Day 33 - Frosty Hesson Part 2 - Ways We Say Goodbye and I Love You
Recently I saw a video of some New Zealand students honoring the retirement of one of their teachers. The description beneath the Youtube video reads, The Haka is a traditional war cry, dance, or challenge from the Māori people of New Zealand. It is a posture dance performed by a group, with vigorous movements and stamping of the feet with rhythmically shouted accompaniment. I had never seen anything like it before. I watched it six times in a row, and I keep going back to watch it one more time.
Here. You watch it and then you tell me why, as a retired teacher, as someone who has had many wonderful teachers, I would be crying, even now, as I write about what I saw.
Why, as a culture, do we not beat our chests more, rend our clothes, tear at our hair? When my mother died, her funeral was so tame. I am still looking for a way to fully express the grief I felt when she died, still feel, now, that she is dead.
I saw my first paddle out a few months ago when I was walking out on the pier in Santa Cruz. There was a large circle of people sitting out in the distance on surfboards. I could hear muffled voices. I heard cheers. I saw splashes of water as though people were hitting the surface of the ocean with their hands.
I couldn't stop watching. It looked powerful and meaningful and magical. A man fishing nearby said, "A surfer must have died. That's a paddle out." I thought it was incredible that instead of labelling the ocean bad for taking one of their own, this band of surfers were still part of it, part of the ocean, floating on its surface, gathered as a community to mark the death of a brother or a sister.
Later I watched the movie Chasing Mavericks and sobbed through Jay Moriarty's paddle out. I asked Frosty about it when we sat down to talk.
Jay was a kid of mine. There’s no other way to express it. When he transitioned, when he died, I was on a bike ride with Mikey G., but on the first significant pitch on our ride, I'd had to say, Mikey, I can’t do it. I have no strength. Nothing. I had no idea what was wrong.
That was the same time Jay was dying. We were that connected.
I came home--Zeuf was away working, so I took the kids to Big Sur for a camping trip. We were five minutes out of cell reception when the news of Jay hit, so I had two nights, I think it was two nights, maybe it was one, before we came home. Driving down 36th Ave, I saw all these flowers along the street and I thought someone had decided to sell them.
I parked in the driveway, and the same guy who had asked me to go on the trip came over and he said, How are you doing? and I said, I’m doing awesome. The kids and I were at Big Sur and we had a great weekend. He said, You don’t know?
I had no idea what he was talking about.
Sit down, he said.
I could see he was torn apart. He said, I have to tell you this. Jay’s gone.
All I could say was, It can not be. It can not. It can not. I went into the house. I don’t remember what else happened. It’s still incredibly impactful.
There were four points of the movie (Chasing Mavericks) I was upset with. One was the last scene where you see the paddle out. It’s disrespectful on a couple of levels.
There were thousands of people who had come to the original. All of East Cliff from 41st to the Market, you couldn’t walk. Kim and Jay had had an apartment a little more than a block from the Market. We went to walk, and people had to part to let us through. We came down here to a different set of stairs and we walked down and paddled out and the canoe came in and then the thousands of people.
Here's a brief snapshot of the paddle out:
For the reenactment, they had thousands of people in the morning. People had taken off work; kids were out of school. The filmmakers were letting people down on 38th which is a different set of stairs than the ones we went down for the real paddle out. The movie did great on so many aspects, but they failed on this one.
At the time, Zeuf said to me, How are you going to handle all of this? I said, I’m going to say hello to people I have to say hello to and I’m not doing any interviews and then I’m coming back to the house and I’ll paddle out like I always do. She said, They want everyone on 38th. I said, Babe, you know me. I gotta do me because this is going to be a lot.
It was so important to me that they had lifeguards and safety people because there were all sorts of people who shouldn’t be in the water. I was paddling next to people and I’d see they were struggling, and I’d say, Don’t rush. Just get there. Take it slow. If you need me to be with you, I can be with you. But just get there.
They all said, No, I’m okay. I’ll get there, and I’d say, Okay, but you haven’t been in the water for years, maybe decades, and it’s a long paddle. So just go slow. We’ll wait.
As a community we have our normal, bitchy issues, but we have a huge heart. You saw this in the in the original paddle out and in the reenactment. People came out because Jay impacted so many people. You couldn’t show this enough in any movie.
From the beginning, I had told him, You are to be you. I’m me for many reasons. I have an edge. I have coarseness, but that’s me. You don’t need any of that. You have a purity that needs to come out. Let it out. Be who you are to be. And you could look in his eyes and you’d just feel better.
Jay was who he was to be, and he affected everyone around him.
Here is a scene of Gerald Butler, the actor who played Frosty's character in the movie Chasing Mavericks, getting the crowd ready to reenact a key moment in the Jay's paddle out.
Frosty and I both cried as he told me these stories. It means so much to be seen and to see, to value and to be valued. Part of this 93-day project for me is to see what matters the most and to let go of what doesn't feel deeply celebratory or necessary.
I wish that each time a mother relinquished a child to other parents, we had a Haka performed by the members of the adoption agency and the lawyers and judges attached to the case as the baby left the mother behind. Maybe then everyone involved would feel the intensity, the blood rage and sorrow involved in transitions such as death or mother-loss.
I wish the mother who had given birth to me had been served a chorus of gut-deep heart-cries that gave voice to her internal self that in the 1960's most likely presented as a numb exterior, a face that to everyone else might have looked just fine.
I wish we'd had a paddle out for my mom or a Haka. Something where I could have cried out or beat my chest or the water and joined in community with the rageful joy and grief that comes with having known love, that comes with still knowing love even though the body is gone.
I wish our grief were louder, our community tighter, so we could get on with the business of healing, of loving even more recklessly, more completely, and with great sloppiness and devotion.
I am grateful to Frosty for taking the time to talk to me. Sharing stories with people matters. I can't wait to share the rest of our talk with you tomorrow. It focuses on Frosty's wife, Zeuf, the Girl in the Curl, and I'll show you the art Frosty created as a way to process feelings too big for one body to contain.
See you tomorrow.
Art by Frosty Hesson