-Work accomplishments: Group leading an adult trek, pulling off a wedding, reunion and two rendezvous in one summer

-Another wedding planned and missed- hah. :-/ 

And so, the calendar cycle ends with me completely unsure of what the future will hold. With everything that has happened this year to me and to the world, I've stopped having high hopes for the future. I'm holding on to what I have every day knowing that it can, and probably will change. But I'm also going to keep working on myself. Despite not knowing what 2017 holds, I'm pretty excited for the journey. 

Friday, November 4, 2016

Death Touch

Driving down the highway through Nebraska, I got put on speaker with my boss's 13-year-old son.
"How long do I have to wait before I dig up my dead pigeon" he asked. I'm the noted expert in my community, so I responded to check it out in the Spring if he was looking for the skeleton. (Time has a unique pace in the desert. It's amazing how quickly the clouds can pass overhead, and how long a summers day can feel. Yet a season can blink by without a rain.)
For years I've been growing my knowledge and building my reputation on all things in Nature...but the most common questions seem to entail that which has passed from this world. Kids bring me skulls, half rotting snakes, or we stop to look at the leftover rabbit's feet from a coyote's meal. I have become the expert in identifying skulls, desiccating lizards, plucking feathers off dead birds and the like. None of this is done out of menace or aggressiveness...but honor, gratitude and scientific curiosity. My museum exhibit collection includes several skulls and skeleton fragments, patches of fur, and a number of embalmed lizards, snakes and spiders that are as old as my parents. 

 A few years ago, when I worked in a different desert-- in California, some co-workers nicknamed me "Death-Touch" after a neglected mouse that was to be snake food died in my hands. I had many encounters with dead things before then, but not any experiences with the transition between life and death. The final breath, the energy transposed from one being, through the others in the room, and out into the expansive Earth. When my great grandmother passed away when I was 17, I opted not to be there for her final moments, and to instead remember her in all the happier previous moments we had shared, and through stories I had heard.
When my pet dog died, I heard about it days later in another state. Our pet cat crawled away, like many felines, to have her final moments in solitude.
I had reflected and processed all these events. I have spent hours reflecting upon and coming to terms with my own mortality. And perhaps not surprisingly, the person I spoke about mortality the most with was my recently deceased partner, Sid.

This summer, someone brought me to a baby rat, shivering on a stone behind our mess hall. Amazingly, it was still alive, but struggling. I did what any Naturalist might do... I picked it up, (double checked it wasn't a hanta-carrying deer mouse) and encouraged the kids nearby to touch it, pet it and hold it.
(As an aside, I've worked at a lot of programs in which nature is viewed and not interacted with. In my experience with connecting students to nature hands-on, I have seen much deeper connections arise.)
Before I knew it I was feeding it milk from a syringe and watching his tiny incisors pull the juice off a melon, his little face scrunching and slurping as his hands tightened and relaxed by his face. I was informed by a co-worker that she had already named it, and quickly found myself working to make it a home, keep it warm and feed it.
I was surprised he lived through the first night, but then I became hopeful, too. I've never liked the idea of caging an animal, even for the purpose of education, but this one seemed to find me, and so I began to imagine all his possibilities.
Two days later, as Harriet was warming in my bosom at breakfast, I noticed he wasn't moving, and casually excused myself to assess, and then bury him in the bushes before announcements.
The rest of the morning, I was wrecked. I played it off so nobody could tell, but that nickname Death Touch came to mind, along with the unforgettable passing of my long-time friend and short-time lover just two months before. One of my dear students, who was attending our Paleontology program from Belgium for the fourth year, said, "Cass, I think you have the same problem as me. You are better with dead things than with the living." His sentiment was felt, though I felt like crumbling in that moment. It was easy to get caught up in the loss...of Harriet, of Sid, of all the little beings that didn't arise to see the sun rise on the Earth that morning. In fact, the hardest moments were not when I was sad and longing for a companion, or in need of a hug...nor when I replayed their unknowing final breaths through my head... but those perfect moments under the sun with the leaves shaking, when everything else melted away and I was completely present, only to realize that Sid would never experience that moment, and it was mine to share with myself. 

Today, Halloween, all Hallow's Eve.... with the new moon yesterday and Dia de los Muertos tomorrow, the veil between this world and the next is said to be thin. I happened to be in Sid's old neighborhood. I walked on his old route through town and looked up at his apartment window. Mostly, I saw kids in silly costumes being fed sugar and tourists standing apart from the locals who knew Sid, but were probably not thinking of him on this day, in this moment.
I was reminded today of the life I am living and have lived. Of the precious breaths I am afforded, and the beautiful people who helped shape me to who I am, whether they're still on this Earth or not. I don't believe it is unproductive to reflect upon the dead. But I strive not to dwell on it. Instead, I hope to honor the Death that has Touched me by living fully and completely...and not taking things for granted, and using my energy to enact change and educate people. I'm also looking forward to creating an altar and sharing stories to honor those who have passed. 

When my boss's son digs up his pigeon, my hope is that we can acknowledge that it's life has passed, give it thanks, and use its skeleton to further his knowledge and curiosity of the world around him. I am thankful for Harriet,  and the bobcat that unknowingly donated her skeleton and tail to my museum last year. And to Sid... for all he was and gave to this world. And for what he showed me about myself, as well as who he has since woven into my life.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Black Screens matter, too.

As a lifetime Environmentalist, I have learned that people either care about the Environment, or the don't. The ones that care either believe in the larger impact of their small changes, or they think that making small changes like showering less is useless compared to the hundreds of companies that are wasting billions of gallons of water, for example. 
This message is for Enviro-lovers who think that their changes matter, as I do. 

What search engine do you use? I bet 80-90% of you use Google*. What does your g-mail interface look like? What color is the background of your most-often used webpage? 
Me in my natural habitat- on the trail. 
Did you know, that almost 10 years ago, blogger Mark Ontkush noted that if the Google Search engine was black, rather than white, 750 Megawatt-hours would be saved a year. Why? Cause even the tiny bits of energy used to brighten a screen add up! And when millions of people are spending hours on screens (a different issue...) all that energy adds up. 
Someone who read that post at Heap Media decided to make a web-page: Blackle, that uses a Google Search engine over an all-black background. They have estimated almost 6 million watt-hours have been saved from people using the Blackle search engine. The next step I made was to use a dark-color for my Gmail theme. 

So, does the .5Watt hours that I've saved in my years of using Blackle and dark g-mail counter act the __ energy used to make __? Probably not. But every time I load my search engine, I'm reminded 
1) I spend too much time on the internet. I'm an outdoor educator. Get the heck outside...
2) Contrary to popular belief, the internet, and electricity are not magic. It comes from somewhere. Often from coal removed from mountains through detrimental Mountain-Top removal, or from pollutant-heavy Fracking. My hope from this blog is not that everyone will through their computer out and commit to a life of hugging trees, but rather that you're AWARE of the world we're apart of, and the consequences of your impact to our Earth. 

