Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Tale of Two Tylers

Y'know, I actually remember the first time I became aware of the other Tyler's existence. I was sitting in a 7th grade class, rapidly scribbling away in my notebook when the kid in sitting the next row over leaned over to look at what I was drawing.

"Cool picture. What's your name?"


A second kid leaned over, and held up a grocery bag wrapped textbook with a Bloom County-esque cartoon character drawn on it. "You're the Tyler who drew this;" the second kid announced.

But, no, I hadn't drawn that picture. And, to this day, I still don't know how that second kid managed to have a drawing on his textbook, know that someone named 'Tyler' drew it, and still not know who that 'Tyler' was. But, that's how I learned that there was a second Tyler at my Junior High School, and that this second Tyler also liked to draw.

You would have thought that learning that there was another person with your name who also shared you primary interest would have been exciting news. But, 7th Grade was a rough year, and for my young brain that was in the middle of an overly-sensitive, hormonally-unbalance, anxiety-ridden, emotional free-fall, it was awful news. Until that point, I had never encountered someone my own age who I felt could draw as good, if not better than me. And, to this day, I can still remember a night when I choked back tears while showing my mom one of Tyler's drawings and possibly declaring that I was going to give up on drawing. Forever.

But, eventually, I got over myself, and found myself becoming friends with the other Tyler. I mean, after all, we did share the same name, we both loved drawing and both collected comic books. Eventually, the novelty of all that, and actually knowing someone who shared my interests won out over my ego and desire to be the Best Artist Ever™.

By High School, we were hanging out more; trading comic storyline ideas and making fantastical plans to start a shared comic publishing empire. Tyler was and always would be a creative machine, and the rapidity that he generated new comic book ideas and characters forced me to take my own comics and illustrations to the next level.

On the night that I lost control of my car, and parked it against an electrical power box at 40 miles per hour, it was Tyler's car that was behind me, and for whatever reason that incident seemed to seal our friendship in my mind. After that, I always counted him amongst my best friends.

Tyler visiting me while I was at the University of Washington. You can tell by his pose that it was during one of our Beastie Boys phases. There were several.

When I transferred from the University of Washington, up to Western Washington University, in my Junior Year of College, we became roommates, and would be roommates for the next three years up until I graduated. Along with my younger brother, Travis, and later our friend, Liam, (who would both do tours of duty as our third roommate) we had some crazy, fun times in Bellingham. True, probably too much alcohol was involved, but it was more than that. We were having fun. Loud music played constantly (Talking Heads, Cornershop, Bjork, Cibo Matto, Pearl Jam, Paul Simon and... the Spice Girls), conversations about politics were frequently shouted, and we'd basically convinced ourselves that we were later day Beatniks or maybe the illegitimate children of Hunter S. Thompson. We thought, quite possibly, we were starting some sort of new art movement. Parties ran often till sunrise, friend's houses were broken into to pull pranks (and, of course, steal their beer) and at one point the police showed up to bust a party we were having... even though there were only four people at that party.

When that police bust made it into WWU's Student Newspaper's Police Beat, we were particularly proud.

Probably not the most flattering photo of the two of us. But, the photo that I always think of when I think of that time period. Mish-mash poetry written on the walls. Random scraps of art. The only thing more inexplicable than the crown of roses on Tyler's head, is the baseball cap on mine.

Yet, somehow, it still felt like we were growing up. And, somewhere along the line, we might have actually attended a class or two. Oddly, while I continued to pursue art and got an illustration degree, Tyler decided to pursue his other passion, English, instead. A decision that, to this day, I never quite understood.

After I graduated, as often happens with college friends, we didn't see each other as much. I moved back to the Seattle area, while he, his girlfriend at the time and my brother stayed up in Bellingham, completing their respective degrees. I'd still make it up to Bellingham once a month or so to hang out for the weekend, but I was also busy getting a career started and making new friends in Seattle.

Me, Tyler, my brother and some of the gang up in Bellingham shortly after I graduated. We always referred to this as our "band photo" because, if we were in a rock band together, we could put this photo somewhere on the CD jacket.

After he eventually graduated, Tyler seemed to bounce and move around quite a bit, living with his girlfriend in Kirkland for a bit, then back in Bellingham, then down in the Portland area. After he and his girlfriend broke up, he stayed in Vancouver (Wa) for a bit, before moving back to Bellingham and eventually settling in the Seattle area. He also seemed to bounce around just as much professionally. It is hard to find a job that allows you to use an English degree, so instead he ended up working at a string of less-than-glamorous jobs, like a cell phone call center, or as a clerk for an insurance company.

During that time, there were periods were I'd see him nearly daily, and other times that I'd go months without talking to him. But, at the same time, our friendship never waned and whenever we did hang out our conversations would seem to just pick back up wherever we'd left them during our previous visit.

