ten years later.
8 December 2011 § 1 Comment
Two days ago marked ten years since Heeth decided to be eaten by worms and slugs. He also decided that a rifle was a good portal for things like that.
I’m not a kid anymore. but some days.
It used to bother me that no one seemed to remember him, but it doesn’t anymore. That came from thinking that what I thought wasn’t as valid as what others thought. It’s not something I know, but I don’t know anything.
I tell myself that every day, just as a reminder. When I think I know something, I tend to get in trouble. But you know that story. It’s on Repeat.
Listen. Hear that?
Last year I started the drive down to Kenai three days before I was supposed to fly to Europe. It was in the middle of finals week of my first semester in university. I was not doing well, and all of a sudden, I was in Alaska for the first time on his deathday since the first anniversary. Some dates matter to me. This one does because I don’t remember its origin. The day after. That’s the one I remember. Yesterday.
A guy and his Siberian husky stood on the side of the road near Indian. He had one thumb extended, and the other kept his snowboard form falling over. I stopped.
His name was Bear, and he was mad at the dog, who took up most of my backseat. I had my own board with me, and we stacked them in the trunk. He needed to get to Girdwood. It was too far to walk, but not so much by car. I told him I was headed to Kenai. Alyeska, the ski resort, lay in sunshine that morning. My car got stuck in the snow when I tried to get Bear all the way to his house. We pulled it out, an easy task, and he mentioned in passing that I should go boarding instead. then, he was off down the road with his dog and his board, and I stood outside my car, mind stuck between a mountain and the idea of spending what was left of the day in a graveyard with a bottle of whatever, and racing two hundred miles home later that night. The thing was, both seemed rational at the time.
An hour later, I sat in the sunshine at the top of Chair Six, strapping my feet into the bindings. There was hardly anyone on the mountain that day. It was the first time I’d ever hit up that mountain by myself. I looked up, and the sun was in lateafternoon mode, sinking into clouds and evening. It was 1.30. I flew down the mountain, toward the village and the bars and Turnagain Arm, the sea, and the Kenai mountains opposite. Let me take you there:
That’s better. For those of you who have never been here, go. Now’s a good time.
I’m well past the living-in-the-past idea. I’m more into the take-what-I-learned-then-and-apply-it-to-now idea. I’d call that progress, myself.
Heeth Manning Wellborn Tyson. I don’t speak his name very often. He was a good person, most of the time. He was an artist. He knew the differences between right and wrong. He cared a lot for what people thought of him, but pretended that he didn’t. I’m confident that he would have eventually figured that one out. He was never much for moderation, but was cautious. We had that in common.
He wore a trenchcoat and had piercings, and sometimes dyed his hair black. Even his eyebrows. He loved music as much as he loved his friends, which was a lot. Because he was an only child, he had to learn how to get along with others early on, and was good at it. Because he was an only child, his mother had no one to turn to when he killed himself. He transcended the negative judgments of people right in front of their faces. Under the black hair and trenchcoat, he was blonde and transparent. Sometimes he lied. He wanted people to think well of him, so sometimes he lied. He wasn’t very good at it. But no one called him out, because they liked him and his intention was good. I didn’t call him out; I just avoided him. I think he took it personally. But fifteen- and sixteen-year-olds aren’t very good at communicating. I think this is a pretty universal concept: from Romeo and Juliet to text messaging, we see this. Heeth never knew what a text message was. Sometimes, I’m happy that he got out early – for him, you know; it’s been a mess since he left, and it’s not really getting any better.
We were wannabe musicians. Had he dedicated himself to his instruments rather than spending that time with his crew – DJ, Brian, me – he’d be rocking the studios and stages I wanted so badly to be a part of. That was the plan: we were to build a studio, and that would be our wonderland. It wasn’t out of the question.
One night in the summer of 2001, Heeth, Brian, and I camped outside Heeth’s place. We set up our tents and everything. It was comfortable. We had a Blair Witch spoof to finish, and it was cloudy, so we thought that it might get dark enough to film outside. It did, and we got our final shot: a body being dragged away from a dropped camera in the middle of a field. The plastic scythe we had was perfect.
Tim Duck showed up. He was sleeping next to the abandoned house across the street. We went inside to get him an extra blanket, but because Heeth’s mum didn’t like Tim, we said it was for us. We set him up and then decided to have a bonfire. But what to bring?
Brian and I squatted in the field behind Paradisos, as “lookouts.” I wasn’t sure what we were supposed to be looking out for, though. Heeth and Tim were up in the apartment above the restaurant. The door had been unlocked. It was Tim’s idea, and I guessed that it wasn’t the first time he broke into someone’s house to steal shit. They came out with a six pack of Miller and a package of bacon. We ran across the field, to the bluff. It wasn’t more than a quarter mile. We booked it to the sand dunes on the beach. then, they weren’t fenced off, prohibiting bonfires and visitors and kids who liked to slide down the sandhills upsidedown and backward. We started a fire and then realized we had no way to grill the bacon. Brian and I went up to the red apartments on the top of the bluff, the ones which storms threaten to collapse every winter, sending them tumbling into the marsh below, where sit old tractor engines and mudflats.
I stole the metal grate from a grill outside the apartments and told Brian that if we did nothing else that night, we had to return the grill. He said okay, and we ran back down the bluff. Bonfires and half-cooked bacon, soaked with cheap beer. None of us knew was ‘beer batter’ actually meant, so pour beer over cooking bacon had to suffice. We ate in laughter and firelight. We hid from the cops who patrolled the beach. I don’t know how they didn’t see the fire.
When I think of Kenai, that’s the night I remember. I don’t know what we did after that, but we woke up in the tents at noon or so, or didn’t sleep at all. We might have smoked, we might have jumped off the roof of the abandoned building as an outtake for the Blair Witch film. But it was epic, before epic was epic. Pre Lord of the Rings. Pre Harry Potter. Pre 9/11. In a small fishing town in Alaska, we wrote chapters of our histories without pens or pencils. And for a few moments, in real life and in memory, we had nothing at all to stop us.
So when Tony, Heeth’s Big Brother, showed up at my work six months later with the news, I sat down in the bench that’s not there anymore and cried for that night, and the day before, which I didn’t remember.
I’m not a kid anymore, but some days, when I see the picture of the kid who was sixteen then in the Korn shirt with blond hair, I see him as I remember him, and as I know him now, my travel companion, who I don’t have to argue with over where we’ll eat or what we’ll do next week. That’s all up to me. That picture is the last thing I have of him, and no crack dealer in San Jose can take that away from me.