Death Is Not The End, Part 7: 

Heart-Shaped Box

For a boy who was born on Valentines Day in England but raised in blue-collar Renton, Washington, growing up was sheer hell for anyone with a strange name, curly hair, a love of the company of girls and an appreciation of books and beauty. My loneliness, inability to fit in and peer torment turned into such an unconscious rage that I remember wondering in high school when I would commit suicide. Not if, but when. I decided that I at least wanted to wait until the New England Patriots won the Super Bowl, which gives you some sense of the respect and reverence I had for calling on the Reaper unannounced (as well as hedging my bets for the speculative future). It was soon after I made this silent vow to myself that I discovered a teacher who was genuinely interested in me, understood my natural gifts and talents, and I began having a reason to live and appreciate that my uniqueness was something to cultivate and savor. After I left high school and went to college up in Bellingham I soon enough found that the world is entirely made up of misfits, and that it's just a small group of fascistic jerks who ruin it for everyone else.

I've never tried to commit suicide, but for years I've been surrounded by many people who have. I have no idea why they're drawn to me. Perhaps it's simply that the pain I've transcended over the years has left me confident enough to be able to sit with even the most tortured soul and have them realize they are worthy. I've always known that given the opportunity to reach nirvana, I would rather become a bodhisattva, rejecting nirvana in order to help others reach theirs. I've never been able to imagine the thought processes that must go through someone's mind when they finally decide that there will not be another tomorrow. That must be the quietest and most harrowing moment there is, as you stand at the edge of the universe staring into the abyss, completely unable to articulate anything to anyone but yourself, if that. The inability to express oneself fully must be the most debilitating paralysis of all.

I was living just a few blocks from the Seattle Center when Cobain killed himself, and when I went to the vigil on the grounds of the Center I couldn't believe the size of the crowd. A friend turned to me and said "If Kurt could have seen this, he'd still be here." Another friend of mine told me recently of a coworker with relations who had come out for a visit from another part of the country, with two ten-year-old boys wanting, needing to see the last house Cobain ever lived in while they were in town. I guess the thing that hits me hardest about the deaths of both Garcia and Cobain, is that at the end of this decade, this century, this millennium, there are some people whom one assumes are going to be there to help celebrate, and their absence will be profoundly felt. With the state of this country right now, let alone the world, only Buddha knows what epoch the one in five years will hold for us. Garcia and Cobain are two of the mightiest warriors the counterculture (hell, the CULTURE) has ever had, (throw in the untimely deaths of fellow warriors Frank Zappa, Miles Davis and John Lennon to add another few twists to your sobriety) and to think that they're not going to be here anymore to spit into the MTV cameras in Cobain’s case, or to simply grin with that knowing look in Garcia's case, underlines the fact that the tragedy of their deaths must be accepted as "health-related." Only their families and friends will ever know the pressures each of these men were under and the demons that hounded them. And to think that these men weren't firefighters, crab-boat fishermen or members of the UN stationed in Bosnia. They were musicians. Troubadours. Minstrels. Poets. Lyricists. Wordsmiths. Artists. Entertainers. That is probably the most tragic part about each of their deaths. They comforted so many millions, both willingly and obliviously, while they themselves were suffering.

Cobain was a fearless fighter who charged the hill with the flag between his teeth taking no prisoners, with every freak who was ever kicked in the guts as a kid pulling up the flank behind him cheering. Cobain was a freak proud to wear the title, whose driven purpose was to finally crack mainstream consciousness with the sheer exhilaration of punk rock some fifteen years after The Ramones shouted "Look out, below." A man who was so disheartened to realize that his audience had grown to include the same homophobic bullies that had picked on him as a kid that he started to wear dresses on-stage as a challenge to where their sympathies lay. For a male entertainer to wear a dress, ala David Bowie, David Johansen or Milton Berle, is not subversive per se. But for a male entertainer to wear a dress when a member of his audience has stolen the irony of an anti-rape song of his in order to use it as his own personal soundtrack during an actual rape that he committed, that is subversive. That sense of context is what made Kurt Cobain a truly successful, and therefore dangerous, artist. But whatever thoughts made him want to exit so early and so violently undercut the sense of purpose he had. What do Cobain and Garcia have in common? They both survived comas. If that's not God giving you a second chance to reassess, than I don't know what is. Garcia pulled out and kept going for another nine years. Cobain didn't last two months.

