The screen is blank. A bottle of Pellegrino on the small bronze table ahead. My feet are propped on a blue and white patterned pouf ottoman. I was in the kitchen a few minutes ago before sitting down. Had every intention to write about control, a topic in my AA meeting this morning. But a message slid across the computer monitor with a Facebook alert. It was a photo posted of me and a few friends from sleepaway camp in Maine. Maybe thirteen-years-old. Fourteen. Something like that.
Nine of us.
June, maybe July. Somewhere in Maine.
We were senior campers, which made us feel that much cooler and authoritative over the other kids. The photo was taken one night on a trip in town together. I’ve got a bottle of Pepsi and what looks to be Sour Cream and Onion Pringles in my hands. A mint green, long sleeve button down shirt from a thrift store back in Florida. Something straight out of the ‘60’s or ‘70’s. Gigantic grey corduroy pants swallow my shoes.
Next to me is Jonathan.
I’m leaning into him. In the photo.
He’s got a big smile, looking like the main attraction. All of us seem gathered round him as he stares straight into the lens. I remember him so well. A film enthusiast from Venezuela, a gentle guy with a big heart. Always with a hand out to help another person, make them feel welcome or comfortable. He is someone I lost touch with over the years but randomly watched grow up on Facebook. Saw him travel the world. Attend enviable universities. Pursue his dream of film. Handsome, always well-dressed, with light beaming from him.
In the photo next to Jonathan is Emily who stood to his left, which means in reality she was to his right. I think. I always get that confused. Emily was next to Jonathan. She and I were inseparable at camp. One of the first people I came out to, who embraced my secret with open arms. She was beautiful. A Connecticut blonde with unmistakable blue eyes and love for theatre. We listened to Sarah Mclachlan’s “Surfacing” album regularly, crying over each song. After our last year of camp we wrote journal entries to each other in a composition notebook and planned to exchange them one day. We never did. I might still have the notebook somewhere. Stuffed away in a giant storage bin.
I had every intention of writing about control when Emily messaged me that Jonathan died. When our old photo as senior campers slid across the screen after a friend from camp posted a brief statement of his passing. Me leaning next to him. His smile.
Suddenly someone I rarely thought about became someone who left a lasting impression on me. Thoughts circle as the news sinks in. He was my age or thereabouts. Thirty-two, maybe thirty-three. He had a birthday two months ago.
Emily tells me he passed on Wednesday after complications from a seizure. It was sudden. Unexpected.
The Jonathan I remember, the nurturing, encouraging Venezuelan with a video camera. Who sent me a VHS of our time in camp together –
The Jonathan next to me in the photo –
The thirteen, maybe fourteen-year-old Jonathan became a handsome man with deep brown eyes who pursued his dreams, lived in London and touched so many lives. And that Jonathan, he became a memory.
Like aliens beamed him up one night.
Never to be heard from again.
And we’re left remembering, wondering why. Why God? Why him? He was so young, so bright, so special. Why?
But we go on. Move along. And slowly Jonathan fades further into the realm of memory. Where my friend from AA now rests. Where my grandmother rests. My grandfather. Where I will someday rest. Where you will someday rest. In the aging minds of those we love, those we’ve touched and those who can’t help but hold on.
I look at my path.
The choices I’ve made. The wreckage I’ve caused. There are so many times I could have died, countless reasons I should be dead. Driving in blackouts after nights of heavy drug use, meeting random men on the internet in less than safe situations, polluting my body with an excess of chemicals that could have easily put me under. But here I am. While someone like Jonathan, a guy who walked an inspiring path of light, meets his end.
Why does his story close and mine continue?
The word, the initial thought of what I wanted to write earlier.
It writes itself.
I have absolutely no control over anything.
Not over death.
Certainly not over life.
Not over the choice between him or me. Not over what you do or how you feel. Not whether it rains today or blistering heat chokes the air from my lungs. I have no control over the pregnancy my husband and I are trying for. No control over the physical pain my dad is in. I wish I could take credit for my mother’s happiness. Ensure lasting success for Chris’s company. Remove the excess of cars off Oakland Park Boulevard so it doesn’t take twenty minutes to the highway.
But I have no control.
Not of anything.
Except my actions. My attitude. My perspective. And even that can be a coin toss. I’m sure some philosophers could offer a lengthy dispute, but then faith comes in. Faith in something, anything other than me and my grandiose thinking. Anything other than my master plans and genius ideology for how life should be.
