I can't believe I'm doing this — writing a letter to my dead friends, one year later.
It feels a bit too obvious, doesn't it? Artless, even; not my style. And yet, if there is one thing more than any other that I remember you by, it was your willingness — or more like your insistence — to be vulnerable emotionally, to be sensitive and proud of it, to accept and embrace the full range of your feelings no matter how overbearing, or awkward, or "uncool" that made you seem. The world desperately needs more men like you. So bear with me.
I miss you, Johnny. (Or "John," as your brother calls you. I love the way that sounds; how I wish you were here, so I could try that on for size.) I miss you, and Chelsea, and Barrett, and Amanda, and Cash, and Joey, and Griffin, and Micah, and Kiyomi, and I feel viscerally the absence of everyone else whom I never had the pleasure of knowing personally. Writing this just now, like so many times before, I had to look up a list of the deceased to double-check which of my friends are gone because sometimes I have trouble remembering — or maybe I don't want to remember? — which of you are no longer with us. That is just one of life's many new contours; the "new normal."
I miss you desperately. I think about you every day. Your laugh: booming, hearty, rich. It bellows in my head out of nowhere, sometimes at the most inopportune times. Your face: the big, dumb, goofy smile, visible from across the room, set against the pair of brilliantly sharp eyes that revealed a wisdom far beyond their years. I see you in strangers, in my friends, at the club, on the street, in my records. Your voice: bassy and deep, like the music we'd ramble on about, elementally playful and always prone to kindness. I hear you talking to me, sometimes: Man, you got this — don't worry about that shit. Trust.
The good news: Your new record sounds and looks phenomenal. If you were here to see it, you’d be over the moon. Your dear friend Bryan Odiamar did the artwork. You both loved graffiti and had even talked about working on a piece together, so he worked up some classic graff style art with the title you’d chosen, Private Property Created Crime.
The bad news: Some days are harder than others. The world is inexorably worse than before you left it, and not the least because you're no longer here. Categorically, this has not been a good year. Did you ever think "crisis of epistemology" is a phrase we'd use in relation to everyday America instead of entry-level college philosophy?
Pointedly, the (obvious and inevitable) crackdown on warehouses and underground spaces has hit Oakland — and San Francisco, and Vallejo, and L.A., and Baltimore, and many more — very hard. Which is no surprise, I suppose, but in the fire's aftermath, the chorus of cries for "safety" and "investigations into what went wrong" rang hollow indeed.
It was rubbernecking at its worst. Neither the city of Oakland nor the scavenging out-of-town reporters seemed to care much about the why, as in those structural factors (the cost of Bay Area real estate; underground music's incapacity to generate meaningful profit) and arcane, outdated local ordinances (zoning laws, cabaret laws, etc.) that collude to make Ghost Ship and places like it not just unsafe but necessary.
But it hasn't been all bad. The onslaught of media attention ("if it bleeds, it leads") has made for dozens of opportunities to shove our freakish music into people's faces. Wherever you are right now, Johnny, I know you're laughing at this irony.
So all I can say is that we’ve done our best, and looked after each other. In fact, if there is any silver lining to this hellish cloud, it is to see how people have come together, how they have cared for each other, how much love and genuine camaraderie exists among those of kindred spirit. I don't need to tell you this. You know it well, which is why you were in that warehouse to begin with. But it has been something truly remarkable to see, and to feel, as it unfolds.
On a personal level, this past year has tried me to the utmost. For some time, I was unable to write; just nothing came out. Then Jenna and I split up. It wasn't until well after the fact that I realized a hard truth: that if the fire had never happened, our breakup likely never would have, either. That one stuck with me.
Naturally, I've been thinking a lot about grief. Does it ever go away? Should it? I often wonder if I am grieving wrong. I poured myself into work as soon as the fire happened; I went from having never written an obituary to writing four, and advising on dozens of others in the span of two weeks. It seemed like the only thing I could do, quite literally, and it helped.
But the enormity of losing all of you, all at once was beyond comprehension. There's simply no way to make sense of it, and certainly no way to put it into words. I still wonder if I am "doing it wrong." No ritual, remembrance, moment of silence, or tribute that I could take part in is going to bring you or anyone back. My heart swells in my throat as I write this, but I know you understand. The hardest part — as you well know, as we talked about often — is self-acceptance.
As for myself, I'm holding up. Jenna and I are back together, and our time apart was for the better — funny how that works, isn't it? And, as you can tell, I'm writing again. The horror of the world knows no bounds, and seems to expand with each passing day, but I stand here and face it -- because without you, I am at a loss to do otherwise.
I remember vividly that day we first met. Outside Public Works that afternoon, you approached me and said "You're Chris, right?" I said yes; you smiled, opened your arms, and said "C'mere, bring it in. I'm a hugger." Right then and there I knew you were a different kind of guy.
I miss you, Johnny.