Are You Out There?

I hesitated to post much about Sam‘s death because I knew I would turn it into something about me. But this is a blog, after all—by definition it’s all about me, isn’t it? And on the other hand, Sam never really pulled his punches when he wrote (at least, not that you could tell) so the least I can do in his memory is present my unvarnished post to the world. Juvenile innuendo intended.

I knew Sam online before he was even out of the military, back when he was a pseudonym dodging Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. When he had just moved to San Francisco, while he was together with Jeff, the God Of Biscuits, we’d finally met—we’d had cocktails together once or twice, had hung out at house parties, had said hey at street fairs. We were hardly close friends, but between the small town that is San Francisco and the targeted intimacy that is the Internet, you can’t help but get into everybody else’s business; you feel like you know a person as a confidant, not just a member of their studio audience. And while you rarely expect someone to die, you particularly don’t when they are young and vibrant, finally righting themselves out of chaos, doing things they enjoy, being with someone they love.

I admit I am new to the business of death. My grandparents have passed on, and some aunts and uncles as well, but I have been able to separate myself from that emotionally, or generationally. I grew up just after generation of men felled by AIDS. I don’t know yet what to do with death right here among my peers. What I will do when it happens closer in my family. Not quite sure where to put grief after it has outstayed its welcome. Still uncertain and slightly guilty to allow mine to sit next to the grief of someone who has lost more deeply. But here is all we have, so here is where I have to learn to get used to the feeling of knowing someone is gone. That they affected me, like I hope to affect others once we have ceased to be. Even if we are little more than a Twitter feed or a Facebook status update, maybe a little of us remains in everyone we know.

I haven’t met Sam’s partner Greg yet, but I hope to shake his hand at the memorial for Sam at the Eagle on Wednesday night. Greg was kind enough to keep Sam’s extended internet circle involved up until the last moments. Knowing only secondhand, and only through the same narrow internet channels where I’d known him before, that Sam had fallen so suddenly and so far…I couldn’t help project myself in and imagine the dark place I’d be sitting at the side of The Boyfriend, or being unable to comfort him as I tended to the business of dying. As the Cowboy Junkies sang, “To Love is To Bury.” I can only hope to be as strong when it happens.

Jeff posted a comment about the Flying Dutchman recently, the three-mast tall ship I had never seen before which pretends it’s the top of Sutro Tower. As it’s that time of summer, the tower is frequently engulfed in fog. And since we’ve moved upstairs, the tower is now my regular view out the bathroom window. So I see the ship there almost daily, start singing the Tori Amos song of the same name, and, these days, think of Sam.

Though neither Sam nor I actually believe in that sort of thing, it is comforting to pretend that the dead look back somehow, aren’t gone forever. That they are out there somewhere, sailing across the sky. Smiling in our windows.

And in Sam’s case, probably while making an obscene gesture and activating the inflatable slide, too.

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