Another thought: Holding on to all those old e-mails means storing your data, which takes energy. It could be debated that going through each e-mail to make sure you should delete it would use up more energy than it being stored...but think of all the 'junk e-mails' going out now...How many of those are being stored, with all their photos and coupon codes and fancy designs, in people's e-mails, and how many servers are being stored by Google just for junk mail. Yes- this is my brain on Environmentalism. 

Final facts: 
The internet uses 3% of the US's electricity production. 

Me again- contemplating the energy use of the internet, clearly. 
*This is based entirely on assumption and is purposely un-researched. 

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Natural Beauty

Last week I got shamed for all the leaf litter on the walk way up to our Education Building. "It shouldn't look like that when you have guests in the building" the woman touted. A man remarked to me about the same concrete slab over a year ago as I was sweeping it, "A good shopkeeper always keeps it clean" or something to that effect. I was proud in that moment that he acknowledged my efforts-- a use of my energy I thought was for my own aesthetic...but I had almost the opposite reaction to the woman's comments.

I am not a shopkeeper. I don't want to sell anything to anyone. I don't want anyone's money. I live frugally in a space that's as close to nature as I can get to still allow me to share my views on nature with the world. And nature has leaves. There's a fine line between showing someone you worked hard, and showing someone you're shallow... in my opinion. I can clearly value the opinion that I take pride in my space, and I want to make it accessible and inviting...however... I think our aesthetic standards for each other and this world are unrealistic, unnecessary,and uneconomic.

A few years ago I worked at a Nature Center in Rye, New York. I would enjoy the lovely bike ride over the hills and through the trees to get to work, even through the expensive department stores and Cafes the lined the small main street. I didn't mind the incredible incline of the driveway on my last leg...but I HATED climbing that hill when the local who would volunteer to blow the leaves off the driveway was there. He volunteered his time... to use a gasoline powered leaf blower. To blow the a nature center. I'm still dumbfounded. The same thing happens at the park I'm at now. WHY do we feel that something has to look manicured, manipulated and touched by (wo)man to be Beautiful?
*I* think it's beautiful when weeds grow in the dirt patches between the irrigated plants. I think it's incredible when a little seed can hold on through the rains and the windstorms and thrive in the environment it has adapted to. (If you think so, should tell my County that they should stop spraying bee-killing herbicides...)

[I actually had to pause this blog for a couple of hours so I could admire the passing colors and shapes of the clouds from a thunderstorm at sunset. (Photos below). I wish we could all pull away from our mirrors and enjoy the simple beauty around us... supposedly some people need additional inspiration for this (like...drugz) ...but that's a topic for another day.]

So, quiz time: How much do your society-inflicted aesthetic-opinions affect your daily decision?
WHY does a businessman have to wear a suit to be respected?
QUIZ: Who do you trust more:

Okay...that may be unfair. (The second photo is the CEO of patagonia. Not wearing a pantsuit or anything. Just chillin', dressed like she's got stuff to do...aside from a photo shoot). 

What about...which of these parks would you rather visit to immerse in nature?

(The first one is in NYC...believe it or not)

I'm sure there are dozens of more examples...of how our focus on the superficial has caused us to overlook the important, or spend tons of money and time on things that we deem important, merely to satisfy other superficial desires. 
Which is why... I plan to start a website asking wealthy people to cash in their expensive garmets to raise money for kids to go to College. (Anyone want to help me get this running?) Imagine if some celebrity sells their Oscar's dress for even a couple thousand bucks. What an incredible gift a semester of college can be to an inspiring academic such as myself. I will maintain that I don't actually remember much from my college classes, but I thrived in the closed community that a college campus provided me...and I know many young adults who would THRIVE given that opportunity. Or at least an opportunity to go to college without holding down a full time job.

Now your homework: THINK about the next time you made a judgement or a comment or have a thought about something's appearance... whether it's someone's outfit, or their car, or the arrangement of the grocery store. There are times when an appearance can tell you something-- like how great a driver the guy with two dented bumpers and a broken tail-light is... but there are other times where our optical opinions inhibit our ability to appreciate the beauty, functionality and downright Good around us.
View from my blog-spot. Check out those Mammatus!

Friday, September 30, 2016

I did it!

I know I have strayed from environmental topics for the last 6 months to a year...and I assure you, the urgency of environmental awareness has not escaped me... but I've just been so dang overwhelmed with life lately. 
TODAY is the last day of September. Which means that TOMORROW, I can breathe. 

September-- and endless array of To-Dos, Camping trips, meetings... 

October- Whole chunks of days with NO expectations. AHH (The orange bars are people coming to visit!)
 This last month concluded one of the hardest periods of my life. I have failed, I have cried, I have succeeded, I have had grace, I have climbed mountains, picked a toilet paper roll from a toilet of pee, eaten 4 bowls of fro-yo complete with ample toppings, and many, many things in between. And now I'm Done. 
But I don't know quite where to go from here (as could be indicated by the fact that I'm writing this blog at 9:53 on a Friday after a LONG week/month/season). 
We live in a society of To-Do's with very little acknowledgement for what's Done. 
So I'm going to start by patting myself on the back. 
By Showing the world my accomplishments, even if you don't have a clue what they mean. 

Cause Look!

Every single square of color is a school/group that I organized, managed, planned, communicated with and executed in some way. And every column is a staff person that I managed/led/guided/walked beside on their journey to participate in this trip. 
Any NOBODY died. Instead, people had fun...! Some lives were changed, even. 
So NOW...that I did that. Before I do it again... How do I pat myself on the back, for real? Beyond writing this blog, or getting filthy drunk (cause I don't really do that). Any suggestions?

Sunday, September 25, 2016

A Long awaited end...

