Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Our Gem, our treasure

I never asked why your parents chose this name for you. It seemed obvious the moment we met. You were a treasure! I remember your eyes, especially: sparkly and kind with a bit of your inner mischief reflected as you somewhat shyly looked away.

There are many people who know all the years I do not and will recall them today. I hope someday to hear them all, to better inform my vision of you.

I have deep impressions. The blessing and curse of a creative mind is to actively translate a kind of 3D image of everything, or at least it is so for me: I hear what you don't say, see what secrets you believe you are hiding, know more about you from your physical gestures than from experiencing the persona you present. I build you up from the inside, a sort of armature of visions and sensations, conversations and actions that are your true bone and sinew over which a thickening skin layers throughout your life.

You were the oldest and so I saw you the least, busy with your own things. On more than one occasion I overheard others mentioning you. Usually girls, usually giggling, usually crushing hard. You were a handsome boy, funny, irresistible to them. I know I thought so too, and smiled to myself in secret collusion.

But I also knew there was so much more. Your mother knows I think she is the Goddess of Everything and how the four of you have grown into such brilliant and individual forces is the polish on her pedestal. When you achieved acceptance here at Cal I was over the moon. I tend to see this as her accomplishment, but of course it was yours. I apologize for that slight.

And this is where my armature of you was completed. It's said there is a fine line between genius and madness and my own psyche bears this out. It's bred in the bone, woven around our wiring... it doesn't take much to send an elevated mind up and over the brink. But there are no "could haves" or "should haves" with you. Even if we were right there watching, your demons hatched so quickly they were already beyond our control the moment they bore out. We could wish it weren't so but know better: to do so is to imagine we had choices -- that you had choices, and made poor ones. It's just not so.

Seeing you after your surreal journey that ended in the South Bay was a devastating revelation. The young man who shortly before had helped us carry furniture in our new home could now no longer lift his eyes. I knew this was no longer you, the Gem that was such a treasure to us all. How inconsolably lost to us you were already became clear to me when I watched my father slip from my grasp; I understood in a way which I might not have otherwise. I remember thinking about my father: If only he had one lingering lucid moment to see himself as he now is he'd beg us to the pull the plug. He didn't. He couldn't.

But you did.

We the Living, the Left Behind, must see this as the blessing you did in those last days, hours, moments. We must see how hard you struggled against a Force greater than yourself for so long and be filled with pride and awe. We must exalt your intelligence and the depth of your wisdom, traits we have always loved and admired in you, of which you made perhaps the greatest use to find the way Out, the only escape from the cruelty of what your illness had rendered.

We already have mourned the loss of the child, the boy, the young man. Our Gem, our treasure. I thank you for him, and while I honor your struggle I will likewise honor your last courageous act: to will yourself beyond it, to free yourself and therefore all who love you from the stranglehold of that alien force that robbed us all.

As you are free now, too, we are free. To dwell on these past years would be to dishonor your Great Deed, your sacrifice. Instead, to authentically honor you is to bury that burdensome menace; to restore your memory to the place we saw you last, the handsome boy with those beautiful eyes who was always a little shy in his boldness. Helpful and charming, brilliant and more often than not, happy.

This I pledge to do.


  1. Debilee, thank you for that; I began sobbing yet again, yet again, yet again, at your concluding paragraphs. Thank you for seeing, for knowing, for blessing Gem. For honoring all of his life. For being my good friend for so long. For being the wordsmith that you are, illuminating some of the hardest parts of life for me with the depth of your sensitivity and compassionate spirit.

  2. AnonymousJuly 19, 2009

    I think this is so beautifully written and shares alot about Gem. I have missed out on being with Gem since high school. We ran cross country and nordic skied together. We were much alike with our quiet demeanors. Though I did not know him at the time, I knew who he was when Alta came to Colfax Elementary to play basketball; he was cute even then. As I have been learning over the last many months and years, as I to struggle with mental illnesses, it is truly a lonely burden, no matter the help we find along the way. Gem was so brave. I honor that. Blessings to his family and friends. Love, LC.

  3. Jason EliasJuly 19, 2009

    I had the pleasure of knowing Gem briefly during high school - he was a year behind me but we had Spanish together. Even though 12 years have passed since that time, I always remembered Gem as one of the nicest people I ever knew. I remember his quiet demeanor and his eyes lighting up when I cracked jokes. While I was extremely saddened to hear the tragic news, I hope that his family realizes the great person that he was and that he will not be forgotten.

  4. My heart is with Gem's family. I was stunned beyond belief when I saw the flier inviting all to share in his memory posted on the bulletin board in front of Abe's store in Dutch Flat. I have fond childhood memories playing with Gem in the back room of the Dutch Flat post office while our mom's worked. Or playing half taunting half protecting our younger brothers. It saddens me greatly that we had drifted apart in communications as we grew older. Too often we put things off til tomorrow, but tomorrow we are not promised. I miss you my friend and will always cherish the memories that innocence gave us. My heart and Prayers with your family. Theresa Longnecker