The End of the Story

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In retrospect the feeling of being cursed first began when the police swept my house. Of course this is an entirely convenient designation. Hindsight being twenty-twenty and what not it’s always easy to attach autobiographical significance to certain events in the past, to meticulously arrange them on your brown butcher-paper, middle school project timeline:

        July 23, 1984, my little sister was born.

       July 5, 1991, MLB approves an expansion team in Colorado

       May 28, 1998, I graduated from high school

       May 21, 2012, the police raided my house.

Still even at the time I remember thinking that something was definitely wrong with the cosmos; that those things that you only hear about happening to other people were starting to happen to me. And I didn’t like the feeling.

I had just come home for the day. I took my dog Annabel for a walk and mere moments after returning to my house, there was a pounding on the door.

“Denver Police!” the voice on the other side bellowed.

I squinted through the peephole. A giant, pink fingertip was blocking my view.

“Yeah right,” I said, figuring one of my friends was pretty proud of themselves at that moment.

“Denver Police, open the fucking door!”

I stole a few moments to put the by-now-hysterical Annabel away and opened the door. Four uniformed police officers burst into my house, forced my hands behind my back and slammed my face down on the hallway table.

“Are we gonna need handcuffs?” they tough-guyed.

No. We weren’t.

“Do you have a warrant?” I asked like the lawyer’s son that I am.

Like something out of a movie four detectives promptly glided through the doorway, chests puffed like peacocks.

“Here’s your warrant,” the lead, tiny Asian one said, handing me a piece of paper, the silver, DPD badge around his neck gleaming like the confidence he never had. “Have you been downloading stuff, sir?”

I stammered something about the fourth season of Friday Night Lights, a song or two here and there, but other than that I had no idea what he was talking about. Well we’d see about that, he informed me. And so for the next hour and a half I sat in my own living room a prisoner while the team of detectives combed through my laptop upstairs. The uniformed officers tried to make small talk with me, asking me about the origins of my antique furniture, commenting on the baseball game on the television, but I just kept my mouth shut. I asked to call my dad and when they wouldn’t let me do that mum remained the word. Slowly whatever the fuck was going on came out.

Did I have a password on my wireless router? No. I tried to put one on there but I’m pretty much computer-illiterate and it was harder than one-click so I abandoned the venture, figuring there was no harm in letting the bike messengers and vegan farmers next door enjoy the fruits of my free internet.

Well someone was downloading some pretty awful stuff and all signs pointed to the router in my bedroom.

Awful stuff? What kind of awful stuff?

That kind of awful stuff.

After combing through every download made on my MacBook Pro for the past who-knows-how-long, the Denver Police Department now knows exactly what kind of stuff I’m into. And they also know it’s decidedly not kiddie porn.

“99% of the time this is what happens,” the tiny Asian detective informed me as he scolded me through the establishing of a password. “We trace the signal to someone’s house who had no idea this was going on. They don’t have a password protected network and lo and behold someone’s downloading horrendous shit off of it.”

Was it my neighbors?

Probably not. They’d check everybody out, he said, due diligence, reconnaissance, other police-speak, but most of the time it was some pervert in a van driving around looking for free wireless signals like mine. In the days that followed none of my neighbors got arrested so I assume it was a rouge creep, not a local one, and that was that for my run-in with the Denver Police Department Internet Crimes Division. Save the fact that I couldn’t stop shaking for two days straight. Or the fact that I couldn’t sleep that night, or how the next morning Annabel lost her mind when the paper landed on the front door step, an occasion that normally never rouses either of us from our slumber. Or the fact that the whole block watched the police pull two cars onto my front lawn and burst through the front door.

I threw away my old router, got a new laptop, a password, but I was shaken.

“Are you going to write a joke about this?” my closer comic friends asked me when I related the tale in the privacy of a green room soon after. “You have to write a joke about this!”

Sure, absolutely. Because you go ahead and say the words “kiddie porn” in a comedy club and try to make that material fly. There’s nothing humorous about it. It’s an unfunny subject and it was an unfunny afternoon and all I wanted was to never think about it again. But every time I saw a cop it would come back up for me. Walking through the airport I’d see two police officers coming towards me and I shudder with fear as I pictured them slamming me up against the wall, detaining me for any number of thought crimes. It’s extremely disquieting to know just how easily the police can detain you in your living room if they want to. And so I started hating cops, every one I saw. It wasn’t a far stretch. The children of civil rights attorneys are hard-wired that way. We’re like rappers.

Then a cop got shot in the head and my empathy was awakened. It was at Jazz in the Park, a favorite Denver summer Sunday pastime. Some cheesy band plays at the grandstand by the lake in the biggest park in the city, food trucks descend and the young professionals lie out on blankets and drink wine. Sometimes the mayor’s wife steps up to the mic and belts out a few songs. It’s lovely. And quaint. Old couples holding hands, young parents with children and lawn chairs and coolers and baseball gloves. But on this night there was an argument between some alleged gang-members on the perimeter of the event. And a female police officer stepped into the fray to keep the peace. And a gun was produced. And like that she was gone. She was a mother of two, the paper said. 32-years-old. My age. My little sister had been at Jazz in the Park that night. She heard the shots.

