A week ago was the day of the dead. It reminded me of Peter; a talented filmmaker, terrific human being and one of the closest friends I have ever known. Sadly, he passed away in late August of 2010 at the young age of thirty-four.
Peter and I met in graduate school and for a time were thick as thieves. We both had shrinks in the family and we'd also been through therapy so we felt instantly safe to share emotional vulnerability. We also connected over our love of nature, music, fashion and great cinema; both dreaming of making an impact through storytelling one day.
For a long time we ate several meals together a week, carpooled to and from school, and met up at the gym as workout partners. We also crewed on several of each other’s films; with me even helping to cater his thesis alongside his mom. A month before then, Peter had been my assistant during award season when I was still styling for Calvin Klein. We were flexible like that. He insisted we enjoy our experiences to the fullest like explorers on a mission. He was that kind of guy. The life of the party. The instigator of adventure. The brother I never had. And he used to annoy me with his saggy tapered jeans, endless love of arguing and the fact that he always wore a sweatband around his head at the gym. Now that I have short hair, I often wear one too.
On an overcast day one November, Peter took me to buy running shoes at the Sports Authority in Glendale. I found a pair that was covered in white mesh with a red stripe down the side. These were not my style at all but they fit pretty well and he said he liked the way they looked. I remember thinking 'he's just telling you to buy them because he wants to get out of this store', but his opinion meant a lot to me and eight years later I still have them.
Buried in the back of my closet and uglier than ever, I recently tried them on and found they were still comfortable. The only problem is, I've worn the tread to the ground. Normally, I wouldn't think twice about throwing out a pair of old sneakers, but these ones are special. These ones got me moving when nothing else could. These ones remind me of Peter. And they are all I have left of him...
After his passing, I found myself sailing into a very dark place. The morning after I discovered Peter had died from an accidental drug overdose, I learned that our mutual close friend had been raped the night before. I suppressed my grief and went into caretaker mode, insisting on getting her to the hospital and staying by her side while the police took her statement. I was only a bystander to the devastation, but depression set in like a dark fog that never lifted. Everything I wanted before the double-bomb dropped seemed meaningless and completely unattainable. There was nothing and nobody that could distract me from overwhelming feelings of powerlessness and loss.
Things only got worse when I flew to New York for his memorial and Peter's mom mentioned she had wanted to reach out for months but didn’t because Peter had been angry with me. You see, Peter wasn’t speaking to me the year before he died. He was upset by my callous reaction to the end of a romantic relationship that meant a lot to him. Feeling scapegoated, I let him be mad and didn't attempt to clean up the rift because I knew he would be in my life forever...
His mother's comment left me feeling sad that I would never have a chance to plead my case; to apologize for hurting him and to prove my devotion and commitment to our friendship.
Several weeks after Peter's passing, I had a dream that he was in a beautiful country club, wearing head to do white, playing a rousing game of tennis. It brought me great comfort. It also inspired me to move my body again. In the sneakers he urged me to buy, I started with walks around the neighborhood, having the intention of finding things to appreciate about my surroundings. Then eventually, I craved more physical intensity, so I went back to the gym. Working out reminded me that I knew how to feel something other than pain and sorrow. Through my sweat and tears, I eventually came to a feeling that Peter and I loved to share. A feeling inside our bodies that came when we stopped 'processing' our issues and gave ourselves permission to exert strength while indulging in fantasies about our musings.
Once I figured out that moving burned the cloud of heaviness off my shoulders, I regained access to a part inside who loves to appreciate things. That remembers what anticipation and excitement feel like and not just anxiety and overwhelm. Who knows her value and has access to inner power regardless of circumstance. Making movies used to make me feel that way. But it had been years since I had done that. Moving though? That was something I could commit to because it produced instant results.
A few months after making my commitment to move, I directed my first short in five years. And a few months after that, I went back to a favorite childhood pastime; dancing, now a weekly ritual going four years strong. I have a group of dear friends who do it too and it's become our touchstone. No matter what is going on in our lives, we always have our Monday night dance class with tacos and cider afterwards. The ritual has helped me stay grounded, gain confidence and enjoy my body even more than I ever thought possible. The best part is there are no sneakers required.
Which brings me back to mine. It is time to let this pair go. To appreciate the strides I've made with their help, acknowledge the significance of their personal meaning, and give up thinking I need them in order to stay connected to Peter. I embrace that he is always with me, in memory and in spirit, and I choose to imagine that I carry his dreams forward for both of us now. With each and every move I make.