When I eventually met and proposed to Sarah, I asked him to be one of my three groomsmen. The other two groomsmen were my brother, and Sarah's brother. I think that shows how highly I held our friendship. I loved him like a brother. Something I feel comfortable saying because I know that my actually brother felt the same way about him. (And my mom had even been know to mention that she saw him as sort of a third son.)

Me and my groomsmen at mine and Sarah's wedding. From left to right: My brother, Tyler, me and Sarah's brother, Tim.

After Sarah and I got back from our trip, I didn't see Tyler as much. It wasn't really a conscious decision, but instead I just found myself more and more wrapped up in my new life: A new house, a baby daughter, starting a new business. Tyler, meanwhile, had a string of bad luck health-wise, first slipping a disk in his back and then a year or so later taking a nasty spill off his bike and breaking his collar bone. In addition, I think the string of dead-end jobs was beginning to wear on him. So, when the broken collar bone caused him to loose his latest job, he decided to take some time off from working and focus on his art again.

Tyler and I celebrating his Birthday a couple years ago. In the years that followed, he referenced that party more than once, talking about how much he enjoyed it. A small group of friends, just hanging out.

During this last year, even though where he lived with his uncle in the Georgetown neighborhood was only a 10 minute walk from my house, we only saw each other three times. Still, he seemed to be keeping busy, working on a comic, painting guitars which his uncle sold at his music store, organizing an art show at a local coffee house and working on an animated Super 8 film short. Surrounded by the artists, musicians and punk rockers that inhabit Georgetown, I finally felt like maybe he'd found his place. Someplace to focus on his art and start anew.

Two Monday's ago, he sent me and a small group of friends an email to say that he'd moved to Texas to help take care of an ailing aunt and decided to stay down there for a while, since he felt like he'd reached a dead end living in Seattle. The move surprised me, but being someone who believes the the curative powers of a change of locale, I thought that maybe the change would be good for him. That, instead of Georgetown, maybe Texas would provide him with a place to start fresh. We exchanged one or two more emails, mainly making small talk about Stella and his niece, and vague plans to meet up the next time I went down there to visit my in-laws.

On Friday, Tyler's sister contacted me to tell me he had committed suicide.

It is impossible for me to tell you how I feel right now, possibly because I'm not entirely sure how I feel myself. I'm pretty sure that I took the scenic route writing this entry, just so that I could delay getting to this point in the entry a little longer. It's like I've had a rug pulled out from under me, and in the resulting fall the wind has been knocked from my body, and for good measure (and at the risk of pushing this analogy too far) someone has run over me with a tank. Blind-sided. Stunned. Crushed.

When my grandfather passed away several years ago, it was an awful and tragic experience. But, this is probably worse because while I could console myself with the facts that my grandfather had lived a full and amazing life, and that my relationship with him was as strong as it ever was; I can't do this here. I look at Stella and can't help but think of how Tyler will never have the similar experience of loving a child so much. That any fantasy I had that maybe someday we'd be two old men sitting on a deck together somewhere talking about "the good old days" is gone.

And, of course, I worry that I somehow failed him as a friend.

Now, I already know, intellectually, that there is probably very little I could have done to prevent him from taking his own life, but emotionally, it is going to take longer to fully realize that. That little worry stone that my brain likes to store all my self-doubt, guilt, fear and shame in just got a lot bigger. And, I know that for years to come, my brain will break it out and roll it around late at night when my guard is down.

Frankly, I'm a little frustrated. Angry at him that he would do this to me. Do this to our other friends. Do this to his family. Cause us this pain, leave us in this situation. Throughout this entry, I've referred to him as "the other Tyler." But, in a way, I'm the other Tyler, still here and left to answer when an unknowing friend or mutual acquaintance asks "Hey, I haven't seen him in a while, how's Tyler doing?"

And, I'm sad. Soul-sick to even think that my friend could have been so unhappy. That my best friend could have been so sad, so depressed. All I ever wanted for him was for him to be happy, maybe find someone to love, find some sort of fulfillment in his art. To find some peace. I don't like the final choice that he made, and my thoughts and opinions on any potential afterlife are foggy at best, but I can only hope that maybe he finally found that peace.

As cliched as the sentiment is, I really cannot begin to explain how I feel right now. Frankly, I'm not even sure if, nearly a week later, I know how I feel right now. I'm sure that if I look back on this later, I'll have thoughts and emotions that I will have failed to mention, memories that I forgot to include. My emotions, like my memories, are all jumbled up right now.

But, there is only one thing that I really want. And it's the one thing that is impossible now: I want my friend back.

I miss my friend.

In the days leading up to my wedding ceremony, Tyler nervously came up to me and said, "Hey Ty, just so you know, I am really excited to be your groomsman. But, just don't expect me to get up and say anything in front of a crowd." He hated public speaking. In the days to come, if the opportunity to get up front of a crowd and talk about Tyler presents itself, I'll probably pass. I hate public speaking too.

