Today is not a normal day. It may be, to most of the world; but it’s simply not, and it never will be again. A year ago today, we lost a musician, a scientist, a counselor, a friend, and my fraternal Brother, Alicia. I’ve mentioned her in a few posts on my blog and thought about her while posting a few others, but this post is dedicated solely to the memory of her, how I feel about her death, and how it affected and is still affecting my life.
This post is not like my other ones, which deal with light hearted matters, Star Wars, my everyday life, and occasionally have me pondering deeper things. This post dives into my soul, my part in this story bigger than myself, and deals with death, one of the hardest topics for people to discuss. If it makes you uncomfortable to read about death, handle raw emotions, hear about religion, or listen to my rambling, the rest of the post may be difficult. It’s a lot of things, though, that have been bottled up for far too long, things I couldn’t say, and things that I couldn’t put into words until now. Understand my need to get some of it out. If you don’t read it, I understand. But…. I would like for you to.
September 14, 2011.
We had marching band rehearsal that Wednesday. Something was just… off. It was cloudy, which wasn’t too unusual. Slackers were not in rehearsal, as usual. But… Some people weren’t there. I noticed the absence of my friend and Brother Matt because he played saxophone with me. It weighed on my mind and worried me, because he never missed rehearsal. After band, Kappa Kappa Psi was holding interviews to get to know some of the prospective members. Matt was not there, and neither was Alicia. It was highly, highly unusual. But I didn’t think much of it, and neither did anyone else.
Later that night, I was practicing tenor sax. I was playing Auld Lange Syne, I remember. Something…. I don’t even recall what it was…. Made me leave my practice room and go into the practice room hallway. I saw my friend Stirling, also a sax player. He had a grim look.
“Hey Stirling, what’s wrong?”
“I know why Matt wasn’t in rehearsal today.”
Oh no. He’s sick. He’s hurt. He was in a car accident. Someone happened with his family. Something’s wrong. Oh no….
I will never forget my first thought. ‘Thank God, Matt’s okay.’
Immediately following. ‘No. No. Oh God, no!’
I walked into the main hallway. Stirling followed. Tears streaming down my face, I asked how. He didn’t know. I asked to be left alone, and he left. I couldn’t stay there though. I walked, then hurried, then sprinted out the door into the pouring rain. I ran out, around the corner of Frasier, leaned against the wall, and sobbed.
‘It’s not true. It can’t be. She’s… She’s going to come here, right now, put her arms around me and ask what’s wrong. She will. She’s going to. Where is she? Dead… Oh God, no, this isn’t happening….’
‘Matt… That’s where he was today. They are- were- best friends.’
‘I can’t… Believe it….’
‘Sitting out here in the rain crying…. This is probably the most cinematic moment that has ever happened in my life.’
‘This can’t be happening.’
I went back in a few minutes later, after I had pulled myself together a bit. I found Andrea, who had also found out. I couldn’t process what was happening. Andrea asked to be taken to her boyfriend’s house because she wanted to be with him. Numbly I drove her there through the rain, dropped her off, and drove aimlessly. Eventually I parked near a park and sat quietly, numb and shocked, until almost midnight. Then I did what most people do when they’re upset- I called my parents.
The phone rang, rang, rang, rang. Then my mother spoke, groggy and confused.
“Hi Mom!” I was surprised at how calm I sounded.
“Oh… hi Rachel… What’s up?”
“I love you.”
“I- I love you.”
“Rachel, what’s wrong?”
I broke again, and my poor parents were forced to listen to me crying with no way of comforting me. I talked to them for nearly a half an hour, intermittently crying and talking about Alicia. They surfed the internet, trying to see if there were any articles or anything to indicate what happened. There was nothing.
During my talk with them, Ashley texted me and told me to come over to her house. When I was done talking to my parents, I drove over there and found half of our chapter already there. We all hugged, cried, and when more of us came over, it was the same thing. The tears, shock, denial, everything. Most of our chapter ended up being there for a few minutes, until most of us split and went back to respective houses, dorms and apartments. If one good thing came out of this, it was our Brotherhood. We all called, texted, and checked to make sure everyone had someone with them for the days and weeks following.
