“I have always thought of my brother as a friendly person living on top of another mountain. We would hail each other from time to time. Talk to each other across the distance and know that the other was always there.
He is a strobe across the firmament, uttering melodies and soft chants, explosions and strong drones. Flashes of merriment and guttural moans of pathos.
All the sounds of a man seeking a voice and a language to say listen to this!” – Celestial Navigations, Life Goes On. (play track on Spotify)
Sometime around 23:00 on 11.05.2009 Flagg passed away. He was a good friend, brother and peer.
Here I am again, awake and unable to distract myself. This is not the first time I have had the need to discuss the death of someone close to me on this blog. No doubt as my life wends forward it will happen again and that obviously sucks.
I would like to tell you all about Flagg, about what he was really like. I would like to help you see him in total. Provide a complete image. His hopes and aspirations. His goals. His values. I would like to do all that, but I can’t. I knew him, but I am aware that there are limits on how well I was aware all the nuances. I knew what I needed to – I had what they used to call the “measure” of him. I wrote about that once though to be honest it was clear to me long before he was really challenged by illness.
It was this measure that let me know what he was to me – pack mate, peer and brother. Another such once described our early times as a group in terms of having “grown up together” and looking back on it I am sure she is right. Certainly I would not be the man I am without having known him. Or her, for that matter.
We speak in terms of being pack around these parts. Not family, though we most certainly are. But family is too passive, to casual. As a pack we are active. We expand, we defend our territory and our people. We hunt. The analogy is a good one as far as it goes and it is a fantastic way to get across the core of who we are… but it is a necessary simplification. Under magnification we are an interlocking circle of loyalties, smaller packs, tribes and households.
None of that is the point of this post.
The point is this – I would like to be able to give you a complete picture of the man who played so large a role in shaping me. Not because I selflessly want to help you understand him, or to share him with you. I want to be able to give you that picture because it would mean I had it to share.
The simple reality is that I think few if any of us are ever fully known by a single person. Every relationship is shaped by the needs and offerings of those involved. I have no doubt that those who served Flagg over the years saw aspects of him that he would never show plainly in my presence. Collectively they have knowledge of this man I will never know. Individually I am willing to bet they each saw something that the others did not. He had a pack around him before we met – and they have such stories to tell of times I never have shared. It is clear I missed much, so much.
We pay our price and look into the nickelodeon – not always realizing the show is for us alone.
For my part I am vividly aware of the price I extract from those around me. They realize quickly that I divide the world rather sharply into those I feel have value and those who don’t. The retention of my respect demands that one have few overt displays of fear and weakness. I am even less tolerant of despair. I demand above all that those around me “stand”. No one is spared judgment.
“The place where you made your stand never mattered. Only that you were there… and still on your feet.” – Stephen King – The Stand
When those close to me falter, I do what I can to help them get back to their feet. When their morale waivers I do my best to restore it. When they are faced with a struggle I will pack them a lunch, load their gun and assure them I have their backs. A momentary rest? Sure. I will stand watch and revel in the opportunity to provide this shelter… but it is understood that soon you put your boots back on or forfeit the privilege.
I will do all this – but what I know I never really allow them is the luxury of surrender, even a momentary one. To just put it down, give into doubt and wail at the injustice of it all. I know this about myself. I have no other way to be and honestly I feel it is a valuable trait – I act as goad and conscience. Occasionally however I am reminded that this price carries a certain barrier to intimacy. It is true for Kimiko and Tatsumi, it is true for my remaining peers and of course it was true for Flagg as well.
I know for a certainty that there were times when my friend and brother was scared or depressed that he did not, could not, reach out to me. I know there were times when he was uncertain of his strength or desire to continue the struggle that he turned to others and not me. I know he hid pain from me… as they all do. I was everything I knew how to be for him… but each tool has it’s uses and I was simply not the right tool for the job on those occasions.
This would bother me more if I wasn’t secure in the knowledge that our pack had those he could reach out to in those moments. I could rest assured that he was not alone on those occasions – that he was being consoled and cared for. Getting what he needed from those who could supply it in ways I could not.
My brother was talented in ways I will never understand. He had a way with people I envied and a natural charisma I will never match. He was strong enough to deal with emotions I don’t allow myself. He had a concept of an afterlife (I have none) we rarely discussed and I don’t pretend to understand. He commanded with ease the loyalty of people who do not grant it easily. He tolerated my dreams and worked beside me to achieve them – though I never had the chance to reward his faith with the life I hoped someday to be able to include him in.
When the time came to say goodbye I did the only thing that seemed reasonable under the circumstances. I waited till none of the hospital staff was looking, picked up a sharpie and drew a cartoon snake on the stump where most of his right leg used to be. That is the picture you see above.
I admired him. I drew inspiration from him. I loved him. I will never see his like again. I tried to live up to his friendship and loyalty, to continually earn my place next to him as we ran through the woods. I think I did that, though I cannot help but feel a measure of guilt for all the things I could not do for him. Those who provided what I could not have my gratitude and my loyalty.
note: a track from an album by a spoken word / storytelling group called “Celestial Navigations” called “Life Goes On” has always perfectly summed up how I often feel among those I care for. It seems especially appropriate here and now. Feel free to contact me if you want to hear the track itself, maybe you will get as much out of it as I have.