|Abundance and Loss
by Tina Pilonetti
"No one knows our name until our last breath goes out." Rumi
Jeanette Winterson asks in
the first line of her novel Written on the Body, "Why is the
measure of love loss?" The event that occurred
Like the tragedy of
Last night I dreamt that
she was with me again.
The truth reads like a horror story. Grotesque, violent, nightmarish. My best friend and soulmate for the past 10 years was brought to her death at the hands of a stranger, or so the story goes. Stabbed. To death. Blunt injuries to the face, neck, and chest. There are so few details at this point in the story that the mind begins to create answers for itself, to picture the possibilities, to imagine repeatedly what might have happened. To continue turning roadblocks and dead-ends into other imaginings of what might have been. The facts as I know them have been told me by the only person her friend talked to before calling the police.
Police and media reports say that on the morning of Friday, April 26th, 2002, Jocelyn B Sandberg was returning home from a concert in Boulder, CO with a friend. Not half a block from her house, a man supposedly walked in front of the car Jocelyn was driving. She many have almost clipped him. She may have had to stop short. A neighbor says she heard loud car brakes that woke her from sleep. Not unusual in the busy college area of downtown Colorado Springs. Not unusual on a late Thursday night, Friday morning. It had to have been after 2:30 a.m. and before 4:30 a.m. An altercation allegedly ensued at the car. My friend, Jocelyn, would have first apologized or tried to de-escalate the situation, I believe. The stranger threw a rock at the car. Jocelyn got out. There was a confrontation. Maybe the dialogue was, "Listen motherfucker, donít take this out on my friendsí car, if you have a problem with me, deal with me, not the car." I was told he pushed her down outside the car. She supposedly ran after him, a chase ensued.
I bring to the story my own ideas of my closest friend. She hated running. She was a large-bosomed woman who never ran. She wasnít built for speed, she was built for comfort. I have rarely, if ever seen my friend run. Anyone who knows her recognizes this truth. In her anger at being pushed down, though, this warrior-strong woman, may have felt incited to run. All possibilities exist when the story has so few answers, so few explanations. How does one explain the inexplicable? How does one prepare for a death so shocking?
The friend jumped into the driverís seat, turned the car around, and went looking for Jocelyn and the man (men? Could there have been more than one I wonder?) who had just accosted her. Not being able to find them, the friend returned to Jocelynís house. Jocelyn had two huge newfoundland/ newfie mix "dawgs" as she called them. The friend took Juno and Auggie and went looking for Joc. She did this several times.
The friend finally spoke to an upstairs neighbor at 5:45 or so in the morning as the neighbor was coming downstairs to take her dog out. The neighbor couldnít exact what had happened from what the friend was saying. The neighbor told her to call the police. And this neighbor went to look for Jocelyn. Two and a half blocks from the house she saw police cars and yellow tape and realized what was going on. Jocelyn was hurt, Jocelyn had been murdered.
I flew from Seattle back to Colorado Springs as soon as was physically and psychically possible. There, her many friends walked through an open house, her roommate wanted this to be possible for everyone. Her friends, and community, waited for Jocís parents and one of her brothers to arrive from Salt Lake City, UT. It has been said that waiting may be the most difficult part. There is so little preparation to be done when waiting to prepare. Just a lot of confusion, anger, crying, shock, numbness, denial, and grief. Itís hard to begin to sort out all of the emotions of death and dying when a tragedy like this occurs.
Jocelyn was the 8th of 9 children, born to Harley and Evalyn Sandberg on December 2, 1960. Although 41 years of age, this soul sister of mine, was ageless. Jocelyn was strongly opinionated and unafraid to speak vociferously. She was able still to find common ground with many different types of people. Jocelyn lived a very bold, vibrant, unapologetic existence. She was rather unconcerned with the acquisition of stuff, more concerned with human interactions and events. A music appassionato, she was unequivocally generous in sharing free concert tickets scored through KRCC, or WCBE in Columbus, OH another public radio station she worked for. After getting a cd burner, I think her goal was to burn all of the 12, 000 cdís at KRCC. Her own music library consisted of over 1300 cdís at last count in 2000. Iím sure it was closer to 1500 after getting back on with KRCC in that same year and working her way back through the ranks to become operations manager. KRCC had recently lost their O.M., Lynn Akers, to cancer and Jocelyn rose to fill the empty space Lynn left. Her job was a source of pride and worth to her. Jocelyn was rather a "jill-of-all-trades" this lifetime. Her sources of income included doughmaker (she developed the city-wide choice for best pizza crust at Poor Richardís restaurant), produce goddess/manager, bakery manager for Panera Breads in Columbus, appliance repairer, factory worker, UPS truckloader, worker with the developmentally disabled, Denver Post deliverer, truck driver, volunteer at a local theatre; she was a self proclaimed "self-starter".
