Another Update From a Friend

This blog update is brought to you by the mind of Hannah Rae. She is one of my closest friends and my guitar player. However, she states pretty well all of that in the following “few” paragraphs. It is all beautifully written and crafted with much deliberation. Enjoy.

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Mass Effect

First, some context: my memories of Jason Garden prior to his illness are vague. Like a collage of images you compile, which then makes the person. I don’t really remember “Jay”, I remember his beard; his constant black toque; a taupe, or light brown corduroy (?) jacket. I see someone reliable behind the wheel of a car making it to wherever you need him to be. I think constant presence despite distance or absence. I see the store Jay managed. If I close my eyes, Jay is behind me, to my right, crashing cymbals. Jay’s a snare and kick drum that feels like it’s glued to the bass line. Jay is steady. Jay is constant. Jay is, and Jay was, a rock.

The first phone call I received with news about Jason Garden’s uncharacteristic absence went sort of like this, “I finally found out what happened to Jay… he’s in a coma.” I was in my fifth term of film school, Jay was the primary financial backer of my short film project and he’d gone missing. There hadn’t been any phone contact. There had been no coffee visits on my weekend sojourns home to Cambridge, no endless cigarette smoking, or conversations about music, or all the movies Jay hadn’t seen. Upon receiving the news I remember cracking a joke like, “how selfish of him.” We both laughed. I remember thinking how indefinite that sounded. A coma. People wake up from those all the time. Jay can bounce back any minute. I shrugged it off. Admittedly, there was minimal thought given to Jay’s family, or Jay himself. He’d be okay. He’d have to be. My thoughts centered on how Jay’s condition would affect me. After all, I had a short film to consider financing, and the peripheral view of a band in need of Jay’s drumming.

The second phone call, maybe a week and a bit later, was completely different. “Jay’s not going to get better.” It hit like a locomotive. Gone was the rock. I remember standing because the couch I was on didn’t feel stable. I cried my guts out. I paced the apartment, from the washroom to the living room getting more Kleenex to blow my nose. Once I was coherent, I called home to Rob, a mutual friend, and gave him the news. He’d drive up from Cambridge that night, and we’d visit Jay in the hospital. I called Chance Procedure’s bass player, Stephen, and had an incredibly frank and depressing conversation in which it was decided he could come up the following day with his roommate, Dave. It was to become a two-day visiting period, which was really to be a goodbye.

What I think of when I remember that shaky time is Mass Effect the video game series. As Rob and I walked through the lobby of the Toronto Western Hospital of Neuroscience I saw people sitting in this sterile, huge-ceilinged, remotely futuristic lobby holding what I assumed were deep conversations in white chairs. Someone was announcing something I didn’t care to hear over the P.A. system. I turned and told Rob how I felt like I was in Huerta Memorial Hospital in Mass Effect 3 going to visit a fallen squad member. Amusingly, he replied, “that’s funny. I spent my afternoon battling the Collectors in Mass Effect 2, and then spent another 2 hours battling the collectors driving to Toronto.” It was levity, and all of it to really say that none of this felt real.

Before we even got to see Jay, we ran into still more people visiting him. I was struck by how many there were. I thought of myself, how my funeral would never have that many people. Selfish. I’d never met Jay’s mom or dad before. I’d only heard of some of his friends, and briefly met others. Who cared? Jay would always be around for coffee, and he’d always drive to my house if I needed him. I had no idea Jay knew so many people, and so many people thought the same thing. This event was developing the sensation of being far larger than I had previously been ready to accept. Mass Effect, indeed.

The hospital staff was allowing only small groups back to see him. When I finally got back there reality, and grim finality, sunk in. I saw him through glass first. My first thought reached for a cinematic concept, for something intelligible that could interpret a fact so foreign from how I knew Jay: I smiled nobly thinking Jay was more machine than man now. Just like Darth Vader. In my heart, however, gone was the consistency of the snare drum. He’d been replaced by a steady beep of a respirator. My thoughts, again, turned to myself. This shell before me did not resemble my memory of him at all. Where was my drummer? It was a crude mockery. Frailty transformed one of the firmest handshakes I’d ever had into this lifeless husk. Beep. Beep. Beep. Here lay my fallen squad-mate, team member, and friend, never to come along on another mission.

I didn’t stick around long. I needed air. A cigarette. I didn’t have any other pop culture references to make sense of something quickly becoming far too painful to stick around for. I got the hell out of a warm hospital room to go sit in the freezing November night to smoke my lungs to death and cry at everything for taking something special from me. I freely admit my thoughts hinged on how this affected me. Who was going to drum for Chance Procedures? Who was going to be my friend? On my way out the main doors I passed Jay’s father. Through tears I told him, “your son is one of the most amazing men I’ve ever met.” I was mad. At him, I suppose. If I’m being honest, I was mad at everything. Through shaky vocal cords, Rick Garden responded, “tell him that.” Like it would make a difference. That first time I was afraid to touch Jay. Maybe I’d make him sicker? Maybe I’d somehow, inconceivably, caused this? How selfish of me to conclude that. My first awareness of the effects of Jay’s illness was to worry about myself.

The second time we visited, Rob and I brought two of Jay’s friends, Stephen and Dave, who couldn’t otherwise have made it. I was more prepared and ready to be supportive for Stephen who was not taking it well. I remember waiting in the waiting room to go see Jay, Stephen saying to me, “you realize we don’t have a drummer anymore, right?” The effect of Jay’s coma seemed a little bigger, more visceral, more massive and all encompassing the second time around. Stephen was thinking the same thing I was. Was this the day the music died? I had this hint of hope though, “he could still pull through.” I remember we went in to see him, and it was thought it would be a nice gesture; maybe it’d wake Jay up, if they pumped a Chance Procedures song into the room while Stephen and I were present. “Weird Science”. That was unbearable. This steady human being; the rock seated behind me, drumming loudly to my right, now, this bedridden shell in front of me with tubes coming out of him. Again, I had to leave the room. Afterward, Stephen remarked how weird all of that was. How alienating it was to see Jay like that. Weird Science, indeed.

