KAREN - In Loving Memory

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KAREN - In Loving Memory

Post by Magikal » Sun Aug 22, 2004 4:31 pm


March 6, 1950 - August 9, 2004

A dear friend of mine just died, quite unexpectedly. Please give me just a few minutes of your time, out of your busy life, so I may explain to you what a remarkable woman she was, and why her passing should matter to you. Her name, was Karen.

She was, as I said, a remarkable woman, with a heart the size of a semi-trailer. She was exuberant beyond belief, leaping joyously into the pleasures of life with a child-like abandon and a complete lack of inhibition. This was a woman who loved roller coasters and her ‘60s Barracuda sports car and her dog Nellie and thunderous fireworks displays from so close the debris from the shells was literally raining down on our heads (we got that close by volunteering to help set up the guns and load the shells).

This was a woman who had dozens upon dozens upon dozens of friends, friends with wild and wonderful tales from every corner of the globe, friends who, grapevine-like, extended all up and down the coast of California and on into the East and on into every country on earth. She would do things delightfully on the spur of the moment, calling up a friend to see if they wanted to go to Frisco for lunch…when they lived in San Diego.

She loved Christmas more than anyone I have ever seen, and her co-workers vividly remember her in her Santa cap and wearing one red Converse sneaker and one green one, with laces to match and jingling bells and red and green outfits. She loved roller coasters, and we made regular trips up to Six Flags and Knott’s Berry Farm…anywhere they had big coasters. And of course Disneyland was one of her favorite places on earth. She had so much Disney memorabilia, and loved Tinkerbell, Eeyore, and Mickey.

And she cared deeply for her friends, and would help them out no matter what trouble they got into. When Sabrina, one of her many friends, got pregnant with her first child (out of wedlock), it was Karen who talked her through it. She had been a single mother herself in the late sixties, when such things were very frowned upon. It was one of the most difficult decisions a mother has to make when Karen decided to give up her son for her sister to raise. She didn’t think she would make a good mother and wanted to do what was best for her child. Her son, Erik, survives her, and helped to organize her memorial service, along with her mother.

She knew at a very early age she wanted to help people, so going into the nursing profession was a natural for her. And for over thirty years, she helped to change lives. And it afforded her enough income to buy a house, which gave her somewhere to have her many friends over to her parties.

And Lord, God, she threw parties! Karen’s parties quickly became the stuff of legend, and everyone who was anyone had to attend, though all of this happened years before I met Karen. A dear friend of hers, Bobby, lived with her off and on in a mother/son-like friendship, and he related that when they had 200+ people inside, they would have to close the doors.

And Karen loved costumes, most of which she made herself (she was quite good with a sewing machine), and they were amazingly innovative and unique. In fact, she loved anything where she got a chance to wear a costume, including becoming a Rocky Horror performer and attending the Southern Renaissance Faire. Even in later years, she took up square dancing, and had the impossibly frilly dresses that barely allowed her to fit behind the wheel of her car. Her Halloween parties were astonishing, as you would imagine.

And she would just come up to people she didn’t even know, hand them an invitation, and say, “Please come to my party!” But she chose from a good pool of people, since she frequently handed them out to those standing in line to get into Rocky Horror.

She had hundreds of pictures of the people attending her parties, in costume and in various states of inebriation. And she would take those photos, organize them with captions, and make up scrapbooks, dated by the years they happened. Frequently at her parties, events came full circle, and people would end up…looking at the scrapbooks of parties past.

And she always had the most clever themes to her parties. For St. Patrick’s day, she made up invitations of green construction paper, cut out in the shape of a four-leaf clover, and when you unfolded it, there inside was the time & place information. “Karen & Georges’ House Of Fun!”, if memory serves, and I believe George was this gigantic white teddy bear whose lap it was said to be most comfortable to drift off in.

Another party, the invitation was in the form of a want ad for “Party animals, must be willing to work long hours, get along with eccentric people, no experience necessary, will train.” And everyone had to show up in suit and tie and fill out a job application.