The city mourned the way any city mourns when a cop is killed. With solemn totality. No one could really believe it. Growing up I remember the summer of ‘92 was christened the Summer of Violence, as gang activity had people dropping like flies. In high school I saw a guy get shot at a homecoming after-party, and those were awful, but there was something so surreal about this one. How could this happen? To a cop? At Jazz in the Park? What a fucked-up story.

Meanwhile the cosmos continued to confound.

The heat was unrelenting, an atypical heat with temperatures in the high 90’s for weeks in a row. And no rain whatsoever. Anyone who’s lived in Colorado for a little while knows what that means. Sure enough, late June, the first forest fire ignited in the hills beyond Fort Collins, a college town about an-hour-and-a-half north of Denver along the Front Range. And the initial reports were that it was bad – sweeping up along the backside of town and evacuating homes bad. Wildfires are nothing new in my state but truth be told they’re always in obscure places, some unfortunate patch of mostly desolate Rocky Mountain, one-hundred miles from your nearest frame of reference. Fort Collins was familiar. Colorado State University is in Fort Collins. New Belgium Brewery is in Fort Collins. I’ve dated girls from Fort Collins. And while the High Park Fire up north was horrible, it turned out it was nothing compared to the Waldo Canyon Fire that devoured Colorado Springs to the South a few days later.

That fire you saw on the news. The area Obama visited. The most destructive fire in Colorado history. The one we had to borrow planes from the US Forest Service to fight. It was like a war zone. 32,000 people evacuated, hundreds of homes destroyed. On the worst night of the conflagration I hit an open mic and a few of the people in the audience were from Colorado Springs. They had fled to Denver because every hotel room in the Springs was booked and they were looking for a little relief in the form of dick jokes. After the show they showed us pictures on their cell phones of the apocalyptic scenes back home: giant, shrieking flames threatening to devour a highway crammed full of cars crammed full of earthly possessions: photo albums, clothing racks, dogs and cats. It was Jerry Bruckheimer imagery, end-of-days shit, and between the fire to the north, and the fire to the south, there was a feeling of impending doom in Denver. Like we were next up. The Front Range of Colorado is a place where it’s easy to get your bearings. The mountains are always to the west. It’s a simple frontier truism. But the smoke was so thick during those wildfires you couldn’t see the mountains. You looked to the west and it was just a wall of hazy, angry sky. The sunsets were incandescent and strange. It was impossible not to feel lost.

We checked my little sister Lydia into the psych ward not long after the fire was contained. She’d been off for close to a year. I remember she had been working as a paralegal for my father and one day she broke down sobbing to him, confessing that she thought she was losing it. That she couldn’t sleep. That she was anxious and exhausted. Both my sisters and I have always had a little dose of obsessive compulsive disorder but for the most part we had grown out of it; we still had our little rituals – throwing another piece of popcorn on the movie theater floor once one piece had escaped the bag, so the first fallen comrade wouldn’t feel lonely, mantras to be recited before plane flights – but these weren’t merely cute rituals for Lydia anymore, like they were for me and my older sister. They were prison sentences.

She was always freakishly adept at language, able to speak and read backwards as fast, if not faster than forwards. It was a great party trick. But she told us that she could no longer read anymore because she would just read each individual word on the page backwards, then forwards, backwards then forwards, never making any progress, like some cruel, jerky airport walkway. Lydia’s compulsions were clearly no longer charming, they were crippling. And thus began a year of trying to get her help. Of checking on her constantly, of trying to cheer her up, but for the most part, of just watching her be depressed. She bounced from shrink to shrink but Lydia was too smart for them and she outfoxed one after another until eventually she’s arranged a scenario where a psychiatrist, not a psychologist, would just prescribe different drugs for her to take and see how they worked for her, a bizarre and increasingly severe cocktail that sent her from high to low with no apparent regularity or regimen: Adderall, Ativan, Lorazepam.

She’d been working at a hipster Mexican restaurant in the neighborhood the past few months before we took her to the hospital, but when she wasn’t working, she’d began taking a bunch of anti-psychotic meds to knock her self out all day. We didn’t know this until she showed up to a Father’s Day dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant barely able to stand. Slumped over in a chair, she told us that she just wanted to sleep away the hours when she wasn’t working and our eyes darted around the table at each other. This was clearly a problem. She went out to sleep in my dad’s car while we ate. I went out to check on her in the middle of our meal. My dad had moved his car around to the back of the restaurant because it just seemed safer there. I peaked my head in the window and watched her little chest rise and fall. A chef on the back staircase smoking a cigarette smiled at me.