New Mexico...
I'm typing this with my thumbs from a coffee shop in Taos. Twelve children that I'm responsible for are meandering through the Paseo arts festival and I'm simultaneously horrified that something will go wrong and intrigued by the tan moth on the other side of this window.
Water coloring on Women's Wilderness Trek

I couldn't begin to articulate all the emotions I've endured in the last 6 months. I am so grateful for the opportunities I've been afforded this year, and perplexed at how variable my life has become. And yet, while I couldn't have predicted who would move into my house or out of my life, or what coffee shop I would be drinking at on the first Saturday of fall... I have at least had the stability of a profession I'm passionate about.
As I sit here chatting logistics with three high schoolers on my last "trek" of the season, I can't help but reflect on all the journeys I've been on this month. I've climbed mountains and trees, trapped rattlesnakes and cleaned wounds. I have been dirty, stinky, cold, wet and happy-- often at the same time. I've watched sunrises and sunsets and slept under the stars... all while offering the same opportunity to young people from 5-17 years old. Each group of students has made it more evident to me how crucial it is for young people to Experience. To try new things, to be uncomfortable, and to say Yes (and Thank You) are essential to growth... and I've walked with kids that choose To and those that choose not to... or lack the inspiration to ask "What else is there?"
My dirty trekkin' pants

At the same time, I've been reflecting on all the opportunities I was offered growing up. It was up until at least 10 years ago that I was a young, hopeful girl afraid of being uncomfortable. Now that I've overcome that fear I get paid to climb mountains. I can get a 1 ton truck out of the mud. I can guide 30 people through a slot canyon. I can pretty reliably predict the weather. I have grown immensely in this job, even in this last month of exhaustion...
Nevertheless, I've been counting down the days until I can sleep in my own bed for a full week, even a month. I'm so tired from all these experiences...yet I'm already looking forward to next Spring season. And some goooood solid sleeps in between.

Office Views

Saturday, September 10, 2016

You and I both know, that the house is haunted.

It is with great anticipation and perhaps too much delay that I have finally moved back into my humble adobe abode.

It's strange to step back into the world of my stuff, that someone else has been living in for the last 10 weeks. It's equally strange to finally wipe the gin stains off the floor, and clean the corners of a world that I had wanted to preserve when I left three months ago. Now that I can more easily accept his absence from the world, I'm left in this house without a home. Here I stand in a structure that has sheltered many different loves, lots of different laughter, and supported me through the rise and falls of my last relationships...and yet here, the most homely place I've had for the last 10 years, is feeling unfamiliar, and inadequate to the sweet simplicity of my tent filled with a book, Sid's pillow and my sleeping bag.

This song has been playing incessintly in my head for the last 4 months:

I've only lived here two and a half years, and there are echoes of previous partners, fiances, lovers, best friends, new acquaintances... Shelves are full of someone else's books, closets with stacks of Sid's clothes and computers, waiting for a quiet cold day... a crooked poster from last summer's subletter that has mocked me for months, and yet all of these things are shadows of the life and love that have been breathed into this small space.

So I'm settling back in, but with a strange unfamiliarity that I've never felt in this space. When I moved in, I made it my happy home. I've shared it and cleaned more than my share of it. Most of my stuff is where I left it, including labels to ensure that even visitors adhere to my organization needs. I spent much of the summer in a little cabin, moving in and out of my backpack depending on the day's adventure, and I was sort of inspired by it. I carried my day-pack with me everywhere, and it always had my basic essentials- 7 journals, colored pens, food, water, sunscreen, camera, chapstick, freeze-dried strawberries in a glass jar, first aid, a jump drive, a compass, my wallet, a letter so belated my last words are irrelevant, and a rain coat (that's a lie, I never carry one, but we always make the kids, so I pretend it's in there...This is why I live in NM).

A friend of mine a few years ago, sold everything she had down to 100 items. I'm not sure if she counted a pen bag as one thing or multiple, but as I've begun my list of 100 items I'd drag around with me, I've counted each of my favorite pens separately. I've also been appropriately teased for the fact that pens are the first item on my list after Wide Mouth Mason jar.

It's been strange settling into this world of stuff, so much bigger than my backpack, but a little too big for one person. The environmentalist in me aches to ease my impact by sharing the space... but now that my new roommate (and her partner and dog) has moved in, I'm seeking the solitude of my own space, albeit filled with the material memories of the others.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

10 weeks of Awesome

Today I'm moving back into my house after almost 3 months of living semi-off-the-grid. For three months I've traveled under southwestern skies, through moons and monsoons, set up and torn down camps, but mostly helped things run smoothly at our base camp. Now that this final day has come, I don't even know where to begin to process this I'll start with the data:

42 like minded peers with similar shared experiences and different perspectives on our adventures.
126 youth who I got to know by name, hike and explore with and learn from.
Over 70 nights sleeping in open air: 26 nights in a tent, 4 nights under the stars, the rest in my "cabin", the Shed.
About 18 showers. 6 laundry days. And 8 really good flossings (sorry Dentist).
3 star talks, one moon viewing through the telescope, 5 long walks in the rain, four walks through a burned part of the forest, one mountain summit, 3 miles of backpacking, lots of digging through outdated field guides, about 130 formal meetings and countless informal ones. 4 boxes of lucky charms. 8 games of bucketball. 30 nut butter and jelly lunches, two hikes up pyramid rock and two flea market stops. Over 75 "desert silvery blues," and many, many inside jokes. 2 new friends, dozens of wonderful memories, and renewed fortitude.

Top 10 moments:

1)Elliott missing Cordelia with the purple ball in Spud
2) Walter calling the cake slipping off Chet's plate.
3) Sitting with Palo and 2 cool kid hikers at dinner after second Rendezvous and hearing an 18 year old say, "speaking of dinosaur classification..." before launching an excited explanation of the Brontosaurus.
4) Outfit 2's rendezvous song.
5) Harriet the rat
6) Chris's late night bug show, "Cassiussss"
7) Chris and Lisa sitting super close to me for a "Cass-Sandwhich"
8) Chris "excuse me, you're on fire" during rendezvous mudgie
9) Mike's "food for athletes" and people in gulch jerseys eating ice cream out of a wheelbarrow during a game of bucketball, while MDT and WCT watched
10) Reunion campfire(s)

This summer has been full of growth for me. I have learned and been challenged by my lack of interpersonal skills. I learned some new bugs, and grew more confident in teaching. I learned that even if you say yes to everything and feel like you're going to drown in opportunity...there is Always a way. Honestly, after this summer, with all the death and a wedding and reunion and a family reunion and school field trips all stacked on one another... I have been reminded that no matter what, there will always be clouds in the sky...attitude is everything, and a little Grit goes a long way.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Ride the World

These are not easy words to write, and could probably be expressed better. But in the words of Thoreau "Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while to make it short."

I have spent the last 10 weeks pouring my energy into a community that consists on discovery, growth, self awareness, confidence and independence. The first days, even weeks after Sid passed I struggled to think of going back to my normal world. At the same time, my supportive group of inspiring friends has been exactly what I needed to shake this shock and sadness, and propel my energy into something greater:

Monday was our last night with trekkers at our base camp. Six weeks before, inspired by the bustle and buzz of 30 adults making last minute preparations I started a poem about the "calm before the storm." Now, after many tears and smiles, laughing to the point of collapse, wondering how an hour can feel like an eternity but a week can feel like a moment, one wedding and two rendezvous and a handful pretty intense's come to an end. Every late night, every tough decision, every bonding moment has come to this: a staff game of bucketball under an increasingly brilliant orange sky. 