And the applications she got back (also filed in the scrapbook) were great shows of the wonderfully creative people she found to attend her parties. “Do you have any hidden talents?” “Yes.” “If yes, what are they?” “They’re hidden, silly!” Or, “Words alone do not suffice, must demonstrate.” “What position are you seeking?” “Vertical, mostly, unless inebriated or accompanied.” “Can you get along with eccentric & unusual people?” “I live with Lance - self explanatory.” “Why do you feel you deserve this position?” “Because I’ll blackmail you if you don’t give it to me!”

What an amazing collection of people she came up with, here in eccentric, creative Southern California! One of them went by the name of Doc, and he could climb stairs while standing on his hands. As another friend said, of all the people who said they were going to run away to join the circus, he was the only one who actually did it. He became the ringmaster of a small traveling circus, a position for which he is eminently well suited.

And her lust for life was not limited to holding parties in her own back yard. She also went to Mardi Gras numerous times, with several different people. And as I said, she also loved Disneyland, and never turned down a chance to go to Magic Mountain or some other amusement park. This was a woman who was, by any standard of the word, irrepressible.

But all that vivaciousness and live-for-today attitude did not come without a price, and a high one. You see, Karen had a lot of problems; a lot. She was in and out of mental institutions regularly, and had to take powerful psychoactive drugs (anti-depressants, anti-hallucinogens, schizophrenia meds) and was suicidal. It was hard to say just how much of that lust for life came from joy, and how much from sheer desperation and lack of anything to lose.

And that, in fact, was how I met Karen. We met in ACA, which stands for Adult Children of Alcoholics. With all her friends, and all her experiences, and all her parties, living in the (semi) big city, still obviously something was missing in her life. And I came from exactly the opposite side of the coin, having few friends, never being invited to parties, coming from rural Pennsylvania, and having lived a relatively cautious life. I think that was why we started to like each other; we were so different!

Everyone let it all hang out in those meetings. Karen saw me at my very worst, and my worst was very bad indeed (at that time, I, too, was desperate, and had very little to lose). But she loved me in spite of that, or perhaps because of it. We became friends. Then, cautiously, lovers, because we had both been very badly hurt by the opposite sex. Certainly from her perspective, the guy who fathered her son left her as soon as he found out she was pregnant.

And what lovers we were! We explored each others’ souls as thoroughly as we did each others’ bodies, spending hours talking, letting all of our ugly little secrets out, but still we were all right with each other. And then we made love, and those years we spent together were the most precious and sweetest days of my life. I ended up moving in with her, and we sickened everyone around us with the sweetness of our love. In fact, one time we had two cops march out and break us up outside a diner where they were having breakfast! How we laughed about that…

God, that woman had the ability to take you completely by surprise, and throw you completely off-balance. Like the time she came to visit me, before I moved in with her, and she came clattering down my driveway in an all-black outfit: garter belt and stockings, panties, corset and bodice, and let’s not forget the thigh-high, high-heel leather boots. To say I had to scrape my jaw up off the ground is something of an understatement. And she was more than happy to indulge my fascination with opera gloves.

And we explored the continent together as well as each other, meeting my family on the east coast, her family in the south. We went to Washington, D.C., stayed at the Provincial in the French quarter of New Orleans (off-season, thank God), Carlsbad Caverns, San Francisco, Yosemite, white water rafting. We went everywhere.

But eventually it ended. She kept pushing marriage, and while I was confused and didn’t know what direction I wanted my life to go, I knew I didn’t want to get married. Of course, it didn’t help one damned bit that we were both stubborn as mules (which was how we had gotten as far in life as we had). We ended up breaking up.

A lot happened in the following years, but still, we always managed to stay friends. Still we would go out and do things together, because we had so many common interests, knew each others’ souls inside and out, had our own private little language and gestures and knowing smiles. And then the world dropped out from under me.