Jocelyn was a lesbian feminist activist. When I first met her in 1992, she was working with New Phazes, Colorado Springs lesbian publication. We were 2 of 3 or 4 Lesbian Avengers in the Springs at the time. We worked against Amendment 2, which was enacted in conservative El Paso County, and denied equal rights to gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people. This amendment was eventually overturned by the Supreme Court. Although she was not a rich woman, not really even that great at managing money, she donated to all sorts of wonderful organizations, including NGLTF, PETA, A.I.D.S. organizations and many others. Julia Butterfly was one of her inspirations. Jocelyn was trying to, and succeeding at living a simple, uncluttered, earth-friendly, harm-none sort of existence. She was an incredibly conscious person. She made choices in regards to her own consumerism, to buy green and environmentally friendly products and towards natural foods and natural living. Jocelyn was a vegetarian for 20 years and a vegan for the past few. A young gay male friend in Columbus turned her on to going completely vegan.
One thing I loved about my dear friend was the allowances she gave herself. Just recently she was giving herself permission to indulge in a few non-vegan delicacies, but mostly only on Sundayís. Like Alice Walker says in her poem Be Nobodyís Darling, "Take the contradictions of your life and wrap round you like a shawl, to parry stones, to keep you warm." This she did. To be aware of oneís own contradictions, to embrace those even, is to me, a sign of enlightenment, of higher consciousness. Jocelyn more than occasionally enjoyed a good cigar on her porch with friends. Jocelyn indulged in a clove cigarette or two on a nice night, orÖa rainy night. Although she wouldnít consider herself a heavy drinker, many who knew her have seen her over-indulge/imbibe in a few alcoholic beverages. This too she was conscious of. Jocelyn was a person who was always analyzing her motivations, her own intentions for her behavior. She sought clarity about herself and the world around her. She was a woman who found joy in indulgence who would also reign herself in.
According to police reports, there were no alcohol or drugs in her system at the time that she was murdered. This does not surprise me. The one time I saw her attempt to smoke pot, between snacks, she kept repeating, "Pot doesnít affect me." And "This stuff doesnít work."
I have seen my beautiful, strong friend very angry. Although a strong woman myself, I used to feel very protected by Jocelyn when weíd be out. If anyone disrespected either of us, she took care of things. If a man on the street made an obscene comment about her chest, she yelled. Loudly. She was certainly not one to let anyone disrespect her.
I feel that she was defending her life on the night she was murdered. Why the altercation went from her car, so close to home, another 2 blocks away to the Colorado College campus, we do not know. I know that she worked 2 jobs very close to her home, walked her dogs around that neighborhood regularly, did her laundry at the laundromat, in front of which she apparently cut this man off on that fateful night. I do not propose to understand the criminal mind. What would incite this man, this stranger, to murder? I cannot pretend to figure out the horrid details of this case. I strongly hope the Colorado Springs Police Department and Homicide Unit are able to unravel this mystery. It is now almost 3 months later and the murder of my best friend is still unresolved.
The two biggest mysteries being love and death. I am beyond anger about this murder. I also have to quest to live in love. To have some sort of faith that this happened the way it was supposed to, for a reason?, that Jocelynís purpose on this planet had been fulfilled. That this sick tragedy was somehow part of her destiny. I do not want to believe that my girl Joc died with anger as her last emotion. She had to have been fucking pissed as fuck though. Her blood must have been boiling. I will go towards the spiritual and believe her warrior-spirit released itself so it could pass to the other side free of deep-seated anger. If we donít do the work here, in Buddhist belief, it may be possible to clear some of our debts anyway. Maybe her work here was done.
For the 600 or so people that attended the Memorial Service at Shove Chapel on Monday, April 29th, our work has just begun. We are still living in this physical realm, on this earthly plane. We feel deeply. Georgia OíKeefe said, "Iím glad I want everything in the worldógood and badóbitter and sweetóI want it all."