“She very tired,” he said to me, cheerfully, in broken English. Then he drew a finger to his eyeball. “I keep an eye on her.”

Her friend Heather called me the next morning to let me know that Lydia had told her she just wanted to sleep and wouldn’t be making the wedding of their mutual childhood friend. I went over to check on her and I could barely rouse her. Shaking her I could get her to wake up for moments of cohesion, mumbled words like “sleep” and “didn’t take too much.” I called my parents and sister and the entire nuclear family assembled around her bed. She was nauseous, and when we took her to the bathroom to try to get her to throw up, she collapsed on the cold, black-and-white tile floor. It was then she confessed that she had looked up on-line just how many of her anti-psychotic meds she could take without killing herself, but to completely knock herself out, and had taken that many. It was not a suicide attempt, she insisted. Maybe. But it was an attempt to not exist day after day. Which wasn’t much better. And given the tininess of her little, frail body, a tricky proposition that could have just easily as killed her as put her into a deep sleep. I picked her up in my arms and carried her to my car. Anna and I sped to Denver Health a few blocks away and we checked our little sister into the emergency room. They had no doubts. She sped past everyone in the waiting room into the ER. They wanted to pump her stomach but she had already processed too many of the pills so they hooked her up to a cavalcade of beeping machinery to stabilize her blood pressure. She was conscious during long stretches, and seemed to resent everything.

A mandatory 72-hour-hold for a psych evaluation wasn’t even a question. No bureaucrats fought us on that one. They just agreed. And so once a bed was available they moved my little sister up to the fifth floor, east side (non-violent). It was surprisingly decent. For some reason I was expecting nightmarish accommodations. Howling lunatics screaming Bible passages, shit smeared on the wall, people fashioning shivs from plastic spoons, but everything was clean, nothing smelled terrible. It’s my misconception of public health, I suppose. If it’s cheap and available to the masses in this country, I assume it’s awful, but it wasn’t. Antiseptic, sure, bland and over-crowded, but nothing cruel. And they let us visit as much as we would like for the most part. During those 72 hours I’d say I visited Lydia four or five times. I can’t remember how many exactly. We’d bring her books and meals, pesto cavatappi from Noodles & Company. And while Lydia still seemed a bit resentful she did seem to get it. That she had crossed a line and that this was a place she didn’t want to go back to.

We’d sit at the communal table while Denver’s destitute crazies shuffled past us in various states of decrepitude and we’d chuckle to one another at the bizarre things they would say to us. We were stunned to find that a man named Danny was there on the same ward with Lydia. We had not seen him in years. When we were children Danny would ring the doorbell of our home in Park Hill and my liberal guilt parents made the mistake of giving him money one time and Danny was a regular visitor after that, occasionally with a basketball for me, or a stolen TV for the family. My parents would refuse the gifts and give him a few dollars. He was clearly mentally ill then, but essentially harmless. If he’d ring the doorbell while my parents were away Lydia and I would go completely still. Then he’d try to peer through the windows and Lydia and I would try to stay out of his eyeshot. We’d look at each other in those moments and chuckle nervously, frightened children in a high-stakes game of hide-and-go-seek. Then Danny just stopped coming by. We’d see him around town sometimes. Denver’s still a small enough place that type of stuff happens. But then we stopped seeing him. If we thought about him at all I’m sure we figured he was dead.  And there he was on the psych ward, some twenty years later, worse for the wear, sure, but Danny. Danny! Two rooms down from Lydia.

This made us all laugh. But when the reality of it set in, it made us cry. I’ll never forget Lydia sitting there with us, laughing, all of us ironically appreciating our brief appearance in the mental institution in that sort of morbid, academic way all over-educated people cultivate – that misguided affinity for the tortured genius. But then a wave of truth took over Lydia and she started bawling. She was scared of what was happening to her; scared that we would keep her in an institution like we said we would if we weren’t convinced she wouldn’t hurt herself. There was no irony then. No detachment. No isn’t this crazy in that Girl, Interrupted way? It was just my sick little sister, assuring us that she wasn’t trying to kill her self, that she was just depressed. Depressed for a number of reasons: from a fucked up relationship with some loser DJ who was so beneath her, at not knowing her place in the world, at not having any way of feeling self-worth, depressed at all of it. But willing to get better. Wanting to get better.