I must constantly maintain the unshakable faith that everything happens for a divine purpose and I am exactly where I’m supposed to be. I have to believe Jonathan passed for some reason I’m incapable of understanding right now –
And be okay with it.
Accept the fact I don’t know everything and absolutely nothing will go according to the way I think it should. Because once I force two puzzle pieces together, that cheap cardboard will break and the big picture is forever destructed. A nauseating photograph of two cats hanging from a tree becomes a nauseating photograph of two cats hanging from a tree, but now one cat has a missing puzzle piece where his eye would have been.
It has to be an authentic release of grip. Fingers loosen their tense hold from my black and white coloring book of should and shouldn’t. Right and wrong. What I want. Me. The headstrong, thick-skulled, stubborn perspective that I am steering this ship. Because I’m not.
I so am not.
And I don’t think I want to anymore. Honestly.
Although most days are a tug of war, back and forth wrestle of self-will versus releasing my obtuse thoughts to the universe.
The more I obsess over how life should be, what my future should be, spiral down the path of why Jonathan passed away –
The more my grip will tighten.
The more control I try to have.
I think it must be like breathing for the first time. Never forgetting but never having to remember. Trusting in my lungs, in my body, in the automatic action of inhale-exhale. The beating of my heart. These things happen as they should in their own time, until they stop. And I have no control over either. But I trust, I have faith, my lungs will continue to expand for oxygen and exhale as effortlessly. There are no questions, no imposing my own concept and vision for breath. It’s ingrained in my being, an involuntary miracle of nature I never have to think about because it just is.
And I get it.
I understand this concept for a day. Maybe a few hours. Sometimes only a few seconds. I regain Zen-like status, my heart rate slows to rhythmic God-centered hymn. I’m connected.
Then it disappears.
It disappears the moment I’m stuck in traffic again. The moment I get a project for work I don’t want. The moment we receive a negative pregnancy. The moment I find out Jonathan passed away –
The puzzle pieces break apart and I begin jamming them back together in a fit of depressive rage. Because I’m gonna fix it. It’s not supposed to happen this way. Somebody messed up. It feels like one of those anvils Wile E. Coyote tries to drop on the Roadrunner. One of those Acme cartoon anvils resting on my chest. Where I back myself into a corner but blame everyone else for holding me hostage. The uncontrollable washing machine of anxiety or fear I’ve lost control, everything spins around me and I need to silence it all. Need to grab hold of each fragment of my life, the lives of those around me, then construct them according to how I think it should be. Blind to the fact I’ve never been in control –
I’ve only been in the way.
Orchestrating, organizing, victimizing, villainizing, scheming, planning, complaining, blaming. Trying to control the outcome, everything around me. Because I know what’s best despite the nagging fear of never knowing what’s best. Rather than just let go, to accept my role as human and resign the crown of stars.
And life goes on.
And I have faith the universe has a plan.
A plan more beautiful than my little brain can comprehend. A plan I’m not meant to understand now, maybe ever. And when I let go of the idea that I’m in control, my hands are free to manage the only thing they can. Me.
My skewed, silly, darkness-prone mind.
I can take care of me.
Take responsibility for me.
Put the blame finger down, step out from the corner and reflect on how fortunate I am to have known him. Trust there are no mistakes. There is tragedy and joy, both serving their equal purpose to move us along. I can grieve, I can feel the emotion, can allow myself to digest the reality of whatever the situation is. But faith and acceptance guide me forward, onward to the next thing and the next thing.
The path doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter Jonathan was a beautiful man with a heart of gold and I have a less than stellar track record of good deeds. It doesn’t matter I’m a drug addict and he was well on his way to putting a dent in the world. What matters is he already did. His dent was made and it will continue to grow in ways I’ll never understand.
He put a dent in my heart and I had no idea till just now.
I guess the point is I don’t make the rules.
I don’t set the stage.
I don’t control the big picture on the puzzle.
But I know I can handle those pieces with care. I can let them fit where they’re meant to fit and trust, trust there is something beautiful in the making.
Even if it’s a nauseating image of two kittens hanging from a tree.
At least then I can still laugh about it.
About the Book: Ryan Michael Sirois is author of the memoir, King of Stars. A modern coming of age story with themes of drug addiction, sexual exploration, spirituality and self-acceptance. The story follows Ryan as he faces issues of sexual identity and addiction, balancing worlds of light and dark, discovering himself by losing himself along the way. King of Stars shines light on the uncomfortable, on situations often left hidden in shadow. It is a voice for anyone who is searching, hiding, or standing still. Ryans book is for sale at ryansirois.com under the About the Book section.