When I think of Nick’s death, I think of his wife who was driving the boat. The way she dove into the water. Over. And over. The panic she must have felt when she could not find his drowning body. I don’t think about what it might be like to have only water in your throat. I think about what it would be like to have only water in your hands.
I have been in a lifelong relationship with tragic death. I have 100 Nicks. Each with their own set of images burned in my mind. Hundreds of images visit me when I’m driving, grocery shopping, or standing on the edge of a cliff. Tragic death is the fiber of my daily life as sure as it has ripped me open more times than I even know how to count. It no longer matters if I know today’s Nick. Every new death, a new Nick who may as well be my sister hanging behind the house that I grew up in. I am in the club of knowing raw grief from tragic death.
When I think about my sister’s death, I don’t think about the tension in the sheet that broke her neck, I think about the release of tension when my father cut her down. I think about how it felt to live in my body while sitting in my parent’s kitchen separated from her by nothing but a glass door for the last time. Watching the body bag zipped—what has come to represent the threshold of the universes that will forever separate me from her. This is the stuff that my bones are made of. When you tell me I am a force, I tell you every molecule of tragedy I have known has made me so.
When my mom drove me home from the doctor visit where I found out I had a diagnosis that carries a higher likelihood of death than any other cancer, I remember looking out the window at the landscape of Lake Street, in a city I have known all of my nearly half decade of days, and thinking, “How fascinating…I think I just found out how I am going to die.” I wondered if the landscape of McDonald's and the old bar across the street looked different through dying eyes. It was too new, I couldn't know the answer. Getting to ponder all of this is a gift. The gift of possibly not being ripped from this world tragically was not lost on me.
On the corner of my block is a free community art studio run by a survivor of the 35W bridge collapse. I understand that. Called to the edge of life, I find nothing there to protect or keep secret. The only thing that feels important is making my art. The edge is a place where I learn that breathing is making art. Breathing calls me to be me while I am. The edge strips me of my masks and shows me how useless they are here and now. In this lifetime, this is the only me I get to be. Everything I add to this lifetime is art. I understand being called to make my art, whatever that may be and to help facilitate other people living and making their art.
I know tragic death. Your worth is so immense that it breaks my heart. I am fierce in loving Every. Fucking. Thing. When you are ripped from me, whoever you are, I carry you with me always. If I can love you this fiercely, it makes it impossible for me to not believe my own worth. So push me to the edge of this life and tell me that breathing might not always be my art. I will think not just about death, but about living. Living as me. Quirky, loving, weird, fierce, imperfect, and broken: Me.
When I think about living, it doesn’t have to be more exciting than this right here. My son is whistling in a high pitch and cutting fabric with expensive fabric scissors that are one of the best tools I own. I learned to sew from my father. It warms my heart to be passing on something special to my son. But I could have missed the art because of the goddamn whistling that makes the sweetness almost unbearable. My life sometimes feels like a patchwork of tragedy and high pitched whistling, but the gifts death has brought to my life help me see love and art in everything.