Many of us hardly have enough energy to communicate our own feelings, yet we pounded the squishy dirt as we hustled back and forth, not wanting our peers to feel unsupported. Trekkers watched from either side (admiring this adult show of appropriate contact and communication in a semi-competitive game) as they prepared for their final banqets- a traditional last meal with one another before they travel back to their homes, plug into their screens and march back into their school systems. 


I have thought a lot about Sid this summer. He came to  me in the happiest moments. In those rare moments of still beauty and perfection I was painfully aware of his absence in this world. I've thought a lot about how we would have worked it out this summer...with me being completely committed to this community. I've thought about how thankful I am to have learned his perspective on politics and the world, and to have met a new group of friends and family from him. I've also thought about his addiction. Our ability to be consumed in every aspect of our lives by the things we loved made Sid and I understand each other. I'm reminded every day of how his addiction to alcohol affected his life. This summer I have seen my peers fight the same addiction. Whether they're watching the people they love pour their lives away, or making the difficult decisions to keep themselves away from the same pressures, I have so much pride and admiration for their willpower and strength...and I worry that without help, more people will have to face the same struggles. Just as Sid threw himself into his Colorado world, I am consumed by this community, and the work needed to be done to give our youth a safe space.

This last week of wrapping things up, as two different parents choked up thanking us for what we have done for their kids, I have been reminded of why we do this energy-taxing job of supporting sustained memories and a sacred place for these children to grow up. Every interaction I had with a young person, I became aware of the need of our children to receive actual attention and care by solid adult role models. I hope that with this support, they won't turn to substances to fill a void. 

Harriet the rat. 
The world has now missed the brilliant soul we called Sid for over three months. I ache for him and cry for him. I miss the furrowed wrinkles on his forehead that I would try to smooth out, his cheesy grin, and the soft skin of his hands. I know that no amount of tears or memories or lighting candles can bring him back...but what I can do is carry on his energy and love, and fill the void of passion I had for him with love and light for the rest of the world. I can no longer tell Sid I love him, but I can show that love to the youth around me, to the leaders of the future. I can listen to late night ramblings, cheer them on when they're challenging themselves to something new, and be supportive of who they want to be. 

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Who Are you? Who, Who...Who, who?

These last three days…
…have been a challenge of my emotional stability, my perseverance, my social wit and my physical stamina…in addition to being a thrilling example of the diversity that is my existence.
This last year I have become increasingly aware of the diversity of my life experiences and how they have shaped my life. In these last few months as I’ve heard stories from grandmothers who used to hitch hike across the country, bartenders who used to be strung out on cocaine, and stay at home moms who have raised two kids, moved 4 times and gotten a degree in the process… I have considered how much our experiences shape our lives, and how important it is to take opportunities that are provided.
In the last two days I have : cleaned my house, stuffed other people’s things into my closets, taught improv, moved into my car, sweat through a 12 minute body weight leg workout, rock climbed with my mentee, build king Ludwig’s castles, picked up a bag of red wigglers from an old friend, sat on a panel, hosted a summit, given a tour, slept in a van, had a meeting in a hallway, cried, laughed, bled, and ate a muffin.  As exhausting as it has been, I kept having a flash thought of gratitude. I’m so thankful I know how to pack my car, and that I have the opportunity to move and live in different places that I love. I’m also thankful that I have practice at teaching a group of people without any notice, and living out of a bag.  
One day I might expand on some of the bigger life experiences that have shaped me, such as teaching juggling, going to college out of state, stand up paddle boarding, summiting a mountain in one 24-mile day, connecting with youth, and sleeping in a wigwam. But right now I’d like to focus on the less-obvious opportunities.  

I have “said yes” to holding a friends hand throughout the night to ease their anxiety. I have agreed to stay up all night to hear a friend talk who just had a lot on his mind. I’ve agreed to help people move, or go and watch a movie starring an actress I hate. Sometimes, these are not my favorite things to do—I would rather be doing something “more productive” like writing my blog (hah) or collaging. But taking these social opportunities has proven just as influential as the previously mentioned career/professional or adventure opportunities.

From January to May I did something I hadn’t done in years—I put my relationship before my career. I agreed to trade sleep for conversation, to spend money that I would have preferred to save, either out at dinner, on Chinese take out, or at a stay-cation with a sauna and a hot tub in town. I said yes to opportunities to go out to bars (not my favorite thing) with my sweetie to meet his friends, and spent less time with my own friends so I could hang out with him. In the hindsight of his passing… I am SO glad that I took these opportunities. I DID recognize that these weren’t sustainable decisions. I could feel my body begging for more sleep, and knew that I would eventually have to pull work back to the forefront of my life… and I would have figured those things out had he remained alive. But now that he’s gone, I’m so glad that I had the courage to take opportunities, whether big or small, knowing that each experience will shape who I am.

