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?"

"Tyler."

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.

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

Our thoughts are with you with your loss. Love, Aunt M and Uncle R

Anonymous said...

Thank you Tyler. Your thoughts and feelings are one with mine. Like you, I want my son and friend back too. Phil Kohut

The General said...

Aunt Mary and Uncle Raleigh, thanks for the kind words and thoughts.

Phil, though I'm saddened by the loss of my friend, I can only imagine how you and Lindsey must be feeling. Though I wish it were under better circumstances, I look forward to seeing you this Saturday.

Amanda said...

Tyler,

I am not sure that we have met, but I am Tyler's cousin Amanda. Reading your post has brought joy and tears to my eyes. I love and miss Tyler so much; we were close - although, being younger, I still think I only knew one, smaller side of him. He was an amazing cousin and today, especially I miss him as my brother, Adam just turned 21. Tyler and Adam had this humor that just seemed to feed off of each other. Today was one of those days that you would prepare yourself for an "ab workout" because you would be laughing so hard.

I loved reading the stories you have about Ty and seeing the pictures as they represented so much more of who he was.... his friends, college, and life outside of his family. It helps to fade out the darkness that has been looming overhead and shine in a happy, loving, positive light for us to remember Ty as he truly was.

I look forward meeting you next weekend to celebrate Tyler's life and remember how he has left an imprint that will last in our hearts forever. Thank you again for your kind, thoughtful words.

Sincerely,
Amanda Hicks

Austin said...

I am so sorry.

The General said...

Amanda, thanks for the message. I look forward to meeting you and Adam this weekend.

Austin, thanks.

Anonymous said...

Tyler,

Your words paint a picture of a wonderful friendship and a wonderful person. Our thoughts and prayers are with you and the Kohut family. Thank you for taking the time to write about your friendship and feelings during such a difficult time.

Many of us know Tyler simply as "Kohut". Kohut truly possessed one of the best smiles and personalities I have ever known. He will be missed dearly.

God bless.

Keith Clear

The General said...

Thanks, Kieth, I appreciate everything you had to say. I hope you, Stacey and your family are doing well.

Nate said...

Tyler,

Thanks so much for spending the time to write such a beautiful story. I could visualize every word and you explain some of the very same confused feelings that me and everyone else have had since. I am sorry for our loss.

Tyler was of the best friends I ever had who, among a handful of us were a tight-knit crew of best friends who learned to do everything together since 1st grade: biking, skating, army games, dirt bikes, skiing, ...e-brakes in cars, and of course trying to draw like Tyler, but not a chance!

I too want my friend back and I look forward to hanging out with you again this weekend.

Thanks again,
-Nate

The General said...

Nate, it'll be good to see you too. Talk to you then!

Anonymous said...

I'm Tyler's mom's cousin, Marilyn. I wanted to let you know that I'm so sorry for your loss, and share in your heartbreak, even though I only met him a few times. His mother Robin was my absolute favorite cousin growing up, and I treasured our visits up to Seattle to visit Robin, Mike and my Aunt Mick and Uncle Smitty. I was in Robin and Phil's wedding. I named one of my daughters after Robin. I was heartbroken after Robin died, and I always hoped that her kids and Phil would be ok. Tyler seems like a great guy, and I wish I had known him better. Tyler looks so much like our side of the family, and I love the pictures you posted in remembrance of him. You are a good friend to have shared your memories with everyone.

Emily said...

Beautiful post, Tyler. You're a very talented writer and even though I was only lucky enough to meet the "other" Tyler a few times, it was really nice getting to know him better through your post. Wonderful memories. So sorry for your loss and am thinking about you guys every day. xoxo

aly prestel said...

Tyler, I am sure this blog entry was very difficult to type. I am so sorry to hear of Tyler's passing, and I'm very sorry for what you're left with as he is gone. Please find peace in his passing and fondness in his memories. I am so saddened to say this, but he wouldn't want you nor his family to get caught in HOW he left; just remember WHAT he left and his spirit that you are now part of! My thoughts are with you, I wish you peace too, Tyler. Fondly, Aly Prestel

The General said...

Marilyn, Emily and Aly, thanks for the thoughts and condolences. They are, as always, appreciated.

Jennifer Forland said...

oh Tyler. I'm so sorry. I knew you both in Bellingham through my best friend Ang, who was in classes with the other Tyler. I will let her know as well and I know she will be really sad.

The General said...

Hi Jennifer, I think I remember you from Bellingham. Good to hear form you and thanks for the condolences. Sorry you had to learn of his passing through a blog entry.

Nick Stoll said...

Maybe I was not paying close attention to Facebook when this happened. Now reading, I'm very sorry that your friend passed.

My best friend passed away in May 2005 climbing Mt. Rainier. I was blindsided and still struggle with it. I miss him dearly and wonder what he thinks of me as a person now. I also wonder where he'd be in life.

The General said...

Hey Nick,

Sorry to hear about your own loss too. Yeah, even after a couple years, I still find myself dealing with a lot of "why"s and "what if"s. Definitely one of life's tougher challenges.

Hope you are doing well.

Rachel Duncan said...

I came across your blog because I was looking for Tyler on Facebook to say hello after all this time- I found a book he made me that was pretty hilarious- knowing him he probably wouldn't want to reconnect, but I was going to try anyway- We dated for a bit around 96' after a Mexico trip- I am so sad to hear about how his life turned out and I am so very sorry for your loss. I have a terrible memory but I definitely remember him being wildly creative and funny and incredibly sweet. Thank you for your blog.

The General said...

Hi Ray,

Good to hear from you. I remember the weeks (months?) you spent living with Kohut and I (and I think that Kohut's crazy pizza delivery friend and/or my brother might have been living there too) up in Bellingham! Sorry you had to learn about his passing through my blog post, but I appreciate hearing from you and hope that things are going well for you these days. I know that things ended a little roughly between the two of you, but for what it is worth he never spoke poorly of you in the years afterward, when you came up in conversation. Take care.

Ashley said...

Hi, my name is Ashley. I'm not sure if you remember me, Tyler and I were close 2005, 2006. We spent far too many nights hanging out at Summit Tavern drinking too much and talking too late into the night. I'd been going through some old letters and what not and I came across some art work Tyler had done for me. I was googling him to see if any of his other works were still online, and I came across your blog post. I'd read it when I first heard about Tyler, but wasn't really in a place to process it, it was too raw and too hurtful. Looking back at this it's still hard to process, but I really love just seeing how loved he was and still is.

I still think about him, and still miss him. I'm not sure why after all this time I'm sharing this, I just thought you probably know how I feel. I hope you're doing well.

The General said...

Hi Ashley,
Thanks for your message. I definitely understand how you feel. One of the good things that has come from me writing this entry years ago is continuing to hear from people from throughout Kohut's life and seeing how loved he was and how missed he is. While I'm sorryI don't remember you off hand, I'm sure we likely spent one night all hanging out together at the Summit. Hope this message finds you well.