What you need to understand before this next part in the story is that at the time of Alicia’s death, I was not religious. I have identified as agnostic for most of my life, acknowledging a higher power but not “God” per say. After most of the chapter left, Rose and I stayed at Ashley and Aryn’s house. My head was hurting from lack of sleep and stress, so I went out to my car to get some Advil from my glove box. I sat at the wheel for a few minutes. With no warning at all, I threw my head back and started screaming at God. How could he take Alicia away from us? How the hell could he take someone away who had so much going for her? The agony ripped through me as I screamed at Him. And then…. Do you know the feeling you get when you’re upset with someone and yelling at them, but they still hug you and try to make you feel better anyway, even when they know they hurt you? I felt it inside me, like I was being hugged and comforted through my outburst. I calmed down and cried, and Ashley came out to find me a few minutes later. I have no logical explanation for what happened then.
I couldn’t bear to go to classes Thursday, my longest, hardest day of the week. I emailed my teachers about the situation, and they were all understanding, which I’ll always be thankful for. I spent the next day with Ashley and Aryn mostly, and Andrea. But then I went to concert band. Our director somberly told the band about Alicia, and I began to cry again. And again at marching band, when he told us then. I have never cried this much in all of my life.
At marching band, it was rainy, bleak, and grey. But at the end of rehearsal, the clouds parted, and over our field was a huge, beautiful double rainbow. We all said, and I believe it’s true, that Alicia sent us the rainbow to let us know that she is okay.
As the days and the weeks passed, I could feel myself going through the stages of grief that psychologists always talk about. It was actually kind of amusing when I realized that’s exactly what was happening to me, that I was healing through my pain. I went through all of the stages and found myself about to reach acceptance….
I suddenly regressed back into the stage of guilt.
When she passed, we all went and changed our Facebook profile pictures to ones of us with her. And then that’s when I realized that there were two pictures of us together- one where we’re marching and you can’t really see either of us, and our Kappa class picture, where she and I are standing next to each other, and mostly everyone in our class is arm in arm with each other. The only two photos. I started hunting through my computer for any pictures of us together. The guy who did the marching band video at the end of the season also asked me for any pictures of her that I had, so I also hunted for those. I tore Andrea’s and my room apart looking for memory cards that didn’t exist. At the end, I came up with ten photos of her, and none of us together. None at all. Like we weren’t friends. There really wasn’t a way of being able to tell, not through pictures at least, my medium of art. I had failed at my job as the marching band photographer, the unofficial KKPsi photographer, and I had failed Alicia.
I hated myself for it.
Over the following months, I began obsessing over my photographer’s job. I took 50+ pictures a day for marching band rehearsals, and literally thousands of pictures over the course of the season. I obsessed with getting pictures of groups together. If I forgot my camera, I would be angry with myself. I obsessively took pictures of myself with my friends. I took pictures all the time. And lots of them turned out pretty well. There was always a need, this crazy need, to be taking photos when I was with a group of people, to document all of our lives together. During marching band, when the band would play in the stands during breaks, I would be running up and down the stands with my camera. I was completely disregarding that I should have devoted some time to the saxophone, and playing it while in the stands or at rehearsals.
Somewhere in this time frame, I officially decided to become an art major, and do photography. It made sense. Total sense. There were so many pictures to be taken. As I pushed forward, compiling a portfolio, writing essays, and such, I couldn’t help but feel a bit depressed. I had hoped to re-audition for the saxophone studio, because I hadn’t made it in the first two times I had auditioned…. Simply because of my lack of confidence, and lack of experience. But no big deal. Photography was my calling now.
One day that sticks out to me was the day I went on a hike. I wanted to take some good quality photos, so I borrowed Andrea’s Nikon (this was before my Canon) and headed up into the good old Rocky Mountains. I took pictures of the river, of the Aspen leaves that were changing, all sorts of things. There was a calmness in my mind that I hadn’t felt in a while when I was taking pictures. There was no pressure for the pictures; they were fun to take. As I look back now, I realize that I wasn’t feeling pressured to take pictures of anyone, but I was doing it for fun. I hadn’t done that in a long time.
Another day that sticks out to me…. It was the end of the marching band season banquet. Our band director took a compilation of my pictures, our video editor’s pictures, and a friend of the band’s pictures and printed several of them out. They were laid out on a table, and as people ate and waited for the awards to start, they could go over and find pictures of themselves to take and keep. I couldn’t go over there. I had seen most of the pictures already, seeing as I took about 90% of them. Everyone complimented me on the quality of my photos, but all of the praise was ruined by two comments. One that was directed at me, and one that I wasn’t supposed to hear. The one that I wasn’t supposed to hear was someone mentioning to her friend that she was disappointed that there was only one photo of her out there. The other was an acquaintance of mine half-jokingly saying that she had only found two pictures of herself on the table and that I probably should have taken more. I nodded, smiled and apologized, then headed for the door. Adam and Drew both saw me and tried to stop me to ask what was wrong. I pushed past them, went into the bathroom, and cried for ten minutes straight. If that’s not an indication that I was not entirely stable while making my decision to be an art major, then I don’t know what is.