Monday, May 30, 2016

What Sid taught me

It's been 25 days since my Sweet Sid passed on from this earth. In ways it already feels like it's been an eternity. I've heard many Sid stories, and analyzed every aspect of his relationships- with myself, his close friends, his distant relatives and old girlfriends. After the first few days I started to use these stories to reflect upon my own relationships. In addition to gaining a new group of his friends and family, I have stopped holding back feeling for my own. Love has flowed more openly, filters have fallen down, and I've started adopting Sid's "no shits to give" attitude. 
Carina (not me) and Sid <3
It took some time to shake the sadness off to the point of moving on. I still feel I am wearing a veil that no one else can see, though most are aware of. Some days the veil is thin and I can see through to the brightness all around. Some days, usually mornings when my tear ducts are refilled and ready to leak, the veil feels heavy and least until I let the tears flow and steal some of my sadness out with them.
I know that his absence will always be with me. Though I feel like I had been prepared for it better than many of his family and friends. I knew within the first year of meeting him that he would leave my life too soon. I had no idea I would be blessed with so many moments together, though. That he would confess that I was his best friend, and share his secrets with me, over and over often at early hours of the morning. Or that we would share beautiful imtimacies, some as simple as holding hands on the 367 mile drive from his house to mine.
As I mentioned in my stages of grief, I have reached acceptance. I don't look at his Facebook and expect a message. I no longer here the ping of messenger and hope it's him. I know there will be awful moments in which I blissfully forget he's gone, only to be abruptly reminded... but I can only embrace those moments. I can't spend any more time mourning. Though I will. He would have wanted me to be over it by now (and yet touched by my disobedience). So, I've realized the best way to get through this, is to live. His mom shared a sweet poem with me that summarizes my ambition these last few weeks.
We can't dwell on the deceased. We can only honor their every breath, and every success with our own energy and actions. I'm not going to put his spirit into stress eating bowls of ice cream (at least not too frequently), but allow his love and light motivate me to do one more lap, or make friends with a lonely frustrated child, or wake up early to watch the sunrise. So in addition to honoring him through my own actions, I've noticed myself taking on and modifying my life based on him not being in it to do these things for me. Without further adieu, here's what Sid taught me.
1) Don't give a f**k.
This one will be hard for me, as I've always been quite passive to others by nature. But there's something to be said for speaking tour kind when it comes up... why sit on a long boring trip just because you don't want to insult the person driving.... my fuck farm will always have more growing than Sid's did...but at least I'm learning when to use them. Or when not to. 
2) be nice to others.
Sid disliked most people, and for good reason. He could sniff out the liars and the assholes, and knew most people acted selfishly. But to his closest friends he was loyal as fuck. It didn't matter if they had a shelter to sleep in at night, an abusive girlfriend or a drug problem. He liked people for their absolute core, and he could read that a shit a mile away. His biggest problem was how sensitive was. He would cry over how selfish and ignorant people could be. He would put so much love and care into his friendships (in his own way) and when people wouldn't reciprocate the would break his heart, and build up his barriers. But to the people that broke through, he would do anything for them. I have learned a lot from his love and loyalty, but mostly for his ability to see and appreciate the truth and trust in the rare people that showed it.
3) don't be sorry, be silly
I know that he didn't originate that quote, but he said it, and lived by it. Sid never apologized because he said ways did what he meant to. But he was great at always adding silliness to a situation. Whether through costumes or just that sweet smile (or shit-eating grin, as some remember it) he ensured that no one took life too seriously. He was always a reminder to me to loosen up and take opportunities to relax as much as to work. And he could bring light to the shittiest situations, even the utterly hopeless ones, like the future of humanity. 
4) search for the truth. Always be willing to look deeper deeper than things seem.
Sid opened my eyes to corrupt governments, drug trades, political heroes and crazy outliers. He taught me to never take anything for face value, to question things, and to be skeptical of the answers you get. I can only imagine how deep I'll get down the rabbit hole he left me, but it's what I've got to do.
5) Dance
Sid danced better than I do, which isn't saying was still goofy as hell. But he loved the music. I strive to appreciate music more, from gheto boys to T swift. And to dance. To shake this booty he loved so much, knowing he's watching somewhere.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Life is what happens when you're busy making Plans

If I gave a graduation speech, it would have this theme.
Seize opportunity. 
The most inspiring people I have met in life are not those who simply climbed up the ladder to success. It's the ones who took each path that was offered, sometimes bounding from one to another, or taking several at the same time. The people who have been welders, wilderness therapy providers and dental assistants before settling into politics. And although some planning and goal setting is part of this process....the main thing they have in common is that they seize opportunity. Whether it fits in with the career path, or seems totally out of the way-- they take chances, even if they get messy and make mistakes.

This blog isn't really about them though. It's about how plans change, and how life is about making lemonade. And adapting to lemonade without sugar. I heard some 8 year-olds sharing wisdom recently... "If life hands me lemons, I SQUEEZE them into the EYES of LIFE!" said one clever little punk kid. Another responded: "I mean, what's the point. It's not like life hands you sugar. If you squeeze the lemons, you just get lemon juice."

I knew that life had quite a bit to dish to me on this, my 28th year, my Saturn return. I knew that the man I had obsessed over since I felt my first feelings of love would be gone from my life too soon. I knew that his greatest legacy to me would be the paths he opened up for me... but I had no idea it would be like this. 

A month ago, I was planning on spending this evening driving to Colorado, to get married the next day. Nothing special... a little party, some paperwork. We were then going to drive into Texas on an epic road trip-- I can't even imagine how that would have gone down-- to celebrate at our favorite water park before staying a night or two with my folks and him meeting my family. Plans. Just little words on paper. Shared thoughts through computer screens. Hopes and ideas. Fantasies of the future.

What's really strange to me is how possible it all seemed a month ago, and how impossible it all is now...and there was no inbetween. I've had someone disappear from my life before, but there was always the possibility of stalking and internet searches... It's been hard to wrap my head around his encompassing absence.

So... in lieu of getting married to the man of my dreams. [Literally the man who made me believe in paradise on earth...despite all his flaws and shortcomings...] I'm opting to seize new opportunities. Not right away. I hope it's going to be a slow journey. (Everything has been a little too fast lately)
I'm going to go to work instead of getting married. (I might have a few breakdowns). I'm going to fly home instead of driving. I'm going to dive into 10 weeks of working in the woods with a talented crew of like-minded people. and I'm going to try to spend some time with myself.
But also-- I'm going to explore the opportunities that only exist because of my relationship with him--new people, relationships, family and friends... new ideas... a whole rabbit hole he left me.

Rest Easy, Sweet Sid <3

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Holding his Hand is Heaven on Earth

Like most of the American population, I wouldn't have given two shakes toward New Mexico if it hadn't been for the object of my affection living here. We took a family trip to Santa Fe when I was 14 or 15 and all I could think about was bumping into him, which I did when we returned a few years later.
I had to apply for a scholarship for my creative writing degree at the College of Santa Fe, and one of the essay questions was to describe someone who has influenced your life. So I wrote about Phil (Sid). I remember the admissions director calling me at 8:00pm on a Thursday to tell me how much he liked it. They offered me $2-3,000, but I had to turn it down because it didn't make the other $25,000 worth a creative writing degree.

I got this quote because it described the two of us. "Find what you Love and Let it consume you". I didn't realize how well is described my relationship with him. 

Here's the essay, written 10 years ago by my 18 year old self...

