Patrick

I’m trying to write something to say at my friend Patrick’s funeral — something “short and beautiful” as his mother requests — but there is so much to say about such a multitudinous being whom I’ve known for close to 40 years.

Patrick died last Friday as the result of a catastrophic cardiac event. His heart stopped, and by the time the EMTs got it started again it was too late for his beautiful brain. He was on life support until Sunday, when his doctors finally told his family he was never coming back. I was there to say goodbye and be near his family and friends.

424586395_66cfedc33c_oPatrick and I were alphabetical neighbors, so we were placed together at a double desk on the first day of first grade. He always stood out as the kid with the bright red hair and glasses. I’ve truly never seen such spectacular red hair in my life.

He was his own person from the beginning. I never once knew him to try to conform or try to be like other little boys. He played the piano and loved The Beatles and Donna Summer. He made everyone laugh without being the class clown. He was quiet and hilarious and didn’t care what anyone thought of him. Other kids thought he was “weird,” but he was pretty universally well-liked.

He lived down the street from Rebecca, who was in the Gifted Children program with me in elementary school. She and Patrick were already playmates before first grade, and the three of us eventually became an inseparable triad of best friends.

Patrick and I first bonded over lunch hour walks in the fourth grade. I walked to my grandma’s house for lunch, and he walked to his grandma’s house, which was en route. In the 5 blocks we walked together, we discovered that we had an uncanny ability to crack each other up. We developed our own vocabulary of hilarity, and sometimes the right word was all it took to send us into hysterics. From that point on, we pretty much did everything together.

Summers in the early 1980s meant long afternoons at Sanders Beach. Patrick and I invented dozens of games to play in the lake. We dove down to touch the slimy sunken logs beneath the log boom. We went on treasure hunts, looking for the coolest rocks. One of us would submerge, then slowly resurface and say the funniest word we could think of, trying to crack the other up.

The gift that Patrick shared with everyone he knew was creativity. He, Rebecca, and I concocted live-action video games and wrote surrealist plays. We wrote songs on his Casio keyboard and recorded them on a tape deck. With two cassette decks we could emulate multi-track recording. Our hit single (it was played once on the U of I radio station) involved the three of us yelling the names of exotic fruits. We were very avant garde ten-year-olds.

Music was a huge part of Patrick’s life from an early age. By fifth grade he was collecting all of the latest New Wave. His favorite band at that time was Devo. Patrick was a true hunter and gatherer of rare and obscure music. Before I had cable, he taped 120 minutes every Sunday so I could come over and watch it with him on Mondays after school. The day The Smiths’ ‘The Queen is Dead’ came out, he brought it over to my house so I could record it to cassette and transcribe all of the lyrics on my typewriter.

When he got a car in high school, that meant we could take record shopping trips to Spokane to look for something new or obscure. Before the internet, record shopping was like treasure hunting. He was able to buy new music, but I rarely had money, so many afternoons were spent in his upstairs bedroom with lime green carpet taping music for me. And we perfected the art of the mix tape. We made tapes for each other constantly, with elaborate artwork and dada-esque liner notes.

The other thing Patrick and I gave each other was writing. When we got to Junior High and no longer sat in a classroom at desks near each other all day, we started writing notes to pass in the hallway between classes. These were not your typical teenage notes, they were works of art. Given our lifelong mission to make each other laugh, they were often silly, nonsensical, and surreal. We had a strange shared sense of humor that’s kind of hard to explain.

We took four years of French together in high school and added some French vocabulary to our personal dictionary of nonsense. We drove Mme. Husted insane with our constant giggling, but she loved us and we aced the tests, so she mostly left us alone. We took one year of German as our senior year elective, and we sat together at the back making sculptures out of Play Doh and giggling at German. Because German is inexplicably hilarious.

I left Coeur d’Alene as soon as we graduated high school, and I left Patrick behind. We were like siblings who had to go out into the world and forge our own identities as adults. We wrote letters to each other now and then, and we saw each other whenever we were in the same city. Our bond was always there, but we drifted apart, as you do.

In recent years, I’ve watched from afar as Patrick became a central figure in the culture of Coeur d’Alene. He wrote for the local paper, collected and shared regional memorabilia with the community. He was a joyful presence at Mik’s and had countless friends and fans in the community. He honed his voice and humor in his restaurant and North Idaho travel reviews. But he was always Patrick. I could always find that kid who passed me notes in the 8th grade in his writing.

The last time I saw him was in late August he made me a Maker’s Mark Manhattan and charged my iPhone for me behind the bar. I told him about the New Order concert, and he told me about helping his mom sell the jewelry she makes. The night before he collapsed I had a dream in which he invited me to hang out in his hotel room, because it had a hot tub.

Everyone who knew Patrick is heartbroken. We’ve lost someone who was an incredibly unique and positive presence in so many lives. His death at 42 is a tragedy, and it’s impossible to imagine a world without him in it. He will always be a part of me, as such a fundamental person in my childhood. He leaves behind a legacy of creativity, writing, humor, kindness, music, and love.

 

 

Meditation on Mental Health

Today is World Mental Health Day, so it seems an opportune time to bring the topic out of the dark cupboard and shine some light on it. This year’s focus is schizophrenia, and as some may know, I have a close relationship with that topic in the form of my mom.

There is still a great deal of shame shrouding mental illness — especially severe conditions like schizophrenia — but even quite common conditions like depression and anxiety are not subjects to bring up at job interviews or dinner parties.

I was ashamed of my mom’s condition when I was a kid. She made random conversation with perfect strangers, laughed at jokes only she could hear, talked under her breath to her “voices,” and dressed like hippie vagabond — with a dozen clunky necklaces, multiple rings on every finger, and brightly mismatched skirts and blouses. I developed a quiet tolerance for her behavior, but underneath my bemused smile I was angry and confused.

For years she was undiagnosed, or mis-diagnosed. But even when the label schizophrenia was applied, no one was able to explain what that meant, apart from symptoms like voices and paranoid delusions. And there was still this myth that you just had to take your medication and you would get better.

People with chronic mental health conditions don’t get better, they manage symptoms. A person who suffers from depression can be helped immensely by medication, and remission may last for years, but there is always the possibility of a relapse. A person with schizophrenia is lucky if they can function in the world, even with medication. My mom can’t.

In the 1970’s my mom worked at health food stores, bakeries, and diners. Many of her jobs didn’t last long, but the health food store became like a family for her over the years. Eventually ownership changed, and she went to work as a hotel maid. Whatever glue that held her mind together enough to function in minimum wage jobs dissolved in the early 1980’s, when her delusions became her world.

It would take a whole book to describe what it was like living with my mom in the 80’s (one that I hope to write someday), but suffice to say it was stressful. I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety since I was a kid, but didn’t realize how deeply living with my mother affected me until I started seeing a therapist 10 years ago. I also have symptoms of ptsd. You don’t make it through someone else’s mental illness unscathed.

But it didn’t have to be that way. If I had been educated about my mother’s condition and taught skills for coping, it might have been easier. If she had had access to effective therapy, she may not have had to be hospitalized quite so often. But we were in North Idaho and poor. These options simply weren’t on offer. So we lived through it.

The more people are educated about the realities of mental illness, the better. The ability to recognize symptoms, get people the help they need, and cope with the psychological fallout can help everyone — not just the mentally ill, also but those of us who share homes and lives with them.