BOSTON COLLEGE, 2006
I had been drafted at the last minute into acting as a judge for a 24-hour one-act play competition that my best friend from high school was emceeing. A frequent feature of our friendship was that he would often take great initiative--and do an impressive amount of legwork-- to get a project off the ground, only to wind up having a hole in his planning that seemed to be precisely my shape and size. To wit, I've gone undercover to help him investigate a pyramid scheme, held a boom mic for an on-camera interview of a rabbi, rewritten bits of voiceover for his documentary about the anti-Iraq war protests in DC at the time, assisted in writing a sketch to get him into a comedy group, helped set up chairs for any number of improv or sketch performances, and lugged around, cumulatively, quite a lot of shit. This time, my task was to sit on my ass and have opinions about theater.
I'm so good at having opinions, you guys.
That one of the contestants was a former classmate of mine and former pupil of my theater sensei, who was also a judge, did not get examined by anyone. He did a one-man-show that I found a bit touching if a little angsty, but sort of disqualified himself by not memorizing it.
I posted about it at the time, but left out the most important thing that happened to me that day.
There was a contingent of current and former BC High Drama cast and crew in the audience waiting. She was there with a whiteboard, buzzed head and attire that was somehow simultaneously frumpy and somewhat suiting. We'd met only once before, but she greeted me warmly as if we already knew each other well. That is to say, as warmly as one can without speaking. It was Lent, and she had given up talking. Before I left, she scrawled "Do you have IM?" Her name was Katrina Kessler, and this was the day that we first became friends.
At the time, having long, meaningful conversations via Instant Messenger was extremely normal for me as there were important people in my life for whom I had no other mode of contact. And as she had a month of no speaking ahead of her, it was her only way of communicating over a distance in real time (She still kept her phone on her, but if you called her, you needed to do all the talking). It was a perfect month to get to know each other, and I'm infinitely grateful for the confluence of events. In a rare twist, Catholic doctrine was factoring into my life positively. We became fast friends
Her relationship with the Church is one that will likely confuse me for the rest of my life. Katrina chose Lucifer as her confirmation name, which one other friend of mine has gotten away with (the rules are that it has to be the name of a Saint or an angel). She taught Sunday school, and gave things up for Lent, despite being well aware of what the game is with Catholicism. (she would eventually identify as a witch). The self-described "con man" believed in the usefulness of Sunday school as a means of scaring young children, but Lent seemed to be half about performance art and half about an exercise in willpower. The following year she would give up swearing, which she said was far more difficult than giving up speaking altogether.
Performance art was, indeed, a large factor in our friendship. Together we were Team Creepy, a dynamic duo which vowed to nudge people out of their comfort zones. We engaged street crazies in philosophical discussions. We staged ridiculously specific fetishes that would have seemed asexual in nature if not for one or both of us responding with what Katrina would call "enthusiastic agreement." We embraced absurdity with a straight face and had many, many adventures in Boston that all seemed to end with us walking about the Common. If walls, park benches could talk... they'd probably have far more scandalous things than us to speak of. But they'd all know our names, even if we never bothered writing them down for/on them.
Neither of us had a car, and we lived on opposite ends of the state, so almost every time we saw each other, we met in the middle at Boston Common. Huddling at night in the dead of winter in front of a bronze statue of one child horsey-riding another, sheltered from the cold by the basin of a dry fountain in the Public Garden... this is how we each knew, viscerally, of our importance to one another. For both of us, staying out in the cold with each other was always preferable to going back home. Some nights I would ride the Red Line all the way to her stop at the end of the line, and stay on as it turned around to take me home. It added about two hours to my night, but it was worth it every single time.
Katrina was the first person to get me to wear a dress, and also the first person to get me out of a dress. She introduced me to the insane and wonderful sounds of Syd Barrett, which to this day inform my sensibilities as a writer and as a musician. Being her friend helped me learn when not to give a fuck. Kat has taken permanent residence under my skin and in my veins and within the twisted corridors of my mind.
I said goodbye to her last Monday.
CANTON, MA, 2012
This is what it means to have a big family
My teacher and mentor embraced me as I waited in line to pay my respects. Coming from an Irish Catholic family with more first cousins than I can count, I'm more than a little familiar with this, but this was different. The triumphs and tribulations I had shared with some of the people in that room had made brothers of us all, and even the people with whom I had never worked on anything due to a lack of overlap in our times at the school saw me as family.
The BC High Dramatics Society has always been a tight-knit group. The work we did at Dever Hall was for many of us the most meaningful part of our high school education. Some of us routinely stayed there until 7pm working, as most of us wore many hats. Aside from acting I was involved with carpentry, costumes, and props, and I was by no means the most busy. If you go through three hell weeks a year with the same people, you're going to either love them or hate them, and for us it was ever the former. All of us loved Katrina.
Being of an all-male school, BCHDS seeks the help of young women from other schools to play female parts. I never got the chance to perform on stage with Katrina as she didn't start with the group until after I had graduated, but I did get the chance to see her once onstage. Whereas some from outside the school were better described as guest performers, she was one of us without any doubt. We all loved and admired her, and for good reason. Katrina lived her life in a way that we all wish we could say we lived ours. She gave freely of herself, and was unfailingly loyal to her friends. She beat her own path through life and was never afraid to look utterly ridiculous doing so.
Being around my people was an enormous comfort save for two uncomfortable facts. One was the nature of my relationship with Katrina, which may have been known by most or all but never had any kind of social recognition, which made it difficult for me to talk about it around, for instance, someone who had actually been dating her in what for lack of a better word I'll call an official capacity. The other was the exceedingly Catholic nature of the proceedings. People know, for the most part, not to try to comfort me with platitudes about how the departed are surely watching over us from heaven. But such talk was in the air, and while I can't blame people for it, for me it served only a reminder of the utter finality of my friend's passing. A reminder that those trying to comfort me were having a fundamentally different experience than I was. People who live in the city talk about feeling alone in the company of millions, but that's nothing compared to feeling alone in the company of people who actually care about you. This is, of course, something that has happened every time I've been to a funeral, but this time stung more than any of the others.
On a Thursday in April, I texted her to invite her for dinner, but as it turned out she was in California. Katrina had made a new, sudden change in her life, and was now, traveling around fixing up childrens' homes as a part of a group that I have yet to learn anything about but which she describes as a cult. Two weeks after I found out about it, they were driving back from repairs at an orphanage in Missouri late at night. The driver was exhausted, there was machinery discarded along the end of the road, and the car was flipped.
Life is bullshit sometimes.
I was fortunate enough to have seen her this March. Kat had filled her schedule with work and massage classes, save for Thursdays, and as a result we hadn't been in touch for quite some time. We were going to make a habit of being around each other more, because I also had my whole Thursday open. It didn't quite work out the way I'd hoped, but I did get to spend one day with her. I didn't miss the chance to tell her how much she meant to me. Point of fact, I was gushing and was maybe a little embarrassed at the time. I'll never be satisfied with the time on this Earth I had with my dear friend, but it would have been hard to do much better with what I had.
Missing Katrina had sort of become a state of being, and now its been made permanent. When I found out about her change of situation I had started to bring myself around to accepting the possibility of her being completely removed from my life in the service of a higher cause. Trying to banish any resentment that I might not get to see her again due to the needs of the many...
If you'd told her that there was a fifty-fifty chance that she'd get killed doing what she was doing, I have little doubt that she'd have done it anyway. That's just who she was.
It's a small comfort, but one that at least feels real to me.
For all the time spent in that room,
the doll's house, darkness, old perfume,
and fairy stories held me high
on clouds of sunlight floating by