Our exit interview with her doctors was almost comical. My mother and father, my self and my older sister: the civil rights attorney, the former journalist, the newly-christened civil rights attorney daughter and the stand-up comedian, the four-headed shadow Lydia lived in, all falling over ourselves to tell them how Lydia was the smartest one of the gang. They agreed. They said Lydia was the smartest patient they had ever encountered. But that she needed help. And that help had to be dictated by her. We could push her all we wanted but she had to be in charge of helping herself. We agreed back at them. We understood. And so a few hours later, when they were ready, I walked back over to Denver Health and I checked my little sister out. Just me and her. We went down to the pharmacy and got back all the pills from her house that we had brought with her, to try and let them know what she may have taken, and Lydia and I threw those away in a trash can in the basement of the building with a few cathartic shrugs. This happens, Lydia. You’re gonna get better. And we walked home to her house and we vowed to start over. Lydia started playing the piano again, started going to yoga, went back to work. She started looking for new shrinks. She seemed to be weathering the storm. With humor. And grace. Guys were throwing themselves at her. They’d always done that; she was a little fox. But in the wake of her hospital stay it was happening more and more. I gave her shit about it one afternoon.

“Yeah, I’m just damaged and haunted-enough looking that pseudo-creative types feel proud of themselves for liking someone like me,” she matter-of-factly explained.

She was always the funniest.

Meanwhile the cosmos kept throwing curveballs.

“What the fuck is wrong with Colorado?” read the text on my phone when I awoke. It was from an old friend, a college buddy. Soon other ones started pouring in.

“You okay?”

“You alive?”

“Were you at the premiere?”

I wasn’t. I had a gig the night before and I would never go stand in line with a thousand people for a midnight premier of a super hero movie. I’m 32 and pretentious. I’d stand in line with a few hundred people for the premier of a Wes Anderson movie. But that didn’t stop the throngs. Nor the evil. And so some other nut-job in a long string of Colorado nut jobs – this one named James Holmes – attacked the premier of “Batman: The Dark Night Rises” with guns and smoke bombs and high caliber weaponry and all the other sensationalized, internet-acquired accoutrement of the modern, 21st Century psychopath. It was like some Columbine acid flashback. And the death toll rose to sickening amounts, men, women and children, all attended to by a devastated and shell-shocked emergency services teams, police, EMTs, firefighters from a wealth of different jurisdictions. Bureaucracy didn’t matter that night. Just get there and help.

The nation was shaken. My state was literally sick.

It is a human impulse in the wake of such a giant tragedy to try to minimalize; or at the very least, compartmentalize the suffering. In my small corner of the world that became an attempt to help Caleb Medley. He was a stand-up comic and though he was new to the scene, an open-micer who I had never met, that hit me hard, as it did every comic in the state, indeed the country. We’re a fucked-up, solipsistic lot us stand-up comedians, but when one of our own is suffering, even if he’s a rookie, we all feel it. I learned that a few days prior to the shooting Caleb had competed in the Comedy Works New Talent Competition, a contest I won in 2006. I remember how much that meant at the time. Looking back it seems like small potatoes, you still were an unpaid comic not even allowed to open for the national headlining acts that come in on the weekends during that point of your Denver comedy climb, but amongst the open-micers, that shit was huge. Doing well in that contest meant that the club was looking at you, that they had their eye on you, that eventually those long months, even years, performing in front of rowdy bar crowds or indifferent, career alcoholics was starting to pay off. You were on your way to being a COMEDY WORKS COMEDIAN. And Caleb had advanced in his first round. People had said he was funny and seemed like a really nice guy. And now he was in a hospital in an induced coma after being shot in the eye. With a pregnant girlfriend due any day.

The Colorado comedy scene went into overdrive. Fundraisers were organized left and right, hundreds of thousands of dollars were raised in shares and tweets and retweets. Myself and another couple of local comics started to spearhead a few shows and it felt good to do something, to take some small piece of this doom and at least try to throw some love at it. I learned that Caleb’s three favorite comedians were Gabriel Iglesias, Ron White and Lewis Black. Comedy Works contacted Gabriel Iglesias and while others attempted to reach the other two comedians, I promised that if I saw either in Montreal the next week, I would reach out to them personally.

It seemed somehow in the midst of the worst summer of my life I had been selected to be a New Face at the prestigious Montreal Just For Laughs comedy festival, an honor in the stand-up world akin to being drafted, I suppose, just without the fancy pin-stripe suits and the money. But a legitimizer none-the-less. A nod from the comedy powers-that-be that your hard work has been noticed, and that it is now time to be heralded amongst a crop of 24 other comics from around North America as the promising new class of 2012. And so leaving a wounded city and state behind, I fled for the greener pastures of Canada.

The Just For Laughs Comedy Festival was all that the comedy prophets had foretold. The shows all went great, the industry swarmed, my pockets filled with business cards and I got added to many shows, the vaulted prize beyond your mere three guaranteed performances for any “New Faces” comedian. Large Hollywood agencies were giving me the hard-sale, replete with fancy lunches and promises of “you’re gonna make it, kid!” It was head-swelling stuff. And a comedy nerd’s wet dream. One night, after performing to two packed houses, I used my artist’s badge to take in a bit of the fest. That night alone I saw Patton Oswalt, Aziz Ansari, Kevin Hart, then a live taping of WTF with Marc Maron. And then I partied with all those people at the Hyatt bar until dawn. Like one of them.

