Monday, November 13, 2006


I don't have the picture with me now, but I can see it well enough, the five of us standing there, smiling for the camera. It's an interesting exercise to trace the differences in our features and personalities and ascribe them to the different sibling and to the three different strains of alien DNA that came in and corrupted my grandfather's bloodline. From what's left over, you can almost pick out the old man's face.

My brother and I were the youngest of the five, the new kids. (There is a younger set still, not yet in the club.) My cousin Bill (I could never call anyone over the age of 15 "Billy") was the oldest, about ten years my senior. His branch of the family is loaded with artistic and athletic talent, both on the common side and by chromosomal infusion. According to the official story (that I know, the one told by my mother), O. was an active and eager child, physically gifted, and a marvel in the visual arts. As he got older, he only kept up with the photography (or so I understand), and I certainly remember him towing some fraction of his equipment with him at all times.

When I was young, I knew Bill mostly a remote source of hand-me-downs. I didn't see him much, and when I did, there was an element of mystery to him (and my other cousins too). In addition to being older, these guys had much more complicated family dynamics than my brother and I did, were naturally outgoing, and were much more cosmopolitan, having lived in Europe and in different interesting parts of the States. Bill eventually settled into the state college, however, (studying fine arts) and visited my grandparents from time to time. When he did, my mother would usually make a point to drop by as well.

The first conversation I really recall having with him was at my granparents' basement during one of those visits. Ten years isn't a terribly big deal at my age now, but it matters a lot when you're twelve. He had a calculator watch (how cool was that at the time?) and I had a transformer toy. Bemusedly, he let me check out the thing on his wrist, and made some uninvolved conversation. His benevolent distraction made me feel even more like a little boy, but it would take me years to realize that this was how he was with everyone: distant, nice, soft-spoken, and wry. He was too naturally fit to express his laziness in slouches and sighs, managing to bob around at his full slender height. He'd often smirk inappropriately, as if at some private irony that you just knew would lose its meaning if you ever asked after it. When he was older, this helped make him fun to be around. Bill came back east regularaly, and I consequently knew him better than my other cousins, but he was hard to know well. We all are.

It was nearly another decade before the five of us finally bonded, partying our way through a weeklong family reunion. (Good times.) We're all bright, are all stuck too much in our respective heads, we all have issues with achievement, we're all a little offbeat, and we all look like the family we are. As a group, we hit it off, and as the years followed, we'd relearn that connection as the occasion demanded with greater or lesser success, but we're not the sort of intimate group that writes or calls constantly, me least of all, and we are geographically scattered. The last time we all crowded in a place (and lined up in front of Bill's ubiquitous "snapshot camera" for that picture) was one of the better ones. Bill had gone through the breakup of a long relationship. His distance seemed a little more serious than usual, and for once, it seemed he'd rather cross it.

Last night, my mother gave me the official synopsis of the two and a half years since the photo. He'd been sinking from life, struggling with honest-to-god depression. He had been drinking too much and eating too little. I would get hints of these things in conversation, but its hard to assess the gravity of anything at this remove. "Depressed" has a broad spectrum, ranging from contextual to pathological. According to Mom, he'd lately been on the upswing, working out again, and was in the process of turning himself around. He was planning to come back to Connecticut, she said. He'd gained weight.

I suppose we're most likely to be struck at a crossroads.

He died sometime last week in his apartment, alone. It is not known precisely when this happened, and it was several days before he was found. Did he not show up for work? Not answer his phone? Who found him? What was the cause? I have no idea.

Believe it or not, this is the hardest part for me to wrap my mind around. (It is also the only part that seems real.) I like to think he passed with that inscrutable smile on his face--the one which you couldn't tell if had a tiny corner of life knowledge that was impossible to share or if he was just a little silly (or both)--but I can't bring myself to believe it. I picture him alone in there with the distant look, but not the smile, and it is breaking my heart.

You can't reduce a life to an official summary version, by the way, or you shouldn't. Depression and redemtpion--there's so much more to a man's life than that simple fucking story. And I'm not doing him any better by throwing a bunch of adjectives at the guy. But if you're reading, do me a favor and synthesize them to the extent needed for a mental photograph. Picture for a moment this person who was easygoing to a fault, goofy, talented, and likable, and know that he existed. A man who, like most of us, had trouble finding the point of it all or maybe staying on it, but deserved to much as anyone.


Dawn Coyote said...

I feel you. I got news last Sunday that an old friend had taken his own life. I've been trying to write about it ever since, but I'm having a hard time. I can't find a way to explain it to myself. It just seems to echo around inside, reminding me of dark corners I mostly try not to look in. I've seen him twice in the last 20 years. I'm shocked to find myself so affected.

I'm sorry for your loss.

Keifus said...

I find that if things echo around in there too long, they either become toxic or they dissolve into impotence. I hate either. It's very much why I do this.

I'm feeling a little fucked up about this right now, but I'm one who's more or less okay. I am feeling horrible about the distance. And the permanence of it. We cousins got together only every handful of years, but it was something worthwhile, you know?

I am not happy to hear your story. Including yesterday, it's the third time I've heard it in a month. I don't get what the fuck is going on.

Thanks. Yours too.


august said...


I'm not especially good at expressing empathy, but my sincere condolences. It hurts to read; must hurt much worse to write.

Keifus said...

august, I don't know what to say these times either. Thanks.

LentenStuffe said...


I only hope you are bearing up alright. There are no other words for your loss except what you've given us, and what a tribute that is. I can see and feel the person you have lost and it really sucks.

I'm very sorry, my friend.

Be Well,


twiffer said...

loss is never an easy thing, despite being one of the few constants of life. talking about it (be it through typing or actual talking) is what we need to do though.

it's strange, but reading this i realized i'd not be surprised to hear similar news about my older (though not eldest) brother. not even sure quite how to feel about that (a bit sad, i suppose, but also resigned). i think we always harbor the hope that those we care for (family, friends) who've lost their way will find it again, with a bit of time. makes it harder when they become truly lost to us.

Keifus said...

thanks guys.

tiger barbs said...

keifus, i'm so sorry.

Keifus said...

Thanks Tiger. I'm worried about the people who are closer. This is going to be very tough for them.