November 27, 2011.
My parents, sister, brother-in-law and I were driving back up from Denver, where we were visiting my grandparents for their 50th wedding anniversary. My parents were talking, Becky and Colt were asleep, and I was staring out the window towards the sun, which would be setting in a few minutes. The rays burst through the clouds, illuminating the air gold where it touched. It is much like the photo that I have posted for today, only more golden, glorious… radiant.
My mom told me when I was a kid that she always felt like those rays was God bringing people’s souls into Heaven. I sat there and wondered who had died, whose soul was being raised. Then, almost like a whisper, in my mind….“It’s not your fault.” It was almost like I had thought it, but I hadn’t been consciously thinking of Alicia. I have no logical explanation to offer for that, except that Alicia was telling me that it was okay. It truly wasn’t my fault that I hadn’t gotten many pictures of her, and none of us together. She wasn’t mad at me for it, so I should stop being mad at myself.
I realized then that I had chosen photography as my major as a way to compensate for not having enough pictures of Alicia. I also realized it was okay for me to get over the guilt, and yet, I couldn’t let go. I got it, I understood it, but I wasn’t getting over it. Months later, I still was, and sometimes still am, suffering from the effects of my irrational guilt.
However, I fully recognize the point that I realized that this was why I had chosen to be photography major, and what I did to get back on track to my dream of being a band director. I emailed the saxophone professor at UNC and asked to take lessons with his grad assistant, and chose to play bari in Lab IV and tenor in Lab V. The significance of this is that usually people don’t double lab bands because of the work load that comes with it, unless they’re really devoted. A more important aspect of this is that I dropped an art class that I need to take for my art major, in order to be a member of Lab IV. I spent a lot of last semester wondering if I was going to do art or music, and stalled on registering for classes. But, I figured it out and made my decision. I went to my class schedule, dropped my art classes, and added the music classes I need to take. I’m not in the music school… yet. But I am working on it. And I will get in this time. And she would be glad for me.
I can’t say that I’m over Alicia’s death. I don’t know if I will ever be able to say I am. Someone that you love dying is not something that you can just “get over,” even though it would be easier and less painful. It’s something that you learn to live with, and in a way becomes part of who you are.
….Alicia, I miss you. It’s like I said on your Facebook wall, just a few weeks ago… Sometimes it’s easier, and sometimes it’s as hard as it was in the week after you left us. What bugs me now is that we were just about to become so much closer. I could feel it. When I left Old Chicago’s after we all hung out the Sunday before you left us, I remember thinking…. ‘She and I are going to get so much closer this year. And I’m so excited.’ It was the last time I saw you, and I treasure it and all of our other times together. I’m also sorry we never got to make our lasagna cupcakes! Thank you so much for always being my friend and making sure that I was okay, before you really knew me, and even after you left us. I love you and I miss you, Alicia.
Here are posts that relate to Alicia.
Not the same rainbow as Alicia’s, but still makes me think of her: https://myownphotoproject.wordpress.com/2011/12/09/day-5-good-day-at-band/
Kappa’s memorial ribbon: https://myownphotoproject.wordpress.com/2012/01/16/day-43-ribbon-on-fedora/
The balloon release photos: https://myownphotoproject.wordpress.com/2012/03/18/day-105-ribbon/
Our newest Kappa class makes me think of Alicia, and how involved she would have been: https://myownphotoproject.wordpress.com/2012/02/18/day-75-new-members/
At the Summit: https://myownphotoproject.wordpress.com/2012/02/24/day-79-at-the-summit/
This was taken at the park where her memorial service was held: https://myownphotoproject.wordpress.com/2012/03/17/day-104-hidden-treasure/
Reflecting on my obsessive desire to take photos: https://myownphotoproject.wordpress.com/2012/07/01/day-209-sunrise-over-the-platte/
A rainbow at band, and appreciating the little things in life: https://myownphotoproject.wordpress.com/2012/09/09/day-273-rainbow/
My memorial ribbon on my camera bag: https://myownphotoproject.wordpress.com/2012/09/10/day-276-ribbon-on-camera-case/