I was finally able to take a walk on the most beautiful day this year in Seattle. My pain and suffering is immense. The beauty I see all around me is so great as to almost be uncontainable. It is Spring in Seattle and a pleasure to live here. A pleasure to live. To continue to learn how much depth we can seek out and find during a lifetime. Iím saying nothing new, but not one of us truly knows when her time is up. Itís been my struggle for the past 13 years to begin to project a future for myself. My friendís love and support was unconditional and immeasurable in regards to my own personal growth over the past 10 years. To see my life going beyond age 38 or 42, (when I was 18 and 19 I was fully convinced Iíd die young, right? I was also depressed and suicidal at that time). I am a survivor. My friend Jocelyn is a survivor. In the last letter I wrote to her in March of 2002 (for Valentineís day) I asked "I believe our warrior spirits needed to meet each other this lifetime, yes?" In the last email I wrote to her a few days before she died I queried "I wonder what I did last lifetime to deserve your friendship in this one? musta been some real good stuff, like a mother teresa I suppose."
My twin spirit is missing. She has gone lost and I donít know where to find her. She has come to me many times in dreams since her murder, not in image always, but in feeling. I am helping her get ready in one dream. In the other I see a photograph of myself with two small breasts. Then an image of a ripped photo. Then a photo with myself, only one small breast left. Mastectomy. Part of myself has gone missing. Part of myself has been torn away from me without my permission. In my latest dream we are both doing kung fu outside in Colorado Springs. We are both happy and having fun. In this dream I have her long hair, 2 long braids, as she does. I also have her bosoms, yet they are still my own, with my own idiosyncrasies. We are performing and are bare-breasted. Men are watching, but this is not threatening. We are unconcerned with their presence. I am slowly learning something about not being in control of things. As hard as we all try, we really have very little control. Itís only make-believe.
I make believe that she is still with me. An intersection this strong in life, does not cancel itself out by the virtue of the cycle of life and death. The cycle that also follows is birth and rebirth. I will find a way to be born again unto myself. Jocelyn lives inside of me. I have told her that her friendship is a precious stone I carry inside of me. There is a place she exists deep in my psyche that one manís own suffering and destruction cannot destroy. The impulses to call her and tell her about everything thatís been going on in the past two weeks have begun. (and continues as strongly 2 Ĺ months later, especially in light of another family crisis, my father's death). I thought I could somehow escape the "extra placesetting at the table" feeling. We havenít lived together since I moved to Seattle in 2001. Since Jocelyn drove the truck full of my and my partnerís stuff to Seattle with us. She has been here to visit twice since. This is where and how I feel very lucky.
Some relations end with regret, with words unsaid. Both Jocelyn and I had all of our cards out on the table, save maybe one. I am so very thankful to have told her so many times through the years how much I loved, respected, and admired her. She was my hero. She still is. "It is in speaking that ideas come to us-words-and then we, in our own words, find perhaps everything, the city, the garden too and then we are orphans no longer." ĖIonesco. I am grateful for the many letters written over the years. I am so thankful for the cards, quotes, and tangible pieces of my best friend that I have to reflect on. So many of her words, in those letters, are helping me now through this terrific and terrible pain. Things once considered good memories or mementos, are now considered treasures. I think, too, that regret and guilt must end when the wall, the boundary of death is imposed. This is the work, a continual letting go, a shedding of the old, to find 'new skin stretched across these old bones' sky cries mary.
I have a deep and strong intuition that we have a deeper knowing. Jocelyn has been getting her life in order for years. Simplifying, extracting, distilling. She wanted to get to the essence of her life. No bullshit. No time for bullshit. She has said "Fuck you!" to more than one employer this lifetime. She has walked away from relations and business interactions that did not have integrity and honor. After 9/11 and having seen my mentor and teacher live her life in such a way for years, I was able to walk away from a particularly bad employer/landlord situation, which was subtly controlling, manipulative, and unhealthy. This is bold. This is freedom. "I want freedom for the full expression of my personality," too, like Gandhi said.
Although not an "artist" as such, Jocelyn was an arts appreciator and inspirer. She encouraged my artistic pursuits with devotion. She has seen me dance in Ohio, Colorado, and Washington. She was my support in this way and so many others. We were each otherís "#1 fan". I have seen her, heard her, encourage other young artists to follow their passions, follow their dreams. She was a collector of local art. She was a collector of wisdom, of quotes, of books. Never having gotten her college degree, she considered herself self-taught and I considered her learned. She gleaned an articulation and love of vocabulary and language from her mother, who is a writer. She was "her motherís daughter". And from her father a love and appreciation of music.
