Wednesday, July 05, 2006

June 27

I pulled into Kinnikinnic State Park, and as I pulled up to the ranger station, the park ranger stuck his head out and gave an enthusiastic “Good Morning!” He seemed to be genuinely delighted to see me, which gave me some comfort on a day I was beginning to face with more and more trepidation.

I had decided the day before to visit a spot at the park that was Katie’s favorite in the world. Figuring if her spirit were still in this realm, that would be one of the more likely spaces to interact with it, I intended to sit down and have a good long talk with her, letting out in audible speech all the thoughts and feelings that had been swirling around in my head for the past few days. My depression and guilt had been worsening, and I thought that this would help. It had certainly gotten me through yesterday, as I was able to tell all the awful feelings in my brain to wait until tomorrow, wait until tomorrow.

I piloted my car down the serpentine park road, feeling like a ghost, shutting out all conscious thought, wanting my words to flow out as naturally and organically as possible when the time was right; no premeditated speeches. I kept telling all the nagging thoughts that kept bubbling up to sit down again; that I was going to trust myself in this exercise. As I drove out of the rolling plains and under the canopy of the forest, I ignored the darkening somberness building in my gut, placing myself in a near out-of-body state. Finally arriving at the parking area where the road dead ends, I parked, grabbed my water bottle and a pack of tissues, and set out for Katie’s Spot.

On my way to the path, I noticed that a large white tent was set up among the tall oaks in the picnic area. Several circular tables sat underneath the tent, each with four to six folding chairs placed around them. Beside the tent sat four shiny aluminum garbage cans and a long folding table. The folding table was empty, save for a big roll of the same white material that the tent was made out of. There’s something eerie about seeing such emptiness in a large area set up for a party.

Her spot was at the bottom of a twisty path on a steep, wooded hill. Large and small chunks of well-weathered sandstone stuck out along the path, which were helpful footholds, but you had to be careful as some of them were loose and setting your weight on them would lead to a long, painful tumble down the jagged slope. It was definitely a challenge requiring attention and effort, and knowing that Katie must’ve gotten the same thrill out of it that I did made me smile through my welling tears as I made my way down to the base of the hill.

The path down ended at a small clearing, one that was occasionally covered by the river when it overflowed with excessive rain or the spring melt, but now was dry and home to many scampering chipmunks. I sat down on a large boulder, right above the level of the water line marked on the trees that were growing in the flat basin. The shallow Kinnikinnic River flowed by me, just past the clearing about 30 feet away. All of the sounds that emanated from the surrounding forest were animal in origin; I was the only human there. I sat for a couple of minutes, taking in the surroundings, then all at once all the emotion I’d been repressing for the past few hours sprang forth.

“Katie…Katie, I…Katie,” I sobbingly sputtered, “I miss you so much!”

I reached into my pocket for the tissues, knocking my water bottle off of the rock where I had set it beside me. It bounced down a few feet, clunking off of the rocks with a solid yet distorted sound. The chipmunks that had gathered curiously around me scattered. I left the bottle to lay there.

I couldn’t go on for about a minute or so; every attempt at speech resulted in another emotional breakdown. I went through three tissues before I was able to haltingly continue.

I told her that she was beautiful, in every sense of the word. I told her that she was an inspiration to me, and that there was so much that I had admired about her. I told her that it was difficult and painful to speak about her in the past tense. I wished I had had more time with her, and that I felt robbed because we were just beginning to really become friends, and that I felt a little stupid to be so deep in my sorrow, as there were many people to whom she was much closer. Of course, I said, someone doesn’t have to know you long to become attached to and fond of you, Katie.

Then I talked to her about her memorial service that had been this past Saturday. Just walking into the funeral home and seeing her name up in all capital white letters pressed onto the black felt board…it felt like a sharp jab to the gut and brought tears to my eyes. Seeing your beloved violin resting in its open case next to your ashes was like another punch; not one to the gut but deeper, right to the heart. I told Katie that I noticed her ashes were in two vases, presumably to be split between her divorced parents, and I told her that I thought it deeply, darkly, ironic, even almost funny that even in death they are still pulling her in separate directions.

One of her former professors shared a story, saying that when he heard you had died, he hadn’t felt that way since 9/11. “Remember when the next few days there were no planes in the sky at all?” he asked us. He said that was the same eerie feeling he had as after he’d heard about your death. I told Katie that I could just see her rolling her big bright eyes at the mention of 9/11 at your funeral, and that it also occurred to me that, like me, you probably found the empty skies wonderful and serene rather than eerie.

And I told Katie that her former boyfriend had shared the most touching story of the service. He had walked meekly up to the microphone and spoke in a hushed whisper; everyone had to strain and even hold their breath to hear him, but we were hanging on his every word. He told the story of the night that you and he were camping and saw a couple of loons out on the lake. You shared one life vest between you, and you switched back and forth, one treading water while the other rested on the vest, and you swam out towards the loons, and you got so very close to them. Out there in the still clear night, under the stars, floating in the water, he whispered, is when he fell in love with nature, but everyone knew what he really meant to say is that is when he fell in love with you.

I told Katie that Sylvana had found some of her old schoolwork on the computer at the library, and that some well-meaning but misguided friends of hers had tried to delete them. Luckily, they were saved. One of the items was a portrait of herself, in a white lacy gown, sitting on the floor, slumped against the wall, with a peaceful countenance on her face. Blood was pooled on her gown and splattered and smeared on the wall. Her relaxed, opened hand was on the floor beside her, and resting in it was a gun, on the verge of softly, finally slipping out and coming to rest. Given the horrible fact of her suicide it was disturbing to look at for sure, but you could see the obvious artistic genius that went into it. It was so haunting, beautiful and sad.

I told her that I’d read a couple of her papers, and that her personality sparkled throughout one in particular. It was obvious she had most likely written it in a hurry, probably the night before it was due. I told her she was so funny.

Then I told her about my suicide attempt. It had been several years earlier, long before I had met Katie. I had taken Tylenol PM, around 16 of them, before I had decided it was a mistake and that I didn’t want to die after all. I went to the bathroom and threw up a green goop which I assumed was bile. It was obvious that quite a bit of the medication had already entered my system, and I spent the rest of the night dragging my heavy feet through the house, pacing, trying to stay awake. I kept saying, “I don’t want to die,” over and over to myself. And keeping me company during that night, with me every step of the way, were my angels. At this point in my story I stopped and watched a deer walk across the small island in front of me, and once it disappeared, I continued.

They did not look like traditional angels you might see in pictures in a church, I told her, they were more like form constants, the kind of shapes you might see after taking mushrooms or acid. I was aware that they were most likely a manifestation of my brain due to the medication and stress, but still they comforted me. I knew that they would be there to take care of me and see me through my time of need. And I told Katie that I hoped that she had met these angels to help her as her life ended, and that they were much comfort to her.

At this point an entire family of deer walked in front of me on the small island, traveling in the opposite direction of the single deer I had seen earlier. Again, I paused and was silent until they were out of sight.

Finally, then, once again bursting out sobbing, I told Katie that I was sorry. I was so sorry…so sorry I didn’t talk to her and help her more, so sorry I ignored her problems, hoping you were getting better. I told her I was worried that I wouldn’t get past this grief and this guilt, and that I was sorry. I was so, so sorry. Katie, I’m so sorry.

I sat on the boulder a while, just listening and waiting. I don’t know what it was I expected all of this to accomplish. Maybe some closure, maybe some relief, maybe some answer from Katie, but noting was forthcoming. After I had finished crying on last time, I picked up my water bottle and all of my used tissues and trudged back up hill and to my car, exhausted and empty-feeling.


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