It's amazing how much your life can evolve in a matter of weeks, days or mere seconds. The first time I saw Phil was the moment that confusion and immaturity escaped me and desire and understanding began to flow through my veins. Months after I met him, he inspired me to write my first monologue, in which I described my first feeling of his presence. "I can still remember the glow from the sunlight of the dirty room, as I talked and laughed with my friends. I remember looking up from Drew's feet to a noise in the corner, and that moment in my life was the most important moment in all of history. He sat, now so close in my heart, but so far away in the room." And that is how I still remember him entering my life.
I had never felt this way for someone before. This extreme want of attachment, and yet being 6 years younger than him, it seemed impossible. It didn't matter to him who I was, what I looked like, where I came from-- I was just an audience for his rants of politics and physics. But to me, he was a deity. His features were handsome, unmatched and perfect. In him I saw a sense of badness that I had longed for and a challenge; like my very own Kurt Cobain, they even shared similar smiled. His personality was everything I had dreamed of come to life, trapped in a flawless body that became my temple. He walked into my work, while I was a 14 year old dreamer who had learned for a taste of reality, and though I believed he was my dream come true, he was never a possibility.  
Before I knew it, my summer with him had ended. I achieved my last hug, received one small ticket for further communication, and was left with my intricate memories of his aura. That one little screen name became the object of my intent. As much as I brushed aside my job to focus on him and try to make him notice me, I ignored everything around me but this tiny scrap of paper with a screen name on it. Alas! he came on line. The gorgeously intelligent twenty year old obviously didn't see much need to converse with my inexperienced opinions, but I forced myself into his life, stalking him with internet searches. Finally, my desire for him brought out the evil in me. I posed as his perfect match- an older blonde bombshell whose pictures i found on a t-shirt site. And victory was achieved! He wanted me. No, he wanted her. 
My life had now become this facade. Every morning and evening before and after school I would slip into a charade of my wild side- everything I had wanted to be but couldn't show- to try to impress my idol. I met so many other people this way as well. People who couldn't make judgments from my clothes and facial expressions. People who wanted me because of my false image, but wanted to know me because of my personality. Aside from Phil, I would always reveal my true character to my new companions once I was sure they appreciated me. I can't count the number of people I met this way, or explain without talking for years how each conversation with these unique and understanding people opened my eyes to life beyond first impressions. 
One of Phil's friends online sent me four seconds of one of the best songs I had ever heard. I finally tracked it down and bought the CD and joined a message board for the band, where I found a whole other family of insecure artists like myself. Dozens of experiences like that enhanced myself because of my short relationship with him. By my sophomore year the confidence I had gained, the appreciation I now held for others and the respect I had for myself had made my new idol me, although Phil would always be the object of my desire. In the next two years, through un-trusting relationships, frustrating fantasies and hopes of success and college I would go to bed dreaming of Phil. My ultimate goal and most common dream was to be in his company again, and for him to at least notice me. I once wrote after waking from a dream of him that, "I feel like holding his hand is something people get rewarded in paradise. So if I urge for it, and obtain it...there can't be a heavy, but on this earth, because holding his hand would be just that divine."
Well, it's always seemed sort of a fairy tale, but this last month I learned that dreams come true.When I told Phil that I wasn't his blonde beauty, but actually confused little Cassie abusing the powers of the internet, he was rightfully upset. It had only been a few months of bliss and confusion that I let him on, but it would cause years of punishment, I believed. He disappeared, out of my life, gone from my boundaries of view, forever...Or so I thought. A year and 4 months later from his last words to me, I was typing away to my current boyfriend, most likely using the sincerity that I had learned from my life for Phil, when an unknown screen name popped up on my computer. Much to my surprise and delight, it was him. Lonely and bored, he had probably forgotten my crime though his minute drug abuse. I was so thrilled to have him talking to me again that I couldn't stop smiling for a week. Pretty soon, he didn't come online anymore. I was left with our sparse and unspecific conversations, and with my old memories. Eight months later, he came around again. I began to think of him as Jenny in Forrest Gump. I would spend months running across the world, doing great and unusual things all because of the inspiration he game me; and he would wander back into my life in-between abusive relationships with girls and drugs. After 4 times of lighting up my life with his unexpected arrival, and leaving me again with more to hope for than last time, I got a message once again. "Booga Bogga Booga" the many says, "do you know who this is?" "Give me a hint," I inquired. "Uhhhhh. I like politics?" "Phillip?!"
He informed me that he still resided in Albuquerque, as I knew from the research I would do while he was missing from my life (a horrible habit that I have never ceased from the moment we met). I told him that there was a college I wanted to visit up in Santa Fe and before I knew it I was on a plane to one of my favorite cities with all of my desires possibly coming true.
 It was so weird to be sitting down to lunch with my parents and my deity. A man I worshiped before I even knew what he would do for me.
[and had no idea what was to come...] I couldn't tell this stranger that had lucked into getting food from an old friend that I had a shrine of his photos above my bed, and that for years every time I closed my eyes I pictured him, or that holding his hand would be bliss. [Although I learned 10 years later that he knew all this that day... that was his secret from me.] I couldn't tell him, because I didn't know why I had worshiped him so. [What I now believe was a stronger force...] He was human, as much as I or my father sitting across from him. He bit his nails and hated his hair cut just like so many others I knew. Although his words still grabbed me and his eager mind still inspired, and his goodbye hug left much regret for hings I could have done...but he's just a man. A handsome man, however, that symbolizes desire, confidence and success. 
We've talked more since that visit than ever online. He shares his rants with me daily and I hesitate to tell him how often he's crossed my mind. He has revealed to me that he appreciates my care, and I hide how much.  I have learned that obstacles like age, appearance and mannerisms are not as crucial to understanding someone as knowing their goals and beliefs. He taught me all this, and he never did anything but exist. And now that I've learned that love at first sight isn't necessary, he is interested in me, and I above all, and interested in myself. 

I think this says as much about growing up with Chat rooms and internet as it does about my relationship. I'm so scared and curious for the next generation.

It's hard not to edit this with hindsight...but I think that makes it just as interesting. A snapshot into my 18 year old mind. I would say that I wish I had known then what would become of us...but I think I always knew...deep in my heart. I knew he was my true love, and I knew we weren't going to be together...and I have the rest of my life to cope with that.

 You Make me So Very Happy <3

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Good Grief - 7 Stages

1) Shock- You do things that don't really make sense given the gravity of the situation. You crumble, you cry, you hit the ground. No matter how much you expected it... you grapple to understand the news. You are thankful for the voice that told you. You call your mommy. Shock continues to rock you, like a ripple on water, dissapating and concentrating throughout you.

2) Grief. - You cry until you can't breathe. You catch your breath, and look around at the blankness before you. You cry again, this time until you feel discomfort. Your guts writhe with the feeling of being empty and full. You cry again, until you're numb. You body buzzes but feels frozen. Your heart stops and stutters simultaneously. Your skin crawls inside and oozes outward into your space. You breathe. You cry again...this time until you're hollow, there are no guts inside, it's all dripped out of your face, emotions, thoughts, control.

3) Sorrow- You begin to grapple. To piece together the situation. I formulate a plan. I'm a planner. I compartmentalize. I buy donuts, but I can't eat them. I ache for one more moment with him. You try to distract yourself and concentrate on every minute detail at the same time. Thoughts speed through your brain but time is standing still. Sorrow envelopes you like a dark dress that no one can see, but you can feel it's pins and needles upon you at all times.

3.5) Sharing- Sorrow continues, but his spirit exists in the memeories people share. We are all simply made of memories. Our own unique beings. No matter how much you share with others, know one but yourself will know your entire being. I talk to people that knew him 5 years ago, or when he grew up. People that knew him for the last five years. My timeline with him stretches through the middle to the end of his life. We honor his spirit the way he would have wanted. We honor his life, his selfishness and his selflessness. "Fuckin' Sid" is all we can say.

