This is Cyclobee. My dear friend Monica and I made him, along with about a thousand other mini-creatures, just before Christmas, 1997, during a lunch break at our job at the fabrication studio north of San Francisco. It was a speed-racing flurry of cutting, gluing, and painting, our hands moving in and out of countless bins, laughing and joking the whole time, trying to outdo ourselves and each other, not competitively as in, who could make the better creature, but playfully, each rooting for the other to do something inventive and inspiring to increase our mutual glee, the glee one gets from really playing.
How many people do you know like that? People who love play, who really know how to play?
I met Monica at that studio. She was a native San Francisco gal and I was newly on the west coast, living in white stucco apartment complex with Dave up in Petaluma. She and I worked in the Plant Department together under the direction of D., our Team Leader who conducted Team Meetings in a circle with her trusted ‘Talking Stick.’ It was fantastic, interesting, and sometimes excruciatingly boring work (imagine cutting the many many many leaves necessary to make one tree) but I was thrilled to have it, thrilled to work in a warehouse of creativity stuffed with fascinating and often very funny artists casting molds, painting murals, recreating entire ecosystems like the kind you see in a natural science museum diarama. In fact, exactly those.
Dave and I moved back to the east coast a few years later but Monica and I kept in touch, the way you do with someone so many miles away–periods of activity followed by periods of quiet, when our individual lives would take us down the river and off to the sea. When we weren’t in touch, I always thought of her. She had a way of starting trends, running jokes, of recounting stories that made you feel as if you had been there and were somehow part of the central action. We had our things we said to each other, things that made us laugh and laugh, stupid or silly or nonsensical things that felt truer than regular things, things that instantly lifted my spirits. Hello didn’t feel like enough of a greeting somehow, so we’d say, Hello a lot or Hello very or Hello extremely!
Our friendship felt like family, that kind of closeness, without the fighting though once, during our studio time, we did have an awful fight that ignited so quickly, it startled me. I asked her about this a few months ago, asked her if she remembered, asked her if I had ever apologized for my part in it, and she waved me off. “Oh, Kyrica. I don’t have one teeny tiny lingering thought about anything even remotely upsetting.”
She was Monica so I became Kyrica. I called her Har-Monica so she called me Har-Kyra. We once found miniature harmonicas and immediately bought them to wear around our necks. Ridiculously. They only had two holes but you’d be surprised how many songs you could make up, or make up that you were making up, with those two to four notes.
We’ve been in touch the last couple of years. A lot. Very. I sang out, HAR! when I answered the phone. We talked for ages or minutes. It didn’t matter. It always felt like an entire visit, you know? The moment I heard her voice, it was all in. We got to see each other in person the Christmas before last when she came east for business. We had a ball. We stayed up till the wee hours of the morning, staring up at the ceiling, our feet straight up in the air. Let’s be friends for always and ever. She showed me her favorite new apps for her droid. We looked up random things. She said, “The thing about these new smart phones is, now you never have to not know something.” I started saying that to everyone after that. You never have to not know something.
Then this fall, we all went under a wave here. The combination of Aspergers, ADD, OCD, and puberty toppled Tito (and Dave and me) into turbulent waters. I called Monica from the bath in late September and we talked about real things, hard things, every day things, painful things and very funny things. Her beloved dog’s cancer had come back but she was hanging in there. Tito was falling apart, but we were all hanging in there.
Soon after that call, I fell out of touch with everyone. We went deeper under the wave. Days became weeks. I was barely keeping my wits about me, barely keeping my balance. One day, she texted me. Is everything okay? And I texted back. Things are hard. I’ll call you when I can. I longed for the space to call, to hear about her dog, to talk about our struggles, to walk into the tangle with her, even if we couldn’t figure out what to make of the mess. A little over a week later, I got the news that she killed herself.
To say I was shocked is a profound understatement. Extremely. I fell down. I screamed. I sobbed. Dave ran from the third floor. When I told Tito later that day, his face crumbled. “Har?” he said, in disbelief.
I flew to California for the memorial service a couple of weeks later. It was a terrible time to leave home. It was a terrible thing to leave home for.
Monica did know everyone. She was brilliant and beautiful and adventurous. She was fast and bold, sophisticated, down to earth, and crammed with creativity. It was in everything she did and she did it all unselfconsciously, with a flourish, a shrug, a smile, a dare, she was sharp and soft, embracing, curious, open, loving, afraid. She was the most alive person I’ve ever known.
I wanted to know how she did it, how she killed herself. What did she do? What? What? I found out some details but they didn’t resolve anything for me. In fact, they haunted me, night after night. And they didn’t resolve the why. Monica endured hardship, heartache, loneliness, deaths of those close to her. She had disappointments, fear, worries. I know. I know. We talked about some of them. We walked through dark times and then we looked back at those dark times and shook our heads, wiped our brows, phew, didn’t think I was going to get through that. But we did. She did. Until she didn’t.
Some people said things like, well, it was her life, her choice, and I think she even said something like that in her note. I’m guessing. I never saw her note. It would have been in character. She was focused, determined, directed. She wanted control. I imagine she would want us to know no one was at fault. That she knew what she was doing. That she was choosing this. That she was at peace with the decision.
I hope she’s at peace. But I don’t believe she knew what she was doing. I don’t believe she made a choice, with her whole mind, her creative, playful, adventurous, searching mind. How could she have, from under that wave, where the light was bent and everything was distorted, where she was tumbling and could not have known how to safely orient to the horizon? So she could come out of it, out of the water, hair askew, shake her head, wipe her brow, and say, phew, didn’t think I was going to make it out of that one?
2013 took Monica. I miss her. Very.
I wish there was a way we could have held on to her until she returned to her ‘right mind’ because I tell you, she was not in her right mind. I wish I could have known what happened in the three weeks between our last phone call and her last night. I wish I had called her in time, had dreamed something that woke me in a cold sweat somehow knowing that she was in trouble.
I wish I could call her up and say, Har, you were wrong. I have my stupid smart phone. But there are still some things I can never, ever know.