This time I made sure I did go in to see Jay. And I did talk to him. And, even through all my selfish concerns I gripped his hand. I remember this momentary thought of: is what he has contagious? Change is not swift in the heart. I was told his heart rate would travel and fluctuate if Jay was particularly moved, or a neuron fired or whatever. I looked at that heart monitor, and as I talked I never saw it fluctuate. But others had said they’d made it change, but not me. Selfish. I had this visual of Jay laying face up in a boat on a body of water. The boat was tethered to a dock I was standing on, and I was doing my best, hoping I could get him to reel himself in through sheer force of my presence and will. I don’t know if that’s an image I got from a movie, or wherever. But I remember clearly thinking despite the strong words of hopeful encouragement, “you’re not waking up, are you? You’re leaving me here.” Selfish.

Rob and I visited a few times over that period. The consensus was known; this was Jay’s last hurrah, basically. This was a wake. Recollections suddenly stormed in of things Jay had said that justified what was about to happen. Once Jay said, “I’ve completed everything save two (?) things on my bucket list.” His dad remarked, “he’s going out with a bang.” So strong, I thought. You’re about to consent to have your son’s plug pulled and you’re actually finding a silver lining? I was awestruck. I remember barely ever seeing Jay’s mom, Chris. “Where’s Chris?” She was in the chapel praying. I remember, for the first time, watching Rob disappear from the crowd. And I found him outside smoking a cigarette, and admitting he’d just called his mom and cried his eyes out. “I just needed my mommy,” he said.

I met people crying. I finally met Jay’s brother, the enigmatic “Dave”. Slowly, I started to see how Jay’s impending demise affected the world beyond myself. Sufjan Stevens’ “Casimir Pulaski Day” became the soundtrack of my life for this time. That and the steady inhale of cigarette after cigarette. My mind opened, and I felt what that songwriter had felt to some degree. Coping with an inexplicable loss. Things seemed connected. Things made some sort of broken sense, even on such shaky, inconsistent ground. I thought of how many people I’d suddenly met, and for the first time seen cry, and the world beyond myself grew as a very close friend’s life dimmed. I started thinking of what Jay’s funeral would look like. Stephen and I had discussed performing an acoustic Chance Procedures song. It was surreal. He wasn’t officially gone, yet here we were making plans to mourn him. Outward acceptance, for me, was fighting with this inward hope that Jay would pull through. But the human heart needs stability, consistency, and something solid to stand on in order to have coherence. It was more likely Jay was gone, and I should come to terms with that. That was about as stable and coherent as it was going to get.

And then I got news that Jay woke up. Seriously. Talk about subverting expectations. I’d gone home to Cambridge at the end of that school term feeling like a failure at having lost my chance to make a short film, about to go into a Christmas of heavy emotions and loss. And wham. What you think is going to happen? Doesn’t happen; the mark of a great story.

When I returned to Toronto in January it was for my final term of school, and I was met with the coldest winter I’d yet experienced. My life at this time became wholly unstable. Honestly, a lot happened, and my memory of things is hazy. I genuinely remember trekking the 5 or 6 blocks through the freezing cold to see an awakened Jay. I remember using that as my excuse to get away from an increasingly confusing and unstable situation. I was thankful for Jay, because no matter how difficult my life seemed to be, here was a person I could literally see in worse shape than I was. (No offense, Jay).

When I came home to Cambridge to stay, I believe it wasn’t long after that Jay’s recovery had made it such that he was in Cambridge Memorial Hospital. There was something so very inspiring about the fact that months prior we were preparing to bury Jay. And now I was joking with him about his poor handshaking skills. I remember a lot of sadness, for both Jay and I. It’s interesting how well I’d thought I’d known Jason Garden. Due to a rather unique set of circumstance, both Jay and I were in extremely vulnerable moments in our life. For the first time, this rock-solid drummer I’d had to muster the courage to ask to drum for my band was unable to keep his guard up. I saw Jay cry. I saw Jay admit weakness. Suddenly things were being shared between Jay and I that probably never would have otherwise have been shared. I came out as Transgender to Jay in that hospital. He was one of the first. It strikes me now how this person I’d associated with stability was teaching me how to never count on anything. How even the most stable of situations could change at any moment. It wasn’t a huge component of my decision to come out, but it helped knowing that my best friend could have died, but didn’t, and that to continuously live a lie might actually get in the way of being affected by a person, and in turn affecting them.

I can say that there was a status quo to my life before Jay fell ill. A set of constructed ideas of the world and how it worked, and thanks in no small part to Jay falling ill those got destroyed. The miracle of Jay’s recovery, watching him get carted from hospital to hospital and having constant trouble keeping up, and going to visit Jay only to see him change, and improve with each visit was astonishing. I’m sure for Jay change was not quite so extravagant or quick. For me, after Jay’s illness all was in a state of flux. My life, and Jay’s recovery. I can say emphatically that now, today, almost a year later, I know Jason Garden a lot better than I did prior to his illness. And, fortunately or unfortunately, I know myself a lot better than I did prior to his illness. In that way, Jay’s illness marks a chapter where my own personal life’s story changes in a different, unexpected direction. All the way through his recovery, no matter how dark, or sad my own life got, Jay brightened each day regardless of his ambivalence or improvement.

Prior to illness, Jay makes up a scattered, bizarre nonsensical collage of memories that add up to certain themes. Jay was my drummer. Now, Jay’s one of my best friends. That’s Mass Effect.

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