By the time the festival wound down I was exhausted but inspired. It felt as if after eight years of relative obscurity my career had actually begun now. I had also managed to get a few big names to commit to shows back home for the Caleb Medley cause. But I would never get to see those promises through. I would have to attend to my own family’s suffering instead. The cosmos had another blow in store.

The e-mail came at around 9:50 a.m. on a Tuesday. “Love you all.” Lydia had sent it to myself, Anna, my mother and father, and her best friend Heather, who had recently moved to San Francisco. Heather saw it first and called Anna at work. Anna called me. I was still asleep. Comedian’s hours. She wanted me to go check on Lydia. She was apologetic for the request. Lydia had been rough the past month and we were growing tired of checking on her. All we did was check on her. Four, five times a day. And she was always depressed. And a downer. But she was doing okay, she always said. A typical text exchange.

You okay?

Yeah, just sad. Want to sleep.

Sleep, normal? Like, with no pills?

No pills. Just sad normal.

K. You nice.

You nicer.

It was constant vigilance and truth be told it was trying. But there was something in the air this morning that just seemed more urgent. And so I went over to Lydia’s house. It made sense that I would. I’m the one without a day job. I’m the one who lives four blocks away. And I let myself in using the key she had given me. I could hear the dogs barking from the back yard. Which was odd. Normally when I let myself in and Lydia was asleep upstairs they would begin to whine and bark and scratch at her bedroom door and I’d walk up to her bedroom and open the door and encounter my little sister waking up and then we’d roughhouse with the dogs in her bed. Then I’d lie completely on top of her, crushing her, saying, “Get up, get up,” like only a dick big brother can and she’d eventually laugh and throw me off and she’d get up and we’d go get waffles.

But on that day that wasn’t the case.

They say you go out of your body at the sight of such trauma. That it’s too much for you to process in your actual skin and bones and so you go out of your self and everything seems fake, not real. That didn’t happen with me. I felt it all. Because I, me, Adam Cayton-Holland, I can I remember seeing Lydia, my little sister, Lydia Cayton-Holland, lying there. My little sister, my poor little sister, dead by her own hand in her bed. That I can remember. That I can never forget. That was me experiencing that. That will forever be me.

But then immediately after that it’s like it wasn’t her. Or me. That’s when I went out of my body. That’s when I drifted above my body and watched it all, like a scene from a play or a movie. Harold and Maude. A hoax. This was makeup. This had to be makeup. What an elaborate scene you’ve created dark, brilliant Lydia. You do fucked-up more beautifully than anyone ever did fucked-up. You were born in the wrong area; the Victorians would have worshipped your sensibility, you Edward Gorey character. And how did I get into this morbid play-act? How am I part of your scene?

Then all I can see is me screaming. And then I can see myself calling my older sister Anna and weeping what happened to her over the phone. And I can see myself hearing her pick up her office phone and call the police. But it’s not me. It’s me playing a character. Then I can see that character checking Lydia’s pulse. And screaming because there is no pulse. I follow my stage commands and I shut the door and go down stairs. I let the dogs in the house and I wail so loud they both start howling. They lick my face. They’re confused. The director likes that shot. It’s sentimental. I start hyperventilating. I can’t breath. Literally, no breath. I slowly exhale, I slowly inhale. I can’t pass out. Not now. I have a role to play. Then a pounding on the door at stage left and all the police and firefighter and EMT characters spill in – police like the police that searched my house at the beginning of the summer, emergency crews like the ones that flocked to the Aurora Century 16. And then the older sister Anna character is there, then my mother, looking appropriately broken with grief for their parts. And then the prototypical detectives show up, notepads and suspenders, just like they always wear, and they say their lines and confirm for us that yes, she is actually dead, and then there’s police reports to fill out and then the director cues all the neighbors in the background to begin milling about and then a heavy, think rain moves in, unlike we’ve had in days, unlike we’ve had all summer, and we all stand and stare at it and listen to the dramatic thunder, listening to the pelting of raindrops on the roof.

And scene. 

But it’s not a play. And there’s so much more to do. No curtain has fallen. Just the one on Lydia.  And now a new story begins, the story of the next few weeks, an ever-evolving and terrifically sad story. And the details are cruel. So cruel.

Like the story of my poor father who is in Guantanamo Bay the day it all goes down. Helping the detainees that he represents pro-bono, my civil rights dad defending the writ of habeas corpus in fucking Cuba. And the calls to him and the arrangement of military planes off the island, to Kingston, to Miami, to home – the next twenty some odd hours of grief that he will have to endure alone, in transit, after learning that his baby daughter is gone.

There’s a bunch of water metaphors in this new story too. They all seem so apt. Drowning. Waves of sadness. Lost at sea.