4) Acceptance- Acceptance starts inside you like oil, mixed with the water of sorrow. You know it's going to settle into layers, that sorrow will always be there, but with acceptance it won't hurt as much...but first it's too shaken to settle. By 3:00pm of day 4, acceptance had started to settle, thanks to gentle conversations and lots of hard decisions. Plans are made toward finding closure for him and honoring his wishes, which allows us to be prepped for acceptance to wash over.

5) Anger. I didn't feel this one, but I know many do. I'm not angry at Sid for not taking care of himself. I can't be. I have to accept his fate as well as he did. And respect the hell out of the fact that he lived and died doing exactly what he wanted.

6) "You don't get over get through it." You realize that the best way to honor the dead is by living fully, and begin the transitions back to your own life. You are grateful for those around you, and you start to tell them so. Suddenly saying I love you doesn't feel awkward, it feels necessary. You breathe, thankful of each breath. You take one step, then another, knowing that some steps can be taken in his honor, some need to be taken for yourself, and some are going to hurt like hell.

7) You learn to appreciate hurting like hell. Cause at least when you're hurting you're feeling something. And that's what life is all about. Feeling.
You may swear to never love again. Or know that you will never find a love like that again. But you reflect on the lessons that they shared with you, the incredible influences they had on every aspect of your life, even the ones you're not aware of yet.

Our Story

I have written out story a dozen times, in a dozen different ways. I even won a scholarship for writing about "someone who had influenced your life" when I was 18- from writing our story-- but it was so short then. I had a feeling that this year I was going to have an ending to part of our story, but I hadn't expected it to be like this. After I first met him when I was 14, I wrote it as a monologue. Digging back through my journal pages today, in which almost every entry is directly or indirectly inspired by him, I found that monologue, written months after we first met. 

I had thought that love at first sight is silly. I didn't think it was possible. i thought that emotions like love were measured by how far you could get with the coolest highschool guy. I wasn't that shallow, just ignorant. Then my life changed. I was training for work some Saturday just before summer. I still remember the glow from the sunlight off the dirty room, ans I talked and laughed with my friends. I remember looking up from Drew's feet to the noise in the corner and that moment in my life was the more important in all of history. He sat, now so close in my heart, but so far away in the room. His head was recently shaved, his tiny blonde hairs glistened. I learned later he had shaved his mohawk just for the job and of his fondness for them. His face was shaped and structured more perfectly than I could have ever imagined. His chains, chokers and spikes added a glistening perfection to his Godly figure. His baggy, worn transformers shirt spoke his personality and hang over his sagging multi-pocketed skater pants. And then Candyce said something to make him laught. That smile could make starving children feel no pain. As his laughter reached my ears, I suddenly felt like I had melted into a pathetic puddle of love left to be stepped on. 
Over time I got to know him. I fell down on the job because of my yearning to get to know him. To love him. For him to love me. For the most part, I locked my desires internally and before I knew it, the fun experiences of the summer had ended....
I knew the gravity of our relationship from that first moment, though we could never explain the draw we felt to be together. Now as I type this from his chair, after hearing hundreds of memories other people shared with him, it was confirmed. His cheesy grin, those beautiful gray eyes that stole my heart, and occasionally looking into my soul with the deepest love I could have imagined, and his goofy confidence had indeed brought a whole town to light.
Our story starts that summer. The summer of 2002. Somehow, I don't remember much of him throughout that summer, but I know it took all my willpower not to follow him around like a puppy. He filled my head with his conspiracies-- ideas I hadn't heard of before. I was attracted to his brilliance, his beauty, and that fucking charm that stole everyone's hearts.
It was the end of summer that my life started in an unusual way that only Phil was able to arrange. I have a memory of standing outside the school, trading Yahoo Instant Messenger screen names. What happened next is strange, and shameful and easy to omit, but it's important to the story of Cass and Sid, or perhaps more important to my story. Assuming that as a charming 20 year old he didn't have to waste time with a stupid 14 year old, I abused the power of the internet to create a fake profile. I filled it with photos of some blonde from T-shirt Hell website. I brought her  into a chat room that he frequented. (Oh the early 2000's! chatrooms, memes, or facebook videos, just ebaums world and Kazaa). I slowly tried to steal his heart, as someone snuck in and stole mine. I ended up confessing to him first. "Dec" we called him, was the first one I confided to about my true identity. Sid's screen name was Richard Hell so we all called him Rich. the blonde girl went by "itch". This is chatting in the early 2000's. Dec told me to tell Phil, and after a few months, I worked up the courage to. I'm sure I have that conversation saved, but unsurprisingly, he was upset, and essentially told me to fuck off. Actually, he told me to come back when I was 18, which gave me a glimmer of hope toward the love I wouldn't know he shared for me until more than a decade later. From my monologue, 2002: 

Phil and I grew close. We talked about and shared things that I will never and can never forget. Whether taunting others or in our own passionate fun, it was an undescribable feeling...of deceit. [I made friends with other people in our chatroom, some of whom carried me through difficult parts of my life, and I considered my angels] But in a way, Phil is my true angel. He led me to this life, he brought me to this state of self-satisfaction and unintentionally introduced me to my [other] saviors. I still try to talk to him. He exists forever in my heart and mind but it kills me to think that I haven't crossed his mind since then. 

I wrote some weird angsty poems about Sid. He came to me in my dreams, often...and throughout my life. I remember one dream in which we were walking down a road under a tree and he casually reached out and held my hand. I woke up feeling so strong and connected to this stranger, not even knowing where he was or what he was doing. I thought of him as the Jenny to my Forest Gump. Throughout our relationship, I would take any opportunity, go new places and try new things, while he wandered through life just living... living his highs and lows in ways I will only get to hear about from friends and family who were with him throughout those journeys. 

It wasn't much later that he came back into my life, Jenny-style. A new screen name popped up saying "ooga booga" and I immediately knew it was him. We chatted on and off for months, and then he would disappear again. When he wasn't in my life, on my screen, sharing little bits and pieces of his life at the moment, I can only imagine the characters he met, and made fall in love with him. I've met many of them in the last few days, but I can only imagine how many others there are around out there. And so the story goes on until as an 18 year old looking for collages, inspired by his existence in New Mexico and the thought of being at least a little closer to him, I flew with my folks out to Santa Fe to look at a school. We picked him up in a Dunkin Donuts and watched him get in a car to get or sell some weed in front of my parents. 