Jocelyn was wildly independent. Leaving home at 18. Moving to the San Francisco/Bay area for at least 8 years. Living in Ventura and Santa Barbara, CA for 2 more years. Moving out to Colorado for 6 years. Moving to Columbus, OH for 5, and back to the Springs to finish out her life. An avid reader, she enjoyed quiet and solitude at times, and balanced this out with strong social connections, often involving entertaining at her house, music, theatre, dance, and nature. She felt closest to her spirit-self when she was outside hiking, spending time alone or with others close to the earth. Hers was an eclectic spirituality; self-created like the rest of her life. She was most recently interested in Buddhism and was high and excited after hearing a Buddhist nun speak.
Jocelyn cared so deeply for her world and the world at large. After just watching a public television documentary on genocide, she was outraged and saddened to a point of wanting to draw herself back in. She wanted to re-examine her own life and ways of being in the world. I believe she found some balance between her internal and external self before the morning of April 26, 2002. I have to believe she found her peace.
We may never know the "facts" about her murder. We may never fill in all of the empty spaces or find the answers we seek. We may never know what we really want to know; what she was thinking and feeling that night, what she said to/yelled at her murderer, what really went on. Jocelynís dreams for the future included attending the Lavender Film Festival in San Francisco in June. We were going to ride to California on a yet to be garnered motorcycle that she just found out she could finance (the only person Iíd consider riding "bitch" with), we were going to camp and visit 2 of her sisters in the Bay area. Having already met 5 members of her immediate family it was my goal to meet the other 4 siblings. Sadly, I met her brother Tim after her death. We were going to visit a friend in Alaska. We were going to travel to Japan together. This is the loss. The things that can never be said or done. The things the living still want from the dead.
Jocelyn gave so much during her life. Her love and strong sense of self help lead those she left behind along. She lived an impassioned existence. This truth, this integrity, is what there is to live for. The abundance that was Jocelyn Sandberg goes on after this senseless killing. Love and abundance strengthen the living. To get stuck in my fucking anger about this is to lead less than a whole life. To work through the anger, to find out what lies beneath my anger, is my work. Perhaps below the deep anger and madness lies my own fear of mortality. I want to ruminate on my own death, I want to own it and not fear it. I want to face my fear of death in an effort to lead a more fertile, fruitful life. I want my existence here to be plentiful and whole. Death can be cavernous and hollow, a closing, an empty shell full of loss and what once was. Or it can be the next great opening, especially for the living. The murder of Jocelyn should be an explosion that lights fire under our asses to continue to fight the good fight, to keep raising oneís voice, to speak up and out for others and ourselves, to define and re-define, to defend, to inspire, to tell the truth, to be honest, to live in the now, to examine deeper, to laugh louder, to be less afraid, to live stronger, larger lives. You were a bridge and community builder in life, as in death. This is the legacy my sweet soulmate leaves behind. These are the lessons she takes into eternity. May we meet again my bright-eyed, strong-handed friend. A vibrant life cannot fade, it only grows bolder and more colorful with life, with time.
Rest in peace my beloved one. Our gift to you is that we shall honor and remember your contribution to the whole. You are not lost, your spirit is not lost. It is forever part of the community of freaks, outcasts, and pariahs you fought to co-create, to accept, to not pass judgment on, to learn from, listen to, advise, inspire and help. You gave more than was thought humanly possible. You gave us more than you ever knew. This we thank you for. We open our hands and our hearts and welcome you home. May you now and finally, simply, and righteously "BE."
I have tattooed the words you wore on your chest, "BE", onto my own chest. I have tattooed your sacred heart onto my own. It is protected by fire and a vine of new, green leaves. You are infinitely, and inextricably, wrapped around and through my own life. The first gift given me by you was a burning, flaming heart. The last gift received, posthumously, was a milagro of the same burning, flaming heart. You will burn in my heart until I too pass through this mortal coil. You are forever a part of me and I am grateful to you UNTIL THE END OF THE WORLD. Know that I am now, and will always be, your T-girl.
"If each day falls inside each night, there exists a well where clarity is imprisoned. We need to sit on the rim of the well of darkness and fish for fallen light with patience." Pablo Neruda
"It is a fearful thing to love what death can touch."
"We love because it is the only true adventure." Nikki Giovanni