There’s the story of the cold, pragmatism that sets in.

Let’s get these animals some new homes.

Let’s appoint someone to handle the estate.

Let’s start planning a funeral.

Lydia wouldn’t even want a funeral. Do we want a funeral? Doesn’t matter. Our life becomes a funeral. That’s the story for a few days anyway. I take my mom home and stay with her. We stay up all night crying and talking about Lydia and those first few days are actually the easiest because the pain is so raw and real. Sobbing feels cathartic. That’s at least a release. I can no longer control my self so I will sob. Cause. Reaction. But when you can control yourself is when it gets worse. When the wound goes from fresh to scabbed. Then the numbness is insufferable. That becomes part of the story too. At least a small detail.

We stage a beautiful service. In Anna’s backyard. We have to police the numbers the outpouring is so immense. So many were affected by her, enraptured by her. The little genius, suffering muse. There’s more artists and musicians and comics assembled there than I’ve ever seen in one place in this city. This broken, suffering city. A musician plays several songs he wrote for her. The best comic in town gracefully and respectfully guides the service. Anna, my dad and I all speak, while my mom lies in Anna’s bedroom and listens away from the crowd. I go and lie with her on Anna and her husband Sam’s bed and we listen to my dad boom over the PA, sounding like some great orator from year’s past. But one who’s talking about our Lydia. We smile at his words; we laugh at his loving descriptions; we cry at his pain, our pain. People say the service helps them. It does nothing for me. Funerals are not for the family. They are for the others. Families aren’t afforded the luxury of having one place to deposit their grief. We go out for drinks that night and more people come, many who didn’t feel right attending a service that was supposedly just friends and family that blossomed into hundreds, but people who want to pay their respects. I drink with them. I accept their drink offers. I’ll do it a lot in the next few weeks. That becomes a story too. A dumb, wallowing story.

Typical.

Our in-boxes fill with condolences, our mail slots with letters, our porches with flowers. We grow tired of it. It’s like they all want a piece of your sadness. Grief-mongers. But everyone’s intentions are pure. It’s just no one knows what to say. There’s nothing you can say. So they write little cards and notes and hope their societal obligations are met.

And we just trudge forward. Through meetings with a therapist because we’re reasonable people and we know how bad we’re suffering and how badly we need it. My mother sets up a charity in Lydia’s name for people to productively channel their grief. We have no such place. We’re just the Magnificent Cayton-Hollands, down a member. The best family in the world, now four. And I go to Hollywood for some post Montreal-buzz meetings with casting and development and various networks and studios. I don’t feel right going. It feels like I should stay with my family, but they insist. Despite everything they want me to go. To not fuck up these opportunities. And Lydia most of all wouldn’t want me too, they point out. She was my biggest fan. So I sit with fancy agencies who all know what happened to me and who are all understanding but still look at me like the walking fucking wounded. Maybe some great piece of art will come out of me from this that they can take 10% of down the road. How much can they make on this story? 

Lydia would laugh at that.

We used to joke that we were too upper-middle-class, too straight-laced and unburdened to every really create any art of any value. Maybe this pathos was her gift to me.

Lydia would laugh at that too.

As a creative type you tend to self-mythologize. And in that naval-gazing effort it’s impossible not to wonder what the point of the whole story is; what it all revolves around, the through-line, the arc. And then one day it hits you like a ton of bricks, like a bullet to the fucking head: oh this is what that moment is! This is what the story has been about. All that time you spent thinking it revolved around you, you weren’t even the main character, idiot.

She was.

And now she’s gone.

So you walk around, lesser, with a giant void inside of yourself, and you pray that you can close the book on this story soon. Because you’re tired of feeling cursed. You want the things that only happen to other people to stop happening to you.

You’re so ready for another story to start. 

But secretly you suspect it never will. Because secretly you know all your stories are now linked to this one. For ever and ever and ever.   

77 Responses

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  1. Abby Jane
    Abby Jane at |

    A wonderful tribute, she was such a lovely soul. Thanks for sharing. Ill send you all lots of love on my birthday every year

  2. April
    April at |

    That was beautiful thanks for sharing Adam. I wish I could have spent more time with your sister. I am glad we had those weeks during the summer at her Grandma’s house in VA to spend together when we were younger she was so sweet and caring and will always be missed.

  3. Stephanie Courtney
    Stephanie Courtney at |

    Hi Adam,

    I am very sorry for your loss. I’ve never read anything like this. I suffer from manic/depression and I have been suicidal all my life. When I’m struggling, the thing that keeps my hands off the knives is the thought of what I would do to my family. I put them through too much as it is. And even that dovetails sometimes because I am such a chore. I’ve just never been able to feel or grasp the crux of it. I will probably re-read this often and it might keep the wolves at bay or at least it will help me focus on them instead of me. It pains me greatly that this might help me, it shouldn’t take something like this, it’s not worth it, not even close. But it is possible there is a difference that has been made by what you’ve written.