But they still took him to Kelly's for a beer. I don't think I took a breath that whole afternoon, and I remember my elation in the hotel room that night as I wrote in my journal that this beautiful creature I had put on a pedestal for so many years was in fact, just a man, a human... my person. 

I talked a lot about driving to visit him in NM when I was in college in Texas, but it never worked out. It wasn't supposed to. Instead, I waited 2 more years until I had transferred to New York, conveniently accessible to Pittsburgh, where he now resided. On Spring Break I bought a $30 China Town bus ticket and spent 6 hours wondering what the fuck was going to happen. I hadn't ever actually been alone with him before so having him tie me up in a dungeon was a legitimate possibility. (Sorry Mom). Instead, his roommates picked me up at the train station. He carried my bags. We went up to his room and ensued some awkward but sweet tension that had built up for years. When it was finally released, I remember laying in his cave, on the same red sheets I'm staring at now, aware of how our auras were dancing, entwined with one another as our bodies lay wrapped up below.  

I visited him one other time that Spring, and he came out to NY to stay with his mom, and I spent Easter weekend with him. We went to the Sex museum, and I drank my first Red Ale next to him at a bar in Manhattan.

By May he had started to pull away, ready to ride the world wherever it was to take him. I was heartbroken and I still remember all the ways I tried to distract myself from his absence that summer. The following Spring Break I met a new man and spent the next 5 years settled with him....
Sid still came to my dreams. He still warmed my heart. He told me of a girl he met and how he was in love, and how she made him all romantic. I kept tabs through their on and off relationship as my seemingly stable one soared. He grumbled a lot in the last few months with regrets that he hadn't taken my heart when I gave it to him the summer of 2009... but we wouldn't have been ready to love each other back then. I had to learn how to be patient, to be accepting, and to love unconditionally. Perhaps he had to learn how to accept my unconditional love. 
Despite a time or two of him casually dropping a "love ya" in conversation over the years, I had no idea of his feelings for me until November, 2015. He confessed that he had seen the shrine I made in a selfie I sent him...that he enlarged it and studied it. He told me that my love for him kept him carrying on in the most trying times. Among the many messages that made my heart soar was this: 
" i love you and i would like to at least sometime in my life get to spend more than a few days with you" 
When I finally drove up to Manitou in December, and he ran down the hallway to the door to let me in, and kissed me like 6 years were just moments and we had our whole lives to be together, I had to really wonder. I wondered what the fuck kept us together over all these years. Kept us coming back to each other. We were polar opposites. We existed in each others' challenge zones. His world and behaviors were as foreign to me as mine were to him. Yet we loved. I loved his brilliance and he loved my loyalty.
We didn't get to spend much time together in this world, but everything I did had him in mind. We were always destined to be together... whether it was our souls pulling us close despite our differences, or if we carved the other person into what we needed...or a little of both.

I was aware that he was sick, but not how much. I wonder how much he knew. He was always open about his own death, and we were genuinely surprised when he turned 30, that he hadn't killed himself yet with his hard habits.

When we kissed on New Years I felt complete. The love that had lingered with so much distance between us, was now able to grow. I could feel it enveloping us. I spent half my life just waiting to be with him. Waiting for those cherished moments. A brief hug, a drunken conversation regarding the latest conspiracy. I feel lucky that I mostly knew Sid in my heart, because he will remain there forever, not much different than before, except that I'll never get an "ooga booga," or an "I love you more than you'll ever know," again. There are echos of him everywhere, especially here in Manitou. This was his community, his home in a way I don't think he ever had.
I don't know if he was "lost" but he spent most of his life on a journey he couldn't fully comprehend.. His brilliance left him bored...and angry at how un-accepting and ignorant the rest of the world was. He was the most sensitive person I had ever met.  He cared so much about his people, his cats, and our fucked up world that he had to constantly distract himself from the pain. But it seems his journey left him in just the right place. He found his people-- a whole town of them. As 'Mayor of Manitou' he found his niche, in being a shoulder to cry on, a fist to a fight, or to pick your drunk ass off the streets and take you home, he was a caretaker. He gave his love to the world every day, and didn't ask for much in return-- just some pot, a drink, or mostly, some company. 

We talked a lot about his mortality this year, though not too much more than every year before. We also talked of our future. We agreed against every having kids, but he loved the thought of helping me raise an adopted one. One of the days we were talking about our plans, curled up on his bed just going to sleep at 5 in the morning, he looked straight at me with those gorgeous gray eyes and asked me to Marry him. Because I had imagined being Cass Schneider since I was fourteen, I didn't hesitate. He asked me again and again over the weeks, just to be sure. I assured him that he had always had my heart, and we toyed with different states, times or ways to get married... Which community to have it in, to elope or celebrate with family.
One night in March, after he sat with me for painful tattoo session, we walked to Kelly's where we had hung with my folks 10 years before. We played darts until he went out to smoke and saw the drive by chapel. Unfortunately it was closed, but we intended to go the next day until we realized he needed his Social Security card, which was back in CO.  We planned on getting married when I came back up there, but in my haste to see him, I forgot my social. We agreed to set a date that his friends could come in town for, and planned on May 24th, before retreating to our favorite water park in Texas for a honeymoon of sorts.

Our time together felt too short, but it must have been perfect. Everything about my life happened because of him. My openness with others, the honesty he taught me. Even the work I do that I give myself so fully to I found as a way to distract myself from our in-betweens. (Ironically, those habits were so strong that by the time he came back into my life I spent most of our time working in the world that I had used to run away). I don't think we could have been together any sooner. He hasn't learned how to accept love, and I hadn't learned how to love unconditionally. I believe that once he had that, and had his people, and his town...he had finally found enough bright spots to make the pain go away. I think he held on until he was sure, and then let his soul slip away.

He better fucking come back at a cat, and find me. We have a lot of snuggling to do.  My life will have significantly less debauchary in it without my Sweet Sid...though his spirit will live on inside me. You never know when a random "BANGARANG" might come up. I will forever strive for his spontaneity, and his sometimes brutal honesty that made him so fucking genuine and real-- which was refreshing in this fake ass world.

As I sat down to write this, I thought I could jot down our simply story. But no one's story is simple. Each moment of his life was a memory. Every note he wrote, word he said, friend he made, and hug he gave was a piece of this world. Thousands of people were lucky enough to share those with him, and they will carry on those memories, just like I carry on my memories of our moments together. We will share our Sid stories, laugh and cry together, honor his soul and his spirit, and put together our pieces. But no one will ever know the full Sid. 

His passing is a reminder to be honest, to be real, to live life and not give a fuck (I'm still working on that one). I'm so grateful to have had him in my life, to have gotten to know him "better than anyone else," and to have shared these last few months with him. Xoxo Sid
These are not flattering photos, but they are the only ones that He took of us, in a happy moment after haircuts.