I'd like to think he understands.

Rest in peace, Tyler. You will be missed always.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

17 Months

I remember noticing shortly after Stella turned one that there seemed to be a major leap in kid's capabilities right around 18 months. The babies I saw who seemed stable on their feet and just a little be more kid-ish and less baby-ish always seemed to be 18 months old. At 17 months, Stella certainly thinks she's a big girl. As Tyler mentioned in his previous post, she's moving on from baby things. This has included:

Wearing Daddy's sunglasses:

and Mom's Converse:

She's also learned that she can climb up on things for a better vantage point. And move chairs so she can reach what she wants. So much for leaving her out of sight for any length of time....

So far we've been lucky, but it seems this can only lead to tears....

We also haven't been making an effort to do potty training, but Stella's been showing an interest. Occasionally she'll lead us into the bathroom and then prompt us to put her on the toilet. She's even taken to "wiping" with toilet paper while sitting there. We sure wouldn't mind being done with diapers, but I think this is more play than anything right now. But a step in the right direction!

Potty time!

I don't know why, but Stella just looks so serious and grown up to me in this picture. (Well, minus the humongous pacifier.)

And I couldn't resist this little clip. For better or worse, she's picked up my "mmm"ing habit when eating something she likes. Usually it's while she's having something she really likes, but she's even "mmm"ed while waiting in line for ice cream at Full Tilt!


Theoretically in the next month we need to get rid of the pacifier and lose the night time bottle. Any suggestions?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Visits, rearranged rooms, and growing up

It's amazing how consistently life gets away from you when you submerge yourself in the day-to-day routine. But, with one friend visiting from Rwanda, another travelling in Vietnam and Thailand and several others preparing for the road rally adventure of a life-time, it feels like more and more we are surrounded by the siren song of travel. But, for now, it still remains mixed with the competing choruses of work, a possible basement remodel and the realization that we might -unfortunately- need a second car.

But, enough fretting and dreaming. Let's talk about what we've been up to recently...

The weekend before last, my brother and sister-in-law were in town, which provided for plenty of opportunities for Stella to spend time with her Aunt and Uncle. But, also provided me with an opportunity to head into the woods with a bunch of buddies and drink too much beer.

Me, Trav and the gang.

Lodging was provided by our buddy, Jason, who's family has a cabin outside of Enumclaw (incidentally, this was where I proposed to Sarah on New Years Eve, many moons ago). And, smoked ribs were provided by Todd.

The following day, Sarah, Stella, and I went over to my parents with Stella's Uncle Trav and Aunt Meg. I was feeling a little worse for the wear, but its a rare opportunity these days that the entire family is in one place, so it was good to get together.

The Hill Clan, circa 2010.

Finally, on Monday morning, before Trav and Meg had to catch their plane, Stella had a chance to show them around one of her favorite places, The Seattle Children's Museum.

Stella explains how a waterfall works to Travis and Meghan.

Why babies don't usually get to drive buses.

Also, in recent news, yesterday Sarah and I bought Stella a new organizer for her toys. Over the last 17 months, Stella's toys have been slowly taking over the entire house. So, in an attempt to reclaim some floorspace, we bought this handy little shelf organizing system, and rearranged her room so that -despite its small size- it might be a place she'll spend some time and play.

Stella's "new" room... we've moved the crib to the far side of the room to make space for her new Play Corner.

Stella's new Play Corner. Hopefully, this makes her little room more of "her room" and less just somewhere to sleep and get her diaper changed.

We know that -ultimately- it will be a futile struggle, but it's still nice to have our Living Room back for a day or two. And, honestly, it's sort of cute to watch Stella sitting in her little play area, enjoying her room.

As for Stella herself, life has been filled with Highs and Lows. Unfortunately, for Sarah and I, the source of these highs and lows is a mystery known only to Stella. And for every seemingly random outburst of joy there is what we've dubbed a period of "unfocused misery" where from Stella's perspective the Universe is crashing down around her, but from our perspective nothing seems to have changed from the previous 5 minutes.

I think a lot of Stella's frustration stems from the fact that she's starting to get close to talking, and while her array of baby-signs is helpful, they aren't quite letting us know what she reeaallllyy wants us to know. Also, Stella's pretty convinced that she's now an adult, and that we can do away with highchairs, bibs, car-seats and other infantile devices. And that, instead, she should already have her own set of keys, cellphone and be allowed on the computer whenever she wants.

Recently, Sarah and I asked ourselves "what are Stella's favorite toys?" And quickly realized that we weren't sure, because she spend all her time trying to play with our stuff.

They grow up so fast.

Hopefully, in coming weeks, we'll have more to report here. We have another trip to Walla Walla planned, at least one camping trip, and a slew of Birthdays ahead of us. So, we'll definitely be busy at least.