  4. Positive Thoughts To SO Favorite: Adam Cayton-Holland | Serial Optimist

    […] Denver based comedian Adam Cayton-Holland recently posted a tragic story on his website. It’s a well written true story of feeling cursed and the unfortunate events surrounding his sister Lydia. We wanted to share this because it’s an open, honest post that should be read and appreciated, and because we think so highly of Adam and all positive thoughts sent his way mean something. Thank you for sharing Mr. Cayton-Holland. Please read “The End of the Story” here. […]

  5. dan
    dan at |

    Wow. Thanks for writing this. I’m sorry you had to go through this and I have no wise words to say that can help you.

  6. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth at |

    Adam, this is a beautiful and remarkable piece of writing about your beautiful sister and I’m sorry for your loss. Any reasonable person who read this would want to pour love out for you and I hope that you can find a way to feel that from us; the strangers who read this and who love you for writing it and for being remarkable yourself.

  7. Lisa
    Lisa at |

    Thank you for posting this, and putting into perfect, accurate words what we survivors feel. The paragraph about you finding her, and the last one about how everything is connected to her story resonates with me as someone who has loved and lost in the same way, and also as someone who stands on a stage to make people laugh, too.

    Well done, and best wishes to you and your family.

  8. ann
    ann at |

    this was beautiful.

    i was the one who’d been with my mother, in the other room, the night she died, and returned to find her dead — and like you, it was… surreal.

    yes, different circumstances, and everyone’s horrible experience of losing a loved one is horribly unique, (most horrible in the eyes of the beholder), but this really described the visceral reaction, mores o than I’d ever before seen, thank you for articulating it.

  9. Tracy
    Tracy at |

    That was amazing, beautiful, and moving. Thank you for sharing this. It resonated with me and I am so very sorry for your tremendous loss.

  10. Hadley
    Hadley at |

    I feel for you, Adam. You and your family have my deepest condolences. I agree with so many of the others who have responded here: it is VERY important to put these thoughts and emotions out there. It is brave and generous of you, and I sincerely hope it is healing your wounds too.

  11. Aaron
    Aaron at |

    Jesus, Adam. This is just wonderful and horrible and so well-put. Thank you.

  12. Salzy
    Salzy at |

    thank you so much for sharing such a heartfelt, raw passage about lydia. she was a special light in this world. and she was lucky to have you and her family there during her dark times.

    i struggle with knowing what to say that could bring any sort of solace, and maybe that’s just because i feel as someone who read
    through something that hit me so powerfully, i feel its my duty to reach out and let the writer know how their words were moving. But of course you know that and that’s not what you’re looking for in writing it and thus it wouldn’t make much difference. But I do want to share that it does make an impact with me.

    You see, as someone who grew up in town here too, i know how its easy to feel pressured into fitting into some god damn mold of how things should be perfect when they’re actually not. I’ve been quite a similar darkness lydia was in, for a very long time. i’ve at times been so close to being swallowed by it myself, and i don’t even know what kept me from sinking, but i keep swimming and working and waking up and pretending its ok. and i talk to someone a couple times a month. to try and stay out of the darkness too much. b/c its never gone away, its still there, its just working and being busy prevents me from drowning.

    So thank you for sharing this. because when i get to that place (sometimes too easily) of being so overwhelmed and wanting to give up, i will remember those left behind. I will remember its not easier for everyone when a loved one leaves.

    Lydia has made a difference. and your love and your family’s neverending love for her lives on in everyone around her. I wish you all the best. thank you.

  13. Colleen
    Colleen at |

    I think of her every day. I’ve dreamt of her countless nights. I still have the text messages we shared on my phone. So many messages saying that we needed to get together and we needed to catch up and that we missed and loved each other. We never did get to meet up again or catch up. Sometimes it still doesn’t seem real. We go up to Denver for something and I want to call Lydia to see if we can hang out, and then the reality hits hard evey time. We always had the best of times together though. We shared a summer that I’ll never forget and many many fun times.

  14. Cory Casciato
    Cory Casciato at |

    To the best of my knowledge, I never met your sister, but after reading this I feel like I know her a little bit. And I feel like I know you a little bit better. This was a really beautiful piece of writing and it made me feel something and that’s all any writer can ever really hope to accomplish (well, that and a fuckton of money). I’m sorry for your loss, but thanks so much for sharing your story.

  15. Anonymous
    Anonymous at |

    Yes…yes. I have been at Denver Health under those circumstances…”if I could just sleep this day away…just THIS one.” I would accidentally lead the group therapy sessions during my 72 hour hold and then was released after pills, pills, pills and a “briefing” on the defense mechanism “intellectualization.” Sylvia Plath. Virginia Woolf. The world is too small for the brilliance of these women and your sister.

