The Story Portal

5 September 2013 § 3 Comments

In the middle of the night, somewhere between the Gypsy Queen art car and the Fire Convergence Gathering, Heather told me about Andrew’s return home to Vashon Island.

I knew about the DUI in Alaska, how someone in the boatyard had called the Dillingham police because someone was doing donuts around container vans and fishing boats. The place was dangerous enough, but add a drunk Viking in a Nissan truck to the mix, and someone might get hurt. Battle axe, or something.

He got the ticket after I left town. Fishing finished early, and after three months on the sea, I wanted only to go home. When I said goodbye to him, I told him not to drive. We’d been drinking all morning and afternoon. He had showed me the copy of Rime of the Ancient Mariner with the original lithographs, foreboding images that reeked of the kind of seasickness that leads to insanity. It was beautiful. He intended to give it to his daughters when he got home to his yurt on Vashon.

Over bottles and bottles of wine, he made sure that I knew of my accomplishment. “You’ll never be fast enough for Robert,” he said. “That’s the point.”

Deckhanding a highliner tests the soul. Andrew did it for seven years – longer than anyone should. This year was my second, and I was thinking of retiring.

Andrew and I have things in common. An insatiable desire for risk and adventure; a somewhat unhealthy habit of pushing everything over the line; receipt of irritating amounts of attention for superficial traits; a deep and subtle preference to die young and glorified. We’re rock stars in our own ways. I don’t know if we share sordid histories with self-hatred, but I have a feeling that at times he’s had trouble looking in the mirror too.

So when Heather said that the DUI was nothing, that if he lost his entire crew share to paying it off it wouldn’t matter, I asked what else was up. I’d been angry about his getting caught. Andrew, I wanted to tell him, I told you not to drive.

“He got home to find out that his brother had killed himself,” Heather said. She said she wasn’t sure if it was the right time to tell me, what with Lucy there, and the chaos of blinking lights and fire, furry bicycles swerving this way and that, dissonant music thumping from a thousand origins surrounding.

I remember looking at her for a while, trying to comprehend what she said. I remember the searing orgasmic feeling run through my body as I stood there dumbfounded in my lights and gypsy garb. I envisioned a rainbow dagger slide into my belly button, and probing for my spine. A badly healed wound growled from between my heart’s dislocated ribs.

Nietzsche said “there is more wisdom in your body than in your deepest philosophy.” In specific ways, the body remembers. We hold stress in our shoulders, anxiety in necks, heartbreak where it belongs. The distant memory of losing a brother to suicide bum-rushed me from every muscle and molecule in my body, where I’d stored it more than a decade before. It was the kind of pain that inspires art, and war. For years it had been my compass. It was the reason I started playing guitar, left Alaska at 16, went to audio engineering school. Years later, it was the reason I did not do the same myself. I remembered thinking that my death would have seemed unoriginal. And I wouldn’t have that.

“I’m so sorry, Sean,” said Heather. “I shouldn’t have said anything.”

“No, it’s perfect. Thank you. Can we go to the Story Portal?”


I spun the giant wheel. At each interval a prompt threatened to reveal something intimate about the spinner: High School Was…; Epic Fail; Gross!; What I Love Most About Myself, etc. I waited patiently for the wheel to stop. It didn’t matter which prompt I was given, I thought, standing there on stage. I would tell the story that I came to tell.

The steampunk clockwork on the wall behind me ticked away with anticipation. I had no nervousness; only anger and fear and sadness and doubt.  My prompt: “This One Time At The Burn…” I started immediately, “my fiancée told me that a brother of mine lost his to suicide. Now we have one more thing in common.”

I told the small audience about fishing in Alaska, about Andrew’s sky blue eyes and long blond locks, his ability to put away a case of beer in an afternoon, and how much I loved him. I monologued an obituary of winter 2001, and tried to describe how pain was so moist back then that picking at the scab didn’t seem to harm anything tangible. At 15, I didn’t yet understand how scars changed in shape and texture over time, how they shrunk or expanded depending on how one tends to them. I knew the importance of story, though, and how we all have a handful, and tell them over and over again in different words and context, hoping to heal and, secretly, to learn from them. For years I made a point of collecting stories so that this wasn’t the only one I had to tell. (And here I am, telling it, for the second time in a week).

With suicide it’s easy to search out blame. Reasons are simple explanations to people who have never experienced the biological battle of wanting to die. Reason changes nothing – it is neither a character, plot, nor action. Nothing that I had projected into the past had helped me feel better about losing my best friend, and I remember thinking, even as a rookie human, it doesn’t matter why – it just matters what I take from it, how I learn from it.

I remember my stage time being relatively emotionless. Not apathetic, but I was able to hold myself together to complete the story. I replaced in the mic, sat down on the pew in the back, and cried. The next two stories, a slow reentering into my body, were about a near death experience atop a mountain, and a man’s failure to keep his premature son alive. I was comforted by that mine was not the only death-ridden story on the playa, by that I was amongst kin and similar outcasts from the default world. I had found those who understood, and gave me space to be with myself.

After an hour of tears, I looked up and said aloud, without thinking, that I need to go to Vashon. I remembered wanting people around me who understood. So here we are, in a post-playa daze, putting away Burning Man stuff and preparing for a trip to the Island, and a facilitator from the Story Portal found me here. To my delight and honor. Her passion my outlet and opportunity to contribute to the world.

thank you.

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