Apr 7, 2010

A Sad Story

Once there was Shawn.

He had long, red-gold hair that he kept back in a neat, rubber-banded braid when he was in a good place, and let flow in long, curling ringlets over his shoulder when he wasn't doing so hot. He had earnest blue eyes, a square jaw, and a dazzling smile. And the most beautiful voice.

When Shawn sang, you felt it. It wasn't just the gold in his tone, the way he could blast open the chapel doors with a single breath. It wasn't only the fact that, at times, you found yourself holding your own breath, almost wishing for your heart to stop so that you wouldn't miss a quiet, melodic moment. The electricity in it was the intensity, how he really felt the emotion. And he made you feel it, too.

Imagine a 9-year-old girl, watching this man perform on a cultural-hall stage. I can't remember what it was he sang; all I knew was that it was right. That this was the way to sing. Everything a singer ought to be, everything a song ought to be... it was there in that cultural hall.

9-year-old me was a timid, shy person. But I went up to braided-haired Shawn on that first day I saw him sing, and asked to shake his hand. I remember he told me I that the dress I wore was pretty. I was embarrassed at the compliment but I still remember that the dress was blue, with three ruffles in the skirt and large, dark-blue roses on it. That's the other thing about Shawn-- he saw everyone as a person. He was deeply aware of the feelings and needs of every person around him, and when he was capable of it, he was the most charitable person you could find. He was all heart.

My mom warned me against making him my idol. He has problems, she said. He's got a wonderful voice, and no doubt he was a wonderful person, but he was not someone to get attached to. He had issues, and knowing him or loving him could be a painful thing.

Those of you who know my mom know what she is. She cannot help but reach out to those around her, in spite of her own better judgment sometimes. Her heart is her greatest strength and also her greatest weakness. Shawn ended up a frequent guest in our home, close to our family, like a beloved younger brother to my mother. Over the next few years, Shawn became my friend, too. We shared a passion for singing. He saw it in me and respected it, despite my childish-and teenager-ish-ness. He encouraged me, listened respectfully, and sang with me, letting loose as much as he ever did when he sang alone. It was an amazing thing, to sing with him... his voice carried mine like a current, made it something more special, made me feel as if I knew where I wanted to go and what I wanted to be someday.

My dad plays piano as a hobby. He has a big book of Cat Stevens songs, and a big book of Bob Dylan (his favorite), and a book of Country and Gospel classics, and a book of songs from musicals. That's what we sang back then, Dad and I, and what Shawn sang when he came over. Shawn sang "Don't Be Shy," and "Rocky Mountain High," and "Stars," and "Music of the Night," while we all listened, enraptured.

He'd come over in all of his various states. He was never manic that I saw... not in the sense I've heard mania to be. But he did come over when he was clearly depressed. And one time he came with his arms in casts, after being in a treatment facility for a month.

And he sang, with casts on his arms.

When I think of Shawn, that's what I remember. A man so beautiful it hurt to be around him.

At his mother and father's funeral, the first funeral I ever attended, he came to the podium with his hair loose, and expressed his frustration and anger, and then stalked out of the chapel. It was the first time I saw that side of him. It was scary, because he was someone I related to in such a unique way. But I had no idea how to relate to that.

My mom gave him a talking-to somewhere around this time, when he sank into a depression so black and awful he couldn't even get out of bed. Frustrated, she told him to get up and start to take his meds, or something like that. She reminded him of his daughter, and how she needed him.

He called her back and yelled at her and she cried afterward. And then a few days later apologized, and came over and sang, as he always had.

But this was the last straw for me. I couldn't see him the same way anymore. Part of it was likely the fact I was growing up, and I no longer saw the world in black-and white--people, either. I realized that, while he was beautiful, he was also dangerous to get too close to, like the sun. My Mom had been right from the very first... loving him was not the wisest idea. In a way I was relieved when he moved away not long after these events.

But he was such a part of me. And my family. I think of that upright Yamaha that used to sit against the wall by where our kitchen used to be before the big remodel, and he inevitably is in the picture, standing, singing.

I wanted him to come sing at my first wedding. He "couldn't come," but he sent me a hand-painted card. I understood. And I was grateful. The card, to me, says what a song would have, and I have it forever to remember him by, now.

My mom called me tonight to tell me he died yesterday. He took his life... something we have all been half-expecting,and half hoping would never happen. We all had hope that something would happen to turn things around for him, to make it better. To spiral him back up out of his difficulties.

This is not a big surprise. But that doesn't mean something inside of me isn't breaking a little at this moment.

So... prayers for Julie, Prayers for Madison.

And in memory:

your voice, your card; what I have left of you.

We love you, Shawn.


Anonymous said...

thank you Sarah. You said what I couldn't. Love, Mom

Putz said...

you and youre' mom so alike>>>so for the non mainstream kind of person>>> so loving <<<>>very talented, very troubled >>>some say he was too good for this world>>>i would say that he was too good for this awful world, as was his mother jeanne who also committed suicide{did a post of her}needless to sqay i enjoyed your words of love for him>>>i think i would have liked to have been your feriend in high school no saurf

Putz said...

your blog totally crucified my comment>>>part left out was my cousin tommy who committed suicide while talking to his daughter on the phone, 35 years old and then>>>so loving so talented etc etc etc

KrishasKrew said...

What a sweet tribute to a man, that like so many of us lived life the best he new how with the challenges given. I will always remember how your family sat in the pew in front of us every Sunday, and the Dennis family sat behind us. There are so many amazing memories of him singing-one of my favorite is when he sang Love on Another in Sacrament Meeting, I forget the name of the brother that accompanied him on the guitar, I just remember how a simple song sounded so amazing. I too remember the day of his Moms memorial and the depth of his words and sorrow for his mother, and then leaving the chapel. That is so wonderful that you have a recording of him singing- He was blest with an amazing talent!

NoSurfGirl said...

Krisha-- feel free to take it (if you can...I'm not sure how the online thing works.)

he recorded a CD with a lot of songs a few years ago. My mom has a copy... maybe could send one your way if you wanted.

michele said...

Wow, I loved listening to that song! You are right about his singing voice. So good. I played it about three times, thanks for sharing! I'm sorry to hear about his passing.

merrilykaroly said...

You are a beautiful writer. That was a beautiful tribute to who your friend was.

a girl called dallan said...

Heartbreaking. Thanks for helping me remember how treasured those with mental illness can be by truly loving people.