    “I have a deeply hidden and inarticulate desire for something beyond the daily life.” (Woolf)

    “Dying Is an art, like everything else. I do it exceptionally well. I do it so it feels like hell. I do it so it feels real. I guess you could say I’ve a call.” (Plath)

    Today was a day I took “too” many and decided to sleep the day away. Tomorrow, I will really really try to go to work. I’ll be thinking of Lydia instead, and I’ll muster up the strength for both of us.

  16. Randi Pechacek
    Randi Pechacek at |

    Thank you for writing this story about your experiences. My brother committed suicide in October of 2012 and I’ve never felt quite right about it. I cried a little but not as much as I thought I should. I was the one holding everybody at the funeral, and I refused to look at his body because I wanted to remember the last image of him alive and happy. I’m rambling and I apologize but I wanted to say that this story finally convinced me to read my brother’s suicide note. It’s been sitting on my phone for months, my whole family has read it, and now I have. Thank you.

  17. Matt
    Matt at |

    Hi Adam,
    I’m a long-time fan of your work. I knew something bad had happened to your family and this has cleared up a lot of questions. I’m very sorry. This is a very sad story that captures the feeling of a very fucked-up summer. Hang in there.

  18. Chrystal
    Chrystal at |

    Wow, beautiful, sad. touching

  19. Bill Stough
    Bill Stough at |

    Thank you for this. I lost a 32 year old son to a drug overdose five years ago. He was a kindred soul to your sister: smart, funny, lovable and unexplainably sad. Your piece accurately captured the tsunami of feeling in the aftermath of his death and the subsequent years. The feelings evolve and morph but always arriving under a different mask of grief. It sucks so bad. My deepest condolences to you and your family. Your not alone in this morass of loss, and by writing this you’ve helped people realize they aren’t either. We’re all connected. Best wishes in the coming days.

  20. Selina
    Selina at |

    What a wonderful and a straight forward spell caster that has brought back joy and happiness into my life after i saw a post on how he helped a lady called Cassandra,i decided to contact him for help when i told this God sent man priest JAYEMA on how my lover left me for 2 years without calling nor texting me,When i shared this my sad experience with priest JAYEMA he said everything would be okay within 3 days i was like am i sure what this man is saying is real,So i decided to give a try and i what even surprised me the most at first i was also thinking he was a scam i taught he was like other spell caster who come online to add pain to peoples pain not knowing there feelings but to make money,But this great man priest JAYEMA is never like that his own is for good and make people to be happy with the one they love,Am just so happy,Even before the 3 days i just got a call from a man who has left me for 2 years saying he his sorry and that he wants me back to his life i was so happy,He invited me for a dinner which i meant him there and we bought talked and he said he wants to prove that he would never leave me for any other lady he engaged me and also make me had access to all his account am so happy all thanks goes to this great man priest JAYEMA a man who has brought back joy to my life,Please friends that needs help i would advice and swear that priest JAYEMA is the right man and not those fake ones who are online to make money and not to help here is priest JAYEMA private mail jayemamagictemple@gmail.com

  21. Lila
    Lila at |

    Adam…

    I am so sorry for your loss.
    Your story makes me feel so many things.
    Your writing stirs me.
    Thank you. Thank you for sharing all of this.

    …Lila

  22. Laura
    Laura at |

    This story left me heartbroken. I read it a few days ago and have not stop thinking about it since. This is one of the most beautiful pieces I have ever read. Your sister sounds like she was an amazing person who was haunted by her own genius. I have struggled with mental issues that I have refused to talk about openly. My own thoughts seem to overwhelm me at times. At the end of the day it seem like there is a little madness in all of us. Thank you for sharing.

  23. Briana Scoggins
    Briana Scoggins at |

    Adam,

    Thank you for being such a raw example of a human being. I can’t stop crying for you, your family, Lydia and for the world, having lost such a remarkable member. I miss you and wish I could hug you for longer than you would be comfortable with. Thank you for sharing.

  24. Twila Vernon
    Twila Vernon at |

    Brilliant piece on how the world tilts and turns upside down, horrid it had to end on such a soul wrenching note.
    So very sorry for your loss.

  25. Aimee Giese | Greeblemonkey
    Aimee Giese | Greeblemonkey at |

    Sitting here crying. For your sister, and how it all feels so real since the moments you describe (except the kiddie porn) were all around me here in Denver. Very sorry for your loss.

  26. Adam Mack Wright
    Adam Mack Wright at |

    Thank you so much for writing this. Terribly sorry for your loss.

  27. Deanna Petersib
    Deanna Petersib at |

    I always return to this story when I am feeling upset or nostalgic. You are such an incredible writer and I am so proud of you, from afar, for how open you have been in sharing your experiences over the years. Your family is lucky to have each other- especially those kiddos. xo.

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