Zoë Killed Herself

Zoe-jenny

Today was my niece’s funeral. Her former band teacher gave the eulogy. His words were lovely, the passages fitting. I sat behind my stepsister and her husband and their children. My six-year-old on my lap, so someone else could have a seat I told her, but because I needed to feel her body, alive and warm.

The concert band from Zoë’s school played three pieces. The third, near the finish had a mournful note drawn out so long I was breathless by its end. A final gathering of notes trailed off, driven out by the grief of that one. The band director was motionless for a moment before he broke, his sobs uncontrollable for a few seconds. This day, that song, the reason. He quieted, but those few seconds were too much for the band composed of children, playing music for their dead friend. They sat in their chairs, or stood behind their instruments, alone but all together, except one.

The band director gave instructions. Some kids moved chairs to the side where family and friends were gathered. Some kids reconfigured the arrangement on the side where the band played. Zoë lay between, in a pine box, polished and perfect in its simplicity.

My nephew Evan, stood, waiting for this part to end. He tucked his shirt again and held his hands still in front of him. He was handsome, like a man too soon. His face betrayed an attempt at stoicism, every emotion shown, breaking my heart. He spoke clearly. “The last time I saw Zoë was a Thursday night.” He told us they’d argued and said awful things to each other, but had made up before the night ended. “I told her I loved her, and she said she loved me, too.” Then he was in his father’s arms, crying for us all.

The seats on the other side of the grave were occupied by a string ensemble after that. They played pieces of which I remember nothing but that they seemed the perfect soundtrack for the grief of my stepsister’s family, incomplete in front of me, the rest of my family behind me, all the strangers to me who knew Zoë, and for myself, waiting for it to end.

Her  father spoke. “I thought I had a lot to say.” I was amazed he could speak words at all, could function in the world. “From there to here,” he pointed to the hearse, “was the longest walk of my life.” How was he standing upright, breathing? “Thank you for coming.”

I wanted everyone to leave. I wanted to sit there with my family and watch my niece be lowered into the ground. That’s not what was planned. The ensemble played as we all watched Zoë pass into the earth together.

A man from the funeral home announced the location of the wake. People dispersed. I collected my daughter, who’d gone to stand with her grandfather. I said goodbye to my stepsister, told her I wasn’t attending the wake, but to let me know if she needed anything from me. I said goodbye to my sister and my aunt and my stepfather and other faces. I cut the line of kids waiting to talk to the band director and thanked him for what he did and what he said.

I took my daughter’s hand and asked if she was hungry and what she wanted for lunch. Would she like to go out? No, she wanted to go home with me and have peanut butter and jelly before I brought her back to her dad’s house. I buckled her into her seat, and we drove through the cemetery gates, back into our lives.


Why do I have so much self-esteem? I work at it.

Self esteem. Pass it on.

(Originally published on Opinions for Nothing.)

Clearly, I would not be friends with people who are not awesome, so I am mystified by one friend's low self-esteem. I told her that, if I could, I would gladly give her some of my self-esteem because sometimes I feel like I have too much. We were chatting online with a few of our other girlfriends at the time, and one asked why is it that I have so much self-esteem when they have so little. I didn't always.

Why do I have so much self-esteem? Innate narcissism is the most likely answer. Thinking that I am better than most people I meet can't be hurting either.

Kidding! Mostly.

It's much easier on yourself if you are kind to yourself and think nice things about yourself. You can stop thinking negative thoughts about yourself. There's a psychological technique called thought-stopping that is rather simple to master. If you Google it, you'll see that it doesn't work for panic disorders or chronic worry, but it absolutely works for replacing negative self-talk with positive self-talk. Have a couple of positive phrases about yourself worked out in advance. Every time you catch yourself thinking something negative about yourself, say, "STOP!" in your mind, then think the positive thought. It is that easy.

I am not the prettiest, or the slimmest, or the smartest, or the funniest, or the anything-est, but I am great. I like who I am. I like most things about myself, and I am actively trying to change the things I don't like. That is the best that I can do, so there is no need for me to be the one to berate myself for anything. I am a pathological overachiever. This makes me come down very hard on myself, but it is almost always about how much I can achieve, not who I am.

Rejection is difficult for anyone, myself included. It stings, but I shake it off with no damage to my self-esteem. When I am rejected (for a job or a potential client, by a man...), I chalk it up to fit. I don't take it personally, at least not for too long. I like who I am, and I can't be anything else other than that, so if I am rejected for something about who I am, it's fine. It means I was not a good fit, and that situation would not have ended well.

It does not mean I was not smart enough, talented enough, pretty enough, funny enough...

I am more than enough. I am awesome.


Remembering My Friend, Vladimir Reid a.k.a. Volodiya a.k.a. WAYNE!

Me-and-volodiya

(Originally posted on Opinions for Nothing.)

I don't remember the first time I met Volodiya, but it was sometime in the first few months after I transferred to University of Alaska Fairbanks, so it would have been in the late Winter or early Spring of 1994. He was an RA in another dorm, but was friends with some of the girls in my dorm. He and I were friendly, but we didn't become friends until the Fall semester, when I became an RA and we worked in the same dorm.

Volodiya and I got into the habit of watching Letterman together. We'd order a Supreme pizza and hot wings from Pizza Hut, then go down to the little store in the lobby of the dorm complex to buy a couple Fruitopias while we waited for the pizza to arrive.

V spent a semester in France. He was either forgetful about the time difference or a very inconsiderate friend. Either way, I'd occasionally get a 5 AM call from him. He'd tell me about the boys he'd met and I'd catch him up on the gossip.

One year, for Spring Break, we stayed at a lovely cabin in the woods where V was housesitting for a professor. There was drinking, and inappropriate behavior amongst all of our friends, and it was so much fun.

One of our favorite bars to hang out in was the Captain Bartlett Inn. Volodiya would give me tarot readings there and tried to teach me the meanings of the cards. I have a terrible memory for things like that so I usually reverted to making things up based on the pictures when I would give him readings.

We graduated from college in 1997. Our class voted for Volodiya to be the graduation speaker. His speech was fun and nostalgic, like an internet meme. He talked about roller skates and parachute pants and Madonna.

Some time after graduation, when I was back in California, V was living with his boyfriend in Seattle. I visited them for a weekend. It was my first time there. I loved his urban life. Seattle was like Alaska Light. A lot of my college friends settled there.

The last time I saw Volodiya in person was about nine years ago. I went to Seattle for a visit and stayed with my best friend, Joanne. We spent one of the evenings with V and some others, hanging out like old times.

After that, we kept up through phone calls, but mostly online, through MySpace, then Facebook. A few months ago, when I posted a new picture of my slimming self on Facebook, he commented, accusing me of getting a facelift and saying he'd scratch my eyes out if I had.

Last week, I saw fake tarot readings in a sitcom and it prompted me to post that memory of us on Facebook. I tagged him in it and I am glad I did. Because of that post, one of his friends reached out to me today to let me know that Volodiya died yesterday, after a long bout of pneumonia. When he was living in Seattle, he contracted HIV, so the manner of his death does not come as a complete surprise. I did not expect it to come so soon, though.

I'll miss my friend dearly. He was the type of friend I could pick up with after many months without contact and everything would be just as it always was.