The details don’t really matter; suffice it to say I had something of a nervous breakdown. My mother characterized it as a midlife crisis at 35, and I suppose that’s the best possible thumbnail sketch of it. Life had kicked me in the gut, and I was left gasping for air. In that context, I tried to go back to what I once had with Karen, because I suddenly starkly realized just how precious and rare our love/friendship had been. And I was desperately clutching at straws, trying to preserve some remnants of the shattered wreckage of my life.

At first she was delighted, but soon she could see this was no passing funk. I tried to explain what I was going through, but I think for the first time with her, she couldn’t (or wouldn’t) understand. We began to fight. About. Every. Thing.

Again, the details don’t really matter. If I were forced to pick one thing of what our fights were really all about, it would be that I was no longer the man she had fallen in love with, and she couldn’t understand who this new person was, and she was hurt and angry.

I held out for a year. Lord, God, our relationship had been so sweet! We had loved each other so much! We had found the world through each other! But it seemed that little or none of that was left, no matter how hard I tried to find it. I tried being patient with her. I tried explaining it to her. I tried screaming at her. But nothing seemed to work. It was steadily becoming more misery than pleasure. There was, it seemed, nothing left. Finally, I broke it off.

She tried to re-start our friendship right away, but I was too severely injured for that. Here I had gotten the worst gut-kick of my life, and she couldn’t stop scratching and clawing and biting at me, all at a time when I was most vulnerable and least able (or inclined) to defend myself. She had hurt me too badly. I didn’t want to see her then.

Over a year passed before I wanted to see her again. I found I still cared greatly about her, kept track of her through mutual friends, but still I dreaded seeing her, dreaded having all the old wounds reopened. Finally we saw each other at a friends’ birthday party, and I got a chance to talk to her.

She was well, looked well, and seemed eager to be friends again. I even felt she wanted to try being lovers again, but that I was pretty sure would never happen; we had drifted too far apart, she had hurt me too much, and I wasn’t the same person I had been. But as had always been between us, I could feel that we could be friends again, and good ones. We hugged and parted, her letting me know she would wait until I felt up to meeting, since our staying apart was by my choice.

And still I put it off, kind of dreading the meeting. I didn’t even like to go through the small town she lived in, on the off-chance that I might run into her. She had torn into me so savagely and cruelly that year we were trying to restart our love, I had trouble believing she wouldn’t do it again. With the passage of time, I was stronger, and the hurt receded. But who wants to hang out with someone who knows your every inner secret and who had demonstrated the ability (and willingness) to tear your guts out?

And then my time ran out.


I woke Wednesday morning, fixed my cereal and coffee, and was getting my e-mail when the message line flashed on the screen that she was dead. I almost immediately went into numb shock, reading the e-mail, hoping against hope it was wrong, the person was making a rather tasteless joke, it was someone else they were talking about. She COULDN’T be dead, she couldn’t be!!! It just wasn’t possible!!! Not… not Karen! Not HER!!! Surely she was actually all right, and I would call her and discover that all along she was just fine, and she would laugh (in that gaily full-throated way she had that made you want to laugh with her) at the ridiculous thought that she might be dead!

But I had things to do. I went into my “functional” mode, got shaved and showered, ready to go to work, after forwarding the e-mail to her friend Bobby, saying I very much hoped a mistake had been made, but knowing he would want to know ASAP.

Through it all, however, I found myself looking for some out from what I had just read, some way it wouldn’t be true, couldn’t be true. They had the name wrong! No, the name was right. It was all a very tasteless joke! No, the guy who sent it over wasn’t noted for such incredibly cruel jokes, and was in fact very trustworthy. She was pulling a joke, or a trick, wanting to see if I still cared about her! But this was far more than she had ever done, Puckish sense of humor or not.

All the tired clichés I had ever heard started to make sense to me. “It seemed like a bad dream…”. But I knew it wasn’t a dream. “There must be some mistake…” But I knew, with a sick certainty, that there hadn’t been. “Maybe it’s someone else…” But her name was right, from someone whom I trusted to check before he would send out such information.

She couldn’t be dead!

God, Karen meant so much to me, was so much to me, was so much of me! How could she be dead?!? It just wasn’t possible!

From years of experience at having to keep going when my guts were churning, I went on auto pilot and got through the day, all the while hoping that some mistake had been made, that I would come home and find another e-mail apologizing for a terrible mistake, or, magically, that the original e-mail would have disappeared, would have never been there, would have never been sent.

It was there.


The details are a little sketchy. Apparently, she had been feeling poorly for a couple of months, but thought it was just the flu or something. No one seems to know just how much she knew, or when, but since she was a nurse, she had to know something was wrong with her. As I understand it, it was a massive tumor in her chest (lung cancer; she smoked), and by the time they discovered it, it had spread to her liver, and into her brain. By that time, there was nothing they could do but make her as comfortable as possible.

It isn’t even clear if she really knew she was about to die. If she did, she chose not to tell anyone, or very few people anyway. That hurts me, that she wouldn’t even tell me she was dying (if she knew), but I don’t condemn her for it. A person’s death is the most personal thing they will ever go through, and they should be allowed to die as they see fit.

And from her perspective, I can kind of understand; I suspect she didn’t want maudlin outpourings of sympathy and sadness. She wanted people to interact with her as they always had when she was alive and healthy and vibrant, and that would be the way she would want to be remembered, right up to the end. But I surely do wish she had given me a kick, called me up and said, “Hey! You said you wanted to get together! Well, do you or don’t you?!?” I would have appreciated that. Even her friend Bobby said he had talked to her no more than a week before she died, and everything seemed fine.

But eventually it became too much for her. She checked herself into the hospital on Thursday night (driving herself, of course; what a woman). She got in touch with one of her old friends who goes by the name of Little Doc (kid brother of the guy who became the ringmaster of the small circus), and asked him to take care of her dogs and other pets.

So he was at hand as she deteriorated. He said she was coherent on Thursday, iffy by Friday, but by Saturday they had her in a morphine coma, though she was still reacting to things people were saying to her. Another woman friend of hers and a doctor, Goldie, checked to make sure she was getting all the drugs she needed to be as comfortable as possible.

But Little Doc said it was obvious from her face that she was in great pain, morphine or no, and she winced when people touched her. And then, sometime Sunday, she passed away, and he said that her face was at peace, and he could see that she wasn’t hurting any more. I am just thankful, truly, that she suffered so little. Four days is quick.

I took off work that Friday practically without warning, needing a little time to deal with the shock. When I got home, I discovered there was to be a memorial service that Friday at the church she had started to attend, so I would have taken off work anyway. I didn’t note until later that it fell on Friday the 13th, which was very appropriate; she always had a taste for the macabre. When I first started dating her, she had a coffin lid in her house, with Rocky Horror & other similarly interesting pins stuck into the lining.

A lot of her old friends were there, and I was having trouble talking and keeping from bursting into tears. Her son, Erik, was there, as was her mother, having both flown in. He had made up a collage of photos of her, picked from the hundreds and hundreds of photos Karen had of herself, in various costumes and various moods, and it was a wonderfully fitting celebration of her life, and all the things she had done. He was good enough to let me put up several pictures I had of her for the duration of the service.

A woman from the church spoke, mentioning among other things the hundreds of hours she had volunteered to the Red Cross. And how she had made the most difficult decision a mother could, to give up her son for adoption (to her sister), because she knew she wouldn’t be a good mother, and she wanted to do what was best for her child. It was, after all, the late sixties, and an unwed mother was a social pariah. And then her son delivered the eulogy, and then they left the microphone open for whoever wanted to speak.

After it was clear no one else was going to stand up yet, I did, because I wanted to speak anyway. I had trouble choking out the words, but I spoke of how lucky I was to have known Karen, and of all the things we had done together, going all the way across the U. S. together. There was so much more that I wanted to say, but I couldn’t think straight, and the words wouldn’t come out. I went to sit down, and her mother asked me to come sit with her and Erik.

More of her friends spoke, and they, too, were either crying outright or tight-throated. Sabrina talked about how she had helped her when she got pregnant the first time, and the tears ran freely down her face. And she said if Karen was there, she would have kicked our asses and asked us what was up with all this crying? And also about how much there was about Karen she hadn’t known until then, like the fact that when she was in high school, she had been a cheerleader for the San Diego Chargers.

Some of the people from her work spoke as well, saying what a good nurse she had been. And after the ceremony, another man who had worked with her told me Karen was one of those people everyone else watched to see the right way to do things.

And in there I also talked to her friend Bob, who had known Karen for 25+ years, and I learned that she had gotten baptized at this church. Evidently it meant a great deal to her to have that done, because you don’t get baptized in your fifties unless it does. So many of the people came up with so many different things, things her other friends had never known about her. As someone said, she had so many facets, no one person knew everything about her.

After the memorial service, I went down to Belmont Park, which is right next to the Pacific. I spent some time looking out at the eternal, undying ocean, and then, tie and all, I rode the roller coaster they have there, in memory of Karen. I even rode in the very front car and put my arms up when we went over the top.

That Sunday was the wake. We were to have a party to celebrate Karen’s life, not to mourn, a party that Karen would have been proud to preside over. It was put on by Little Doc, and he held it at his house overlooking Mission Valley, which has a fantastic view down the canyon.

He, too, was having trouble believing she was really gone. He related that while he was organizing the wake, and having to take care of all the details and call all these old friends, he thought, "I should call up Karen and ask for her help...oh, I can't!!!! She's the one we're having the wake for!"

He had made it clear it was to only go from noon to six, so I just enjoyed myself as best as I was able in the time I had. I looked out at the view and enjoying the company, because I knew it was very likely I would never be here, or see most of these people, ever again. I had met all of these people by knowing Karen, and now that she was gone, I would no longer have any connection with them at all. It was more than just her death we mourned, it was the end of an era.

Little Doc had brought six of her party scrapbooks, and they all looked through them, remembering parties past, and remembering Karen, and what a remarkable woman she was. And it struck me as we looked through the scrapbooks how lucky I was to have known her. Of all the hundreds of men she had known, and who knew how many lovers (I don’t, and don’t want to know), she picked me. And I do think she truly loved me, more, I suspect to my shame, than I loved her.

There will be one more ceremony, when they put her ashes into the ocean, which is appropriate, given how she loved to travel. At the same time they will put in the ashes of her beloved dog Panda, so they can be together forever.

No one person got to see all the facets of Karen; no one person got to see all the different sides of her. Wife, lover, mother, friend, nurse, comforter to the dying, volunteer to the Red Cross, that and a hundred other things besides. How all these different people, and all these different facets, could fit into one five foot four woman, was all part of the mystery of who Karen was. God could have cut her up into six different people and still have had personality left over. I doubt very much I’ll ever see her like again.

And so the glory and beauty of the world is that much less today than it was just two weeks ago, and the night is that much blacker and more frightening, because there is one less bright, shining beacon to beat back the darkness. I cannot express to you what a hole her passing has left in my life; I feel like a new amputee, feeling the stump of my severed limb, still not able to comprehend the stark, ugly reality that is suddenly a part of my everyday life. Even if I didn’t talk to her because of our differences, I always knew I could just pick up the phone and call her, and reconnect with a dear, dear friend. But now all of that is gone forever.

Oh God, baby, I never wanted to hurt you; I am so, so sorry for the pain I caused. And I wish so much I had come over and talked to you, just talked, just to catch up on how you were doing. I love you, and I miss you so damn much. I just hope wherever you are, you’re happy. I love you baby, I love you. Take care, precious.


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Post by sparkletarte » Sun Aug 22, 2004 6:34 pm

Oh, Steve, what a beautiful eulogy. Lots of hugs for you. It sounds like you were both very fortunate to know each other and spend time together. Take care!

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Post by theBrooke » Sun Aug 22, 2004 7:10 pm

See you at the Temple, Sunday night.



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Post by cowboyangel » Sun Aug 22, 2004 7:50 pm

Thank you Steve...God bless you man.
"We'll know our disinformation program is complete when everything the American public believe is false."- William Casey, CIA Director 1981

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Post by Bambi of Finland » Sun Aug 22, 2004 10:17 pm

Steve , In the midst of all my preparation madness it was good to read about Karen. It sometimes escapes me that it is just a camping trip and there are so many more important things in the world. I needed grounding today and you sharing Karen with us helped. keep sharing and I hope to meet you soon. Love Bambi
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Post by Bluebunnybee » Sun Aug 22, 2004 11:30 pm

Spirit * *
Wash over us
With soft gentle light
Move together in love *
Body centered in tide *
Let go the passing *
Seeing all holding now *

Blessings *

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Post by Badger » Mon Aug 23, 2004 1:36 am

See you at the Temple, Sunday night.


Looks like another big year of mojo's gonna happen there.
Desert dogs drink deep.

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Post by Magikal » Tue Aug 24, 2004 9:24 am

Thank you all for your kind words; I had worried people wouldn't be. Yes, I am fortunate indeed to have spent the time with her that I had.

But what is happening Sunday night? I had planned to leave Sunday afternoon, altho I am going to be at the meet-n-greet Thursday over at, what is it, Barbie Death Camp? Hope to see all of you there.

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Post by theCryptofishist » Tue Aug 24, 2004 10:00 am

Magikal wrote: But what is happening Sunday night?
The burning of hte Temple of Stars--the temples are often (always) specifically set up in part as a mourning ritual.

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Re: KAREN - In Loving Memory

Post by theCryptofishist » Tue Aug 24, 2004 10:06 am

Magikal wrote: And so the glory and beauty of the world is that much less today than it was just two weeks ago, and the night is that much blacker and more frightening, because there is one less bright, shining beacon to beat back the darkness. I cannot express to you what a hole her passing has left in my life; I feel like a new amputee, feeling the stump of my severed limb, still not able to comprehend the stark, ugly reality that is suddenly a part of my everyday life. Even if I didn’t talk to her because of our differences, I always knew I could just pick up the phone and call her, and reconnect with a dear, dear friend. But now all of that is gone forever.
Well put. When I lost my sister (car crash, 9 years ago on the 20th) I felt like an abyss had opened at my feet, that the web of life that sustained me had irrrevokably ripped. It's a lonely feeling.
I'm something of a lay expert of what brakedowns/mental illness can do to a relationship. Come by MedCamp on 3 o'clock plaza if you want to talk about that.

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Post by theBrooke » Tue Aug 24, 2004 2:58 pm


You will want to stay for the temple burn... This year it is called the Temple of Stars. Have you been before? David Best builds this beautiful temple every year. My first year was 2000, and the temple was much smaller than it's current incarnations, but still... I walked in not even knowing what it was. People all around me were writing messages to people they had lost, things they wished they had done, regrets, desires, whatever. I heard on Sunday night they would burn the structure, taking all of the messages to the heavens. I sat down and had a moment with my PaPaw... he had passed that year, he was a wonderful man I loved him. I also wrote a letter to my little sisters who I had left behind in Georgia (and practically raised up to that point). It was the most emotionally intense space I had ever been in, and when I left I was crying and could not stop. My friends who had been waiting for me outside looked worried and asked if I was ok.

I told them indeed I was... a huge weight was lifted.

You should make it a point to stay if you can.


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Post by madmatt » Tue Aug 24, 2004 3:10 pm

Magikal wrote:But what is happening Sunday night?


And then this...

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