i met this boy in the early 90s, a friend of a friend. he came into the bookstore where i worked because his friend told him he “met this weird girl with a cat necklace.” he came in to sort of, i don’t know? make fun of me? or see the freakshow. but what happened was, we became the best of friends. we hung out all the time – mostly listening to music, going to shows, eating cheetos. he was funny, with a dry self-deprecating humor. he was moody. he hung out in coffee shops to read, or to write sad poems. we were exactly the same.
at the time, email wasn’t something everyone had, and i moved away to the west coast. we kept in touch for a while via (*gasp*) letters written on paper. put into envelopes – with stamps. remember? but that faded away and we lost contact. it wasn’t until a few years after i had moved back to minnesota that he randomly found me (through music, of course) on myspace. (which actually seems even weirder than writing letters.) one of the first things i discovered as we got reacquainted was that he had a cancerous tumor in his brain. he apologized to me for bringing himself and his tumor back into my life. i’m not sure exactly what my response to that was, but i’m sure it was the equivalent of shut the hell up / give me a break / we’ll get through this.
i tried to be a good friend. in fact, i had to re-commit myself to the task several times because i work more than full time and i have two kids. it’s not easy to sneak in time in person with friends, and todd wasn’t able to drive anywhere on his own to meet me. there were things that i would be doing that he couldn’t do, like being at live music (the lights, the fast bright lights) or being in noisy, crowded places. i would go pick him up sometimes and take him to ice cream or coffee, or we would take my kids to the playground. even in the midst of intense chemo and with anti-seizure medication weighing him down, he would climb around like a little monkey with those kids on the playground. it means the world to me that they got to know him, and that he got to know them, and it breaks my heart to think he ever felt he was a burden on me. but, it was hard to find things to say to him and there was a wall of awkwardness between us. last year i tried to convince him to let me take pictures of him. not an elaborate photo shoot or anything, just a few photos. his response was, “so you can have something to remember me by?” or, “what, for my memorial service?” i mean, what do you say to that? i’d say no, i just . . . want a few pictures of your face. your face, right now. i take pictures of things that i like, it’s what i do. but he wouldn’t let me. i used my phone and snapped a shot of him looking down, on a park bench one day as we sat in silence staring at the lake.
three days ago, as i was walking down the very, very long hospital hallways after having gone to see him – i took this picture. he went into a coma last weekend. the tumor was growing and causing his brain to move around, and as things expanded, it sent him into a coma. they said it would keep expanding until it broke his spinal cord, and he would die. there wasn’t anything they could do, it was just his time. i stood by his hospital bed and held his hand, and told him how much i cared. i tried to say goodbye to him but i couldn’t say the word. i didn’t want him to hear me say that, i know he could hear me. he squeezed my finger, i know he did. he did it twice. i knew all of this was coming but you just never know how hard something is going to be until you are standing in the middle of it. i took this picture as i was leaving the hospital, knowing it was probably the last time i would ever see him. i saw this painting of a beautiful tree, it made me stop and stare. it was hard to focus on through tears but it helped me to feel more calm, and to start to feel the peace of saying goodbye. i took a picture of it to remember that feeling, and hopefully to feel that peace as i go through this.
taking pictures of things brings a calmness to my mind, a sense that i am doing something right with my time. this experience with todd has suddenly come crashing into this project about scars in a profound way and i know that as i spend the day shooting for the project on sunday, the day after he is laid to rest, it will be with different eyes. i hope that what i capture will help ease someone else’s pain, as i will lean on it to help me with mine.