"Accordingly, romantic love is a biological ballet. It is evolution's way of making sure that sexual partners meet and mate, then give their child the care it needs to be healthy and make loving attachments of its own. This isn't a simple or fast process. The human brain is so complex, the mind so ingenious, that biology and experience work hand in hand. People usually undergo a series of crushes, infatuations, and loves between infancy and adulthood. They learn to make magnetic attachments, whose power they feel in their cells, in their bones. Thinking about the loved one steers their every thought, and they would rather die than break the force field of their devotion. It is as if they were two stars, tightly orbiting each other, each feeding on the other's gravity. Because nothing and no one in time or creation seems to matter more, a broken relationship rips the lining from the heart, crushes the rib cage, shatters the lens of hope, and produces a drama both tragic and predictable. Wailing out loud or silently, clawing at the world and at one's self, the abandoned lover mourns.

"How do we learn to grieve? Society provides customs and rituals, but it's a behavior the body knows by heart. First we protest and refuse to accept the truth; we keep thinking the loved one will magically return. Next we sob a torrent of tears. Then we sink into despair; the world sags under the dead weight of our pain. And at long last we mourn. In time, we gather our strengths like so many lost buttons and begin searching for a likely attachment once again.

"But suppose a child is orphaned or abused? When, through malevolence or circumstance, the early bond between parent and child is damaged, the psychological repercussions are profound. Such a person may end up with marital problems, personality disorders, neuroses, or difficulty in parenting. A love-thwarted child spends its life searching for that safe, secure relationship and absolutely loving heart which is its birthright. As an adult, missing cues that might lead to just such a relationship, it judges people harshly, trusts no one, and becomes exiled and alone. A child that's unsafe, or rejected, or deprived of affection, feels anxious, becomes obsessively clingy, and doesn't take many chances. Assuming that it will be spurned, that it is the sort of person one could only reject, it may try to be self-sufficient and disinherit love, not risk asking anyone ever to truly care. Such a child becomes afflicted with itself, and needs no other accuser, no other lynch mob. It feels as if it has been caught red-handed in the midst of a felony -- its life. Is there no salvation for such a damaged child?

"Studies show that even one continuously sympathetic caregiver in childhood can make the difference between a seriously disturbed adult or someone who is nearly invincible. Ideally, there would be a parent whom the child perceives as its partisan, apologist, patron, devotee, grubstaker, well-wisher, and admirer rolled into one. But the minimum is one reliable guardian angel--not necessarily a parent, just someone who is always there, cheering in the dugout, steadfast through both strikeouts and home runs.

"Cornell psychologist Cindy Hazan and her colleagues have gone so far as to chart the direct parallels between the many stages of childhood attachment and adult romantic love. What they found is that childhood experiences do trigger, and sometimes garble or distort, the love relationships made later. But nothing is cast in stone. As the child grows, it forges new attachments and some of these may dilute bad childhood experiences. This is an important conclusion, because it suggests that abused children -- who are, essentially, loving disabled -- may still be helped later in life. As anyone who has received or dispensed psychotherapy knows, it's a profession whose mainspring is love. Nearly everyone who visits a therapist has a love disorder of one sort or another, and each has a story to tell -- of love lost or denied, love twisted or betrayed, love perverted or shackled to violence. Broken attachments litter the office floors like pick-up-sticks. People appear with frayed seams and spilling pockets. Some arrive pathologically disheartened by a childhood filled with hazard, molestation, and reproach. Mutiles de guerre, they are invisibly handicapped, veterans of a war they didn't even know they were fighting. What battlefield could be more fierce, what enemy more dear?"

- A Natural History of Love by Diane Ackerman


Death Is Not The End, Part 8:

Grandma, take me home