Want to be Unhappy?

Today marks two years since the passing of my older brother Pat.

Recognizing and resolving his absence is a long and arduous process, one that requires the love and support from family and friends. To them I am especially indebted for their kindness, for reaching out and sharing memories of Pat, and for reminding me of how irreplaceable he truly was.

I have become especially adept at reckoning everything with that which Pat would have loved and loathed, at constantly guessing how he would have reacted reading that article, hearing that song, or watching that interview. This, a timeless tool we the living use to remind us that our loved ones who have passed continue to influence our thoughts. It is a way I embrace even the mundane moments of my everyday with the memory of my brother Pat.

I grew up with two older brothers. As the baby, these brothers were two of the strongest forces to shape my identity. The discovery of our physical surroundings, in an empty field behind the house, they led me on those fantastical voyages, our young minds rife with imagination fed by National Geographic and Indiana Jones. Behind the house, there was the ‘hole’, and ‘dinosaur puddle’, and then further on, the ‘river’, the wild geography of a kid’s universe. I followed them into the unknown beyond the dandelion weeds, lifting discarded sheets of plywood, picking at beetles, chasing mice, and catching the rare salamander. My brothers inspired me with love for adventure from an early age. Would it have been different if I were the oldest instead of the youngest?  I like to think I would have done the same for my little bro.

Following their footsteps.

I believe if it is the job of our parents to teach us unconditional love, it is our siblings who cement the family bond.

As children, we had endless, lazy summers sleeping in late, playing baseball in the neighbor’s backyard, steal the flag on the pavement, a game of kick the can way past dark. We ate massive amounts of cold cereal and were dropped off at Wild Waters for the day. I had no idea how to play Dungeon & Dragons, but it was cooler than anything else you were doing as an 8 year old. Every kid had a DIY rocket, but few had the gumption to blast one off in the house. My brothers did. I remember standing next to Pat, 30 feet up on the highest platform at Lava Hot Springs. He told me we could jump off together, not to worry that he would be by my side. Flying through the air, frantically swinging my arms in circles, I crashed into the water at unfamiliar speeds. I tried to figure out all those typical ‘boy things’ you learn about in the sixth grade. How and why to use deodorant, watching my brother grow into a man.

Pat’s music collection was a different kind of journey altogether. I spent hours in his bedroom, picking over tapes and then CDs that I could play in my Walkman. I was only 12 when Pat stuck Pearl Jam’s ‘Ten’ into the CD player. It was 1991, and I saved all my money to buy Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’ for Pat for Christmas. I knew he always paid it forward, taking me to concerts, bringing me new music, letting me be part of his crew. He played my father’s stereo at insanely loud levels. If he was alone, Nine Inch Nails, Public Enemy, and Tool shook the living room.

One of the last memories I have of him as a young man is from an aqueduct near our house. Somehow, someway, he and Josh had discovered an underground chamber, accessed through a large water pipe. There was change in the air, as Pat was preparing to leave the nest to attend an art school in Seattle. The three of us climbed up the aqueduct with a can of spray paint. Josh painted some graffiti and left the words of the late Andrew Wood, love rock awaits you, a message that 25 years later, seems more appropriate than ever.

Read more memories of Pat growing up here.

Solid bonds.

As we became adults, our relationship evolved, each brother following his journey, choosing his path. Despite being separated by university, jobs, and life, we periodically met for travel all around the world, from Spain to Morocco, from Mexico to Chile. We each progressed, branched out, dug roots into foreign soil. But for Pat, the journey became overwhelmingly difficult. He struggled with regret, as many are inclined to do. While he moved forward developing his tremendous talent as a reporter and then editor and marketing genius, he never stopped looking back. Remorse became an obsession and triggered bouts of mental illness, depression, and anxiety. These challenges knocked him into dark places. A nagging of the soul dogged him for years.

Pat came to visit me when I lived in Chile. We spent a couple weeks between the high valleys of the Andes Mountains and on the windy shores of the Pacific Ocean. Pat was wistful, but still interested in learning about Pablo Neruda, Chilean history, and sporting a t-shirt with former dictator Pinochet in a mugshot. He yearned for story angles, he turned over every piece of information in his head, and always extrapolated a lesson learned. He was a sponge in that sense. He loved the big city, but I took him rock climbing deep in the Andes and sat in thermal springs, places where I felt most at home. He surfed waves in the cold waters, and we camped around a bonfire on the beach.

Exploring Chile.

I saw him a year later at my brother Josh’s wedding. Pat, more pensive than ever, sat me down in his car and told me about the struggle. About how nobody could understand him. He was unsure he could even understand himself. He exposed grudges that had festered for years, pent up like a volcano. Grudges that most of us would have instantly brushed off, Pat locked them away in his memory, characteristic of a person unable to practice forgiveness. It was increasingly real to me that Pat no longer felt like he fit into the molds of society, at least not the American mold. He was an outsider, but still did not fully accept the idea.

Then in 2014 I ended up in Liberia, a tiny country in West Africa, and miraculously Pat’s work also took him to Liberia. He surprised me with a visit, and met my new family. There in Monrovia, I noticed something new unfolding, his personal epiphany. Pat became someone I had not seen for quite a few years, a man full of vigor. He seemed to shrug off the regret, looked forward to the future, and did not let anxiety push him into mental corners. He realized he could have the last say in life’s plans, the places he could go, how to best use his talents. He also told me how much he loved the people back in Utah, especially his friends from growing up. I was really hopeful he could make amends.

Among giants.

Pat, despite the struggle, was the wise oldest brother. When it came to world politics, I listened to his opinions. When it came to local politics, nobody had a better grasp on the news. Devout to the newspaper (like my parents), talk radio junky. He played hard on social media, most often as the moderator, and knew how to shake up either side of a debate. One day a tweet from Pat caught my eye, one that brought reassurance.

“Want to be unhappy? It’s easy!

  1. Harbor the past
    2. Fear the future
    3. Ignore the present”
    —Pat Parkinson