Life and Death… and Life

This annual essay begins with this word and these numbers: Briana.07.01.2017. This is the designation I used to label the file of this document.

Each time I attribute another year to my sister’s name, I wish it could somehow bump the one etched on her gravestone. That way I might have a few more days left with her. While three years have passed since she died, Briana’s presence remains, and in many ways, grows as each day passes. A few years ago, she received a camera—a toy camera called a Diana that was brought back into vogue by the Lomography movement—for Christmas. I inherited the camera after she passed, and it’s been sitting on my desk ever since.

Last month, I decided to load some film into the back of it and take it with me on vacation with my family. That way, in a sense, it was as though Briana was with us. My parents took me and my wife, Rachel, to Paris, bless their hearts, and every time we stood awestruck in front of a stunning piece of art, a historic landmark or marveled at the culinary delights on the plates in front of us, I tried to imagine my sister there, looking through the lens I was looking through. It brought me comfort, and a sense of pride—pride because I knew she would be taking the same photos I was.

When I returned from our trip overseas, I stopped in Valhalla, New York and visited Briana at her grave. I had saved the last photo on my last roll of film for her place of rest.

While using her camera may have allowed me some comfort, and perhaps some perspective, it provided brief brightness to what is a determined darkness. Over the past year, my nightmares have worsened: they’re recurring, and they each involve the same thing: spending time with my sister—who is alive in the dreams—but with the knowledge that she’s about to leave this world. The thing is, while I can talk to her directly in these dreams, if I mention her impending death, to her or to anyone else present, the outcome is still the same. I can’t save her no matter how much I want to or how hard I try.

Perhaps, in some sense, one might find it therapeutic to be able to communicate with dead relatives on the dreamscape; however, the dream version of myself is unable to enjoy the experience. All that he, I, can think about is the fact that my sister is going to die and there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it.

Invariably, the dream version of me begins to weep, my avatar’s subconscious convulsions trigger the muscles of my body and wrench me from my slumber. I wake abruptly, consumed with the feeling of despair, convinced I am weeping—but I am not. I am cold; I am stoic; I am dead. At least that’s how I feel immediately upon waking.

The third year, some say, is the worst. It’s hard to compare. It’s probably pointless to even try.

This week leading up to the third anniversary of my sister’s death is a unique one for multiple reasons, and strangely enough, some of those reasons tend to involve her. It is the week following Episode 8 of “Twin Peaks: The Return,” a stunning masterwork by David Lynch. “Twin Peaks” was Briana’s favorite television show and I have no doubt she would be smitten with the revival series. This episode was very much about death; namely, humanity’s capacity to cause it. This is also the week I am scheduled to lock picture on “No Alternative,” the movie inspired by my sister and her rapping.

There is also something else that makes this time unique: I am expecting my first child.

My wife, Rachel, and I will be having a boy in December. This revelation is both exhilarating and terrifying, and in this case, I’m not sure there’s much of a difference between the emotions. When Briana passed, there was a simultaneous upsurge of some of my closest friends having babies. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the loss of life in my own life by the addition of life in theirs. I felt like the universe had nailed a target to my back; what others gained, I would lose.

The fragility of life is an ever-present concern, given what happened to my sister, and the thought of bringing a child into the world—the world as I understood it—had always seemed a precarious proposition. But what I’m learning, and hope to continue to learn, is that life is an antidote to death. I have no idea what kind of father I’ll be; I just know what kind of father I hope to be, and will do everything in my power to transform that hope into life.

Life is hope, isn’t it?

My sister loved children; she worked with children; she wanted children. I hope my child will get to meet my sister through me, through my family, and through all the wonderful pieces of artwork she left behind for us.

If family is life, and life is an antidote to death, family is something that will never die.

Triptych: The Three Doors

18

July 1st, 2016 marks two years since my sister, Briana, died. It’s surreal to write those words. I promised myself that I would post a piece of writing either about, or inspired by, my sister annually on this date. It is this commitment I honor forthwith.

The grieving process is something that does not end. It’s just not that simple, though I, and others I’m sure, wish it were. It’s akin to the aging process, meaning that we cannot stop it; we must accept it and embrace it as a part of our life. Death, in fact, is as much a part of our lives as life itself. I’ve grown a great deal over the past two years, largely due to the tragic and untimely, passing of Briana. The notion that heartbreaking events put one’s life in perspective is accurate. I have dedicated the past decade of my life to pursuing my dream of making movies. This dedication moved me to Los Angeles, over three thousand miles away from my family, away from my friends, away from my sister. I rarely saw Briana these past ten years, and when I did see her, she was so numbed by drugs in an effort to shield herself from the debilitating effects of her borderline personality disorder that our reunions were limited, disconnected and generally worrisome.

If there’s one thing in life I fear most, it is regret that I fear. Regret is something that terrifies me—will I find myself on my deathbed regretting the choices I made during my tenure in this life? Regret, as both a literary and cinematic theme, consistently weaves its way through my work. It is, perhaps, a bit of an obsession, as any decent artistic theme should be, really. It is also obsession that brought me here to LA in the first place; it is obsession that has fueled my filmmaking pursuits.

My sister and I both shared a love for movies. While I decided to pursue movies as my artistic outlet, she decided to pursue painting, and one of my favorite pieces she created is a triptych of movie theater entrances—those ubiquitous square portals that exist inside a variety of multiplexes worldwide. Movies were, and continue to be, important to my family—the shared experience of going to the movies and watching these emotional rollercoasters on the big screen together and reacting to them collectively, has had a profound effect on me. Briana had a terrific laugh, and we shared many laughs together at the movies (not to mention countless laughs when we both discovered “Da Ali G Show” back in the day). That is why this particular painting—or, rather, three paintings—holds a great deal of meaning for me, and why it hangs on my wall today.

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The entrance to a movie theater is a magical thing: it’s like the door to a spaceship that transports you to worlds you could never fathom existed in other people’s minds. You proceed down a carpeted hallway, within which the unmistakable smell of buttered popcorn wafts through the air, to a succession of doorways, each entrance identical except for the glowing title of the movie that occupies the cavernous room beyond the door that week. Once you sit down in that plush seat, and the light of the projector illuminates itself above you, you are instantly whisked away to an endless number of worlds that stand immune to imaginative limitations.

I am in a business where imaginative limitations are something I stand firmly against. This distaste for such limitations extends to my personal life, particularly in light of the fact that my sister is no longer with us—you see, she is still with us, and it is because of memory and imagination that she is. Behind each of the doors she painted, projects a piece of her life.

In the final paragraph of my novel, “No Alternative,” the dead narrator describes how he would like to be remembered:

I have become the impression that’s perceived by my sister, or that’s how I’d like to be remembered, if given the choice. However Bridget remembers me. The extent of my existence, the part of me that remains and makes a difference, is captured in the colors she uses to paint me on the canvas in her head. And I hope she continues to paint.

It has been difficult for me to regain my focus on filmmaking. Part of the point of my novel was to demonstrate to my sister—while she was still with us—just how devastating it would be to lose a sibling through the realization of how important that sibling relationship is to the characters post-death. In a manner of speaking, the relationship I have with my sister today, post-death, has become more important to me than ever. Briana has become the impression that’s perceived by me. The extent of her existence, the part of her that remains and makes a difference, is captured in the light I use to project her onto the screen in my head.

I’ve made it my mission to use my craft, the craft my sister and I held dear, and every resource I have at my disposal—through both my own means and the goodwill of others—to capture her spirit on film, the film based on my novel, which was inspired by her life. The film is “No Alternative” and I have no alternative but to make it.

William Dickerson is Stephen Fry